During Brian Stelter’s Sunday morning media sermon on CNN’s Reliable Sources, he and his panel of media critics decried what they called "negative partisan" media and blamed it for dividing the country. Sounds pretty accurate, right? But according to them, most of the blame for a divided country rested on the shoulders of conservative and right-leaning media outlets.
Stelter began the segment by noting data from the Pew Research Center that showed how “45 percent of Republicans see the Democrats as a threat to the nation's well-being and 41 percent of Democrats view the Republicans a threat.” And he wondered “what’s the relationship between so-called negative partisanship and our daily news consumption?”
His first guest was John Avlon from the left-leaning Daily Beast, who described “negative partisan” media as hatred for others and claimed it was the only thing holding the Republican Party coalition together:
What do libertarian Republicans and the religious right really have in common for example? What it is, they focus on what they hate, what they oppose, the drumbeat that’s hammered home bipartisan media in particular and their politicians. So the only glue holding the coalition together is opposition, not proposition.
“And this been particularly epidemic in the Trump era, as you point out. Right? It’s Trump’s going after the media. I may not like Trump, but I like the people he is attacking,” Avlon continued. “That’s a form of glue. Fox's obsession with keeping on talking about Hillary Clinton.” He complained that it was unusual for news outlets to continue to talk about the losing candidate nine months after an election. He conveniently omitted the fact that it was also unusual for a presidential candidate to surround themselves with so much scandalous activity.
Stelter praised Avlon’s explanation of “negative partisan,” calling it “helpful.” That’s probably because Avlon used his favorite punching back (Fox News) to make his point.
The CNN host then turned to David Zurawik, the media critic for The Baltimore Sun newspaper. “How this comes through in news coverage? Is it fair to say, we do have a partisan media in this country, is it fair to say this is a problem on the left, but more of a problem on the right,” Stelter asked him.
“I think it's absolutely more of a problem on the right,” Zurawik proclaimed. His example was also from Fox News. He was upset that Laura Ingraham brought up Bill Clinton’s sexual assault allegations after someone on MSNBC claimed the GOP was the party of protecting sexual predators. So according to Zurawik, it was worse for Ingraham to bring up Clinton that it was for MSNBC to claim the entire GOP supported protecting sexual predators. Wrap your head around that one.
It’s ridiculous and hypocritical for Stelter to pretend that he and his network, and apparently the rest of the liberal media, didn’t bear any responsibility for creating a negative partisan media and dividing the country. During the 2016 election, he blamed a firebombing in North Carolina on Trump. And he had used his show as a platform to call the President a dictator who was threating the lives of journalists with tweets. And for all his targeting of Fox News as a partisan powerhouse, he almost never dedicates any segments of his show to the outrageous, derogatory, and false statements made by those at MSNBC.
Stelter’s biased media sermon was sponsored by Century Link Business, Optum, Alfa Romeo, and Prilosec OTC.
November 12, 2017
11:47:29 AM Eastern
BRIAN STELTER: Just how divided are the United States of America and how does that explain a lot of the media and politics story we cover? I'd like to address that now starting with animated data from the Pew Research Center which has been tracking political polarization for decades. This is from 1994 until all the way up to this year. You can watch the two parties here. Democrats on the left in blue, Republicans on the right in red. And how the median Democrat and the median Republican shift further to the left and right as the years go on. Less and less middle ground middle ground between the two.
We know that big portions of the American public have deeply negative views of the other party. Let’s look at this data from Pew that makes the point. 45 percent of Republicans see the Democrats as a threat to the nation's well-being and 41 percent of Democrats view the Republicans a threat. So what’s the relationship between so-called negative partisanship and our daily news consumption? Is there anything journalists can do to help bridge this divide?
John, first to you. This concept of negative partisanship, how do we explain it, how do we boil it down for the audience?
JOHN AVLON: Over the past several decades, people have become obsessed with politics as a badge of identity, the way perhaps religion may have been. But increasingly has those coalitions are pretty frayed; what do libertarian Republicans and the religious right really have in common for example? What it is, they focus on what they hate, what they oppose, the drumbeat that’s hammered home bipartisan media in particular and their politicians. So the only glue holding the coalition together is opposition, not proposition. And we see that played on out in election cycles as well. It's easier to rally people to come out against something than to stand for something. And that ends up degrading our Democracy.
AVLON: And this been particularly epidemic in the Trump era, as you point out. Right? It’s Trump’s going after the media. I may not like Trump, but I like the people he is attacking. That’s a form of glue. Fox's obsession with keeping on talking about Hillary Clinton. The losing candidate is usually not talked about nine months into another campaign. But it’s the glue that hold together their otherwise fragile and fructuous coalition. So we see evidence of it all the time. It makes us dumber, it makes us meaner it makes us more divided as a country.
STELTER: That’s a helpful way to look at it. Negative partisanship is the glue that holds these things together. David Zurawik, what's your view on how this is -- how this comes through in news coverage? Is it fair to say, we do have a partisan media in this country, is I fair to say this is a problem on the left, but more of a problem on the right?
DAVID ZURAWIK: I think it's absolutely more of a problem on the right. In two ways. One, to give you an example of it, I think was Friday night with Laura Ingram on Fox News, she really didn't want to defend Roy Moore straight up. So what she did is she found a clip from Morning Joe on MSNBC, where someone said: “Look, if the Republicans stand with Roy Moore, this is who they are in the next election cycle. They protect predators. They are the party of predators.” And so that's like 30 seconds. And then she says: “Oh, you want to go there? Let's talk about two words, Bill Clinton.” And the next 30 minutes is Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton and every sin the right has ever had. And I thought: “Wow, that was the way to get out of that one.”