Obama Declares News Media 'Balkanized' Since 'If It Bleeds, It Leads'

February 9th, 2015 6:56 PM

During a pair of interviews with people from Vox.com -- which is described as a "general interest news site for the 21st Century" -- president Barack Obama on Monday described the roles of news sources in a variety of unflattering ways.

In the first discussion of "The Vox Conversation," editor-in-chief Ezra Klein asked Obama to respond to the fact that “you are the most polarizing president really since we began polling.”

Obama replied by stating:

[A] lot of it has to do with the fact that the balkanization of the media means that we just don't have a common place where we get common facts and a common worldview the way we did 20, 30 years ago. And that just keeps on accelerating, you know.

And I'm not the first to observe this, but you've got the Fox News/Rush Limbaugh folks and then you've got the MSNBC folks and the -- I don't know where Vox falls into that, but you guys are, I guess, for the brainiac-nerd types.

“But the point is that technology which brings the world to us also allows us to narrow our point of view,” he added.

The president then asserted that gerrymandering -- which is defined as “the dividing of a state, county, etc., into election districts so as to give one political party a majority in many districts while concentrating the voting strength of the other party into as few districts as possible” -- is contributing to the political polarization across the country.

As NewsBusters previously reported, both Republicans and Democrats have taken advantage of their majority status in many states to draw district maps that enable elected officials in safe congressional districts to maintain power.

However, since 31 governors and the majority of the legislators in those states are members of the GOP, the Democratic occupant of the White House found that an easy target to blame for Democratic losses over the past several years, especially in the midterm elections of 2014, which also gave Republicans majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

As a result, Obama asserted:

There's no incentive for most members of Congress, on the House side at least, in congressional districts to even bother trying to appeal. And a lot of it has to do with just unlimited money.

So people are absorbing an entirely different reality when it comes to politics, even though the way they're living their lives and interacting with each other isn't that polarizing.

He then described how he'd fix the problem: “I would love to see some constitutional process that would allow us to actually regulate campaign spending the way we used to, and maybe even improve it. I’d love to see changes at the state level that reduce political gerrymandering. So there’s all kinds of structural things that I’d like to see that I think would improve this.”

The second interview was conducted by liberal writer Matthew Yglesias, who tossed Obama this softball question:

Do you think the media sometimes overstates the level of alarm people should have about terrorism and this kind of chaos, as opposed to a longer-term problem of climate change and epidemic disease?

“Absolutely,” the president responded eagerly, “and I don't blame the media for that. What's the famous saying about local newscasts, right? 'If it bleeds, it leads,' right?”

“You show crime stories and you show fires because that's what folks watch, and it's all about ratings,” Obama continued.

“There's just not going to be a lot of interest in a headline story that we have cut infant mortality by really significant amounts over the last 20 years,” he noted, “or that there's been enormous progress with a program we set up when I first came into office to help poor farmers increase productivity and yields.”

“It's not a sexy story,” the Democratic president admitted. “And climate change is one that is happening at such a broad scale and at such a complex system, it's a hard story for the media to tell on a day-to-day basis.”

“It is entirely legitimate for the American people to be deeply concerned when you’ve got a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris,” he stated.

However, an article from the Agence France Presse news bureau described the attacker on the Jewish supermarket as Amedy Coulibaly, a jihadist whose assault was probably not random and who was eventually killed by the local police.

This incident indicates that perhaps Obama should get more of his news from sources that are not “balkanized” to his liking.