Wow — what a week.
Or was it a year?
Sure seemed like it, given the speed and pace of the news narrative.
Recall, Thursday, Jan. 30, the Senate rejected new witnesses and even evidence in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
As Friday, Jan. 31, turned to Saturday at midnight Brussels time (chronologically and politically), Brexit (finally) became official.
On Sunday, Feb. 2, amid some compelling commercials and a controversial halftime show, the Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV.
On Monday, Iowa’s caucus convulsed (counting and controversy, continued).
On Tuesday, a rejected handshake and a ripped-up speech marked, and marred, Trump’s State of the Union Address.
And on Wednesday, with the notable, and to some noble, exception of Mitt Romney, Republican senators quickly acquitted Trump.
Then this past Thursday, the week wound up anew, as Trump denounced key impeachment figures as “leakers, liars, dirty cops and scum,” among other insults, at an off-the-cuff (and at times off-the-rails) White House speech.
Friday’s Democratic debate before Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary (which has new urgency after Iowa’s woes) will have bracketted a split-screen weekend tracking two consequential contests — candidates on the hustings, hustling votes in snowy New Hampshire, and stars alighting the red carpet in sunny Hollywood at Sunday’s Academy Awards.
Meanwhile, international issues, as well as transnational challenges like the climate and coronavirus crises, accelerate the news cycle, leading some to tune it out altogether (as many did the State of the Union, which had 20% fewer viewers than last year).
For those still riveted to stories about a nation riven with divisions, where citizens get their news increasingly reflects — and perhaps aggravates — the widening divide.
That’s among the conclusions gleaned from new Pew Research Center polls, including an extensive analysis, “U.S. Media Polarization and the 2020 Election: A Nation Divided,” that examines news sources “Americans trust, distrust and rely on.”
Republicans and Democrats, Pew states, “place their trust in two nearly inverse news media environments.” And perhaps not surprisingly, but importantly, “these divides are even more pronounced between conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats” — just the type of ideologically driven individuals more likely to caucus or vote in primaries, and serve as the key target for cable news networks whose business models depend on an engaged, if not enraged, audience.
Among the data on partisan choices for news are these key takeaways: Of 30 news sources Pew examined, Democrats trust more than distrust 22 of them, while Republicans distrust more than 20. And that gap has grown into a gulf since the last time Pew polled on the subject, in 2014. Since then, “Republicans have grown increasingly alienated from most of the more established sources, while Democrats’ confidence in them remains stable, and in some cases, has strengthened,” the study states.
While there is a raft of stats on 30 outlets, two news networks stand out. “In the more compact Republican media ecosystem, one outlet towers above all others: Fox News. It would be hard to overstate its connection as a go-to source of political news for Republicans,” Pew reports on the network trusted by 65% of Republicans and Republican leaners. Meanwhile, Democrats have a longer list of trusted sources, yet CNN has a similar level of trust (67%) for Democrats and Democratic leaners.
Overall, “both sides are moving,” Amy Mitchell, director of journalism research at Pew, said in an interview. “Democrats are becoming more positive generally about the news media when you ask a range of different questions; Republicans are generally becoming more negative following the 2016 election.”
Some of the Republican negativity since ’16 is likely because of how they perceive reporting on the president. And some is likely due to presidential rhetoric, with Trump falsely calling accurate but unflattering coverage “fake news” and slandering some elements of the news media with Stalinesque “enemy of the people” language.
Media selection has certainly played out in how people perceive the events of this dizzying week, including impeachment. In fact, “views about Ukraine-impeachment connect closely with where Americans get their news,” according to another Pew poll that said 65% of Republicans and Republican leaners “who got their political news only from media outlets with right-leaning audiences said he [Trump] did it to advance a U.S. policy to reduce corruption in Ukraine.” Among GOPers who got their news from a combination of outlet types, only 46% said so. And a plurality of 34% of those who didn’t get their news from any of the partisan outlets said it was because Trump “wanted to help his re-election campaign.”
As for Democrats and Democratic leaners? They, well, leaned differently, in part reflecting media selection. Of those who got news from “only those outlets with left-leaning audiences,” 75% said Trump’s motive was re-election, while only 4% said it was corruption fighting.
Of course, correlation is not causation; news viewers may select these outlets because they augment their argument, not challenge it. But the data suggests that just as red and blue states and cities seem to be turning deeper shades, people vote with their remote controls, too.
Which may be making us more remote from each other.
Forty-five percent of Americans “have stopped talking about political and election news with someone as a result of something they said, either in person or online,” according to a separate Pew poll. And just as with the ideological intensity driving divisions in media usage, the most partisan are the most likely to allow political divisions to sever dialogue. This is especially the case for self-described liberal Democrats, with 60% reporting a cessation of political dialogue.
Among the etymological interpretations of the word “media” is “middle ground” — a place fewer are choosing politically, in their media consumption, and even in their personal relationships, which is something that should give pause, even in a nonstop news cycle.
John Rash is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. The Rash Report can be heard at 8:10 a.m. Fridays on WCCO Radio, 830-AM. On Twitter: @rashreport.have