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Missouri State University held its annual Public Affairs Conference this week. Experts came from all across the country to discuss Inclusive Excellence with both the campus and greater Springfield communities. KSMU’s Shane Franklin attended one panel Thursday, and has this report.
Dr. Andy Cline, Associate Professor of Journalism at Missouri State University and author of "Rhetorica: Press-Political Journal," sat in on a panel Thursday morning, entitled “It’s all About the Ratings.”
I caught up with him shortly after the panel to get his take on it. He says he hopes that the first thing students and community members who attended noticed was that even though the panel consisted of a wide range of professions, they all agreed that there's extreme partisanship in today’s news media.
“They were remarkably in agreement that partisan bickering is not doing anyone any good, that partisan bickering probably at the moment is entertaining therefore profitable, and that partisan bickering may be leading us down a path that we don’t really want to go,” says Cline.
He says extreme partisanship without robust debate and dialogue between citizens is ultimately unhealthy for a democratic republic.
“We are losing the ability to talk to one another, just as citizens, and neighbors, and friends. We have thrown up such walls, so now we are afraid to even go speak to someone who might differ. I’m religious and you’re not, I’m liberal and you’re conservative, or I’m gay and you’re straight, whatever it is. If that’s actually happening, and I suspect it is, it’s really sad,” says Cline.
Cline says this lack of communication between citizens is damaging American culture. He says the possibility is very real that the damage could be profound enough to lead to the decline of the United States on the world stage.
Cline has suggestions for citizens to counteract the partisanship rampant in today’s media, with the goal of preserving the liberties in this country.
“Thing number one, promise yourself that you are going to vote in every election, and actually do it. Now, in order to do thing number one you are going to have to do thing number two. Which is, you’re going to have to find out what the issues are in a way deeper than just reacting ideologically, so you’re going to have to go do some hard work,” says Cline.
He said although many media outlets try to focus on what makes people different, many groups that oppose each other aren't actually that different.
“The fact of the matter is that the range of American political thought, what’s considered in the normal range, is not that huge. We are all pretty much on the same page on a lot of things. Nobody believes that government should take over everything. And no one believes that the government should just fall away and do almost nothing. We all believe that government should play a role in making our society work, making our economy work,” says Cline.
He says citizens who live in an open society need to hold their journalists to a very high standard...and that consumers of the media should communicate with journalists.
“Right, left, center, I don’t care. Wake up and demand that journalism begin doing its job, and discerning what the facts are, discerning who the cogent thinkers are, and leave behind the partisan spitballing,” says Cline.
Journalists are no longer properly serving the public, at least on the national level, Cline contends. He feels that the mainstream Press has given up on finding the truth in the face of constant accusation of bias from the public. Instead, they simply report on the contention between two extreme views, and call it news.
He says now, the news media cannot say, for instance, “This politician has his or her facts straight, and the other does not,” because it would be viewed as a bias. Instead, journalists are pressured to give equal time to both sides of every argument. The result is more partisanship and less truth, he argues.
For KSMU News, I’m Shane Franklin.