In a nation of growing red or blue allegiances, the media too are
beginning to take on more overtly partisan hues. And it may be
reinforcing the political cleavage in the country.
The selective perspectives are evident from coastal lobster-trap
country to the land of longhorn cattle.
Up in Bar Harbor, Maine, Michael Boland works overtime during the
summer feeding the locals and tourists that crowd into his
restaurant, Rupununi's. But no matter how busy he is, he tries to
disappear every afternoon at 4:30 so he can head to his office
upstairs and tune in to "Democracy Now" on the radio - an
unabashedly left-of-center analysis of the day's events.
"I rely on it for my progressive take on the news," he says.
Down in Schertz, Texas, Stace Cunningham is just as determined to
get a spin he's comfortable with. He spends most days in his lab,
where he's got 15 computers for his work as a security consultant
for a Fortune 500 company. But he keeps one computer set to
www.NRAnews.com, a website operated by the National Rifle
Association, so he can hear an assessment of the world that he
believes is truly fair - particularly where gun issues are
"The show is a breath of fresh air," he says.
From the conservative Fox News Channel to the liberal radio
startup Air America to political blogs of every philosophical
stripe, Americans can now pick and choose a news source to fit their
ideological bent. Even the big screen, these days, offers up
politically charged fare - most notably with Michael Moore's
The trend toward partisanship in the media, though nascent, has
many political experts worried. If everyone simply reads or listens
to news that reinforces their own opinions, there may be less room
for compromise - a key foundation of this nation's government. An
already polarized country could become even more deeply divided at
every level. Already, stories of friends or relatives who can no
longer talk politics - because they're ideological opposites - are
common water-cooler fare. Signs of the times include caustic
political humor and candidates tossing profanities at the other
While others admit the growing politicization of news does create
potential problems, they instead see the emergence of new sources of
information as a welcome expansion of the nation's political
dialogue. To them, the high-voltage talk shows and websites are
signs of a public increasingly engaged on important issues - from
Iraq to the role of religion in society.
Indeed, most Americans who tune into these alternative sources
still tap into mainstream media as well. In addition to listening to
"Democracy Now," Mr. Boland reads three newspapers a day. And Mr.
Cunningham looks forward to the NRA's Cam & Company show so he can
compare it with what he sees on the nightly news.
"For democracy, the thing you worry about is a world in which
people don't get exposure to the other side," says Kathleen Hall
Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the
University of Pennsylvania. "And we're not in that world yet."
How, and why, viewing habits are changing
Still, there is evidence that the media-browsing public is
getting more partisan right alongside the press.
A recent Pew Research Center study found that since 2000, the
number of Americans who say they watch Fox News Channel regularly
jumped from 17 percent to 25 percent, and most of those new viewers
describe themselves as "politically conservative." Struggling
against an apparent Republican-viewer revolt, Fox rival CNN has
managed to draw in a growing number of Democratic-leaning viewers.
The trend is driven by several factors - some originating with
the news outlets and others rooted in the public at large.
On a basic level, more-opinionated news is what the public seems
to want in this so-called 50/50 nation, with feelings fanned by
battles over the Iraq war, gay marriage, and the Florida recount of
the 2000 election. …