Media Nation: The Political History of News in Modern America

By Bruce J. Schulman; Julian E. Zelizer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 11
How Washington Helped Create the
Contemporary Media: Ending the Fairness
Doctrine in 1987

Julian E. Zelizer

The news media has become as polarized as our elected officials. When a person turns on a television or radio news show, they are almost certain to hear a host who is explaining the news from a particular political perspective. Americans now consume the news the same way they watch football, baseball, or even professional wrestling. They tune in to cheer their favorite host or to hiss at the person reading the teleprompter as they explain what happened on a given day in Washington.

The journalistic professional norm of objectivity that was forged at the turn of the twentieth century has all but vanished. There was a period in the mid-twentieth century, as the authors in this volume show, when news reporters insisted on presenting the facts without opinion and without interpreting the story from any particular political perspective. To be sure, as the essays in this volume also demonstrate, that ideal was never a strict reflection of reality. The roots of divisive journalism run deep. But in terms of scale and scope, the situation has changed. These days, almost every one who is on the airwaves comfortably expresses their political points of view. Journalists are no longer fearful of expressing where they stand. Indeed, the network brass encourage them to do so.

There are many explanations for how this happened—how we moved from the era of Walter Cronkite to the era of Bill O’Reilly and Rachel Maddow. Most importantly, technological changes that started with the ad-

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