The Media Is Over-Covering Divisiveness. It's Going to Destroy Us | Opinion

In 2000, President Clinton hosted a peace conference at Camp David that gave many hope for peace in Gaza; but a few months later, the Second Intifada, a major Palestinian uprising against Israel, began. Having been working in the region for decades to found and build PeaceWorks, a company that used market forces to foster peace between neighbors in the Middle East, I was confused and depressed by the news. On Western television, I saw pictures of ruthless violence and terrorism from Palestinians, giving me the impression, at least initially, that the moderates I knew had succumbed to extreme ways. But when I went to talk to my Palestinian friends, and they showed me what they were seeing on the television, I was shocked:. Their news programs depicted all Israelis as merciless killers.

On both sides of the conflict, the news media seemed like it exclusively published stories portraying the worst of the other side, characterizing all Palestinians or Israelis as hateful enemies. It turned out that my friends hadn't changed at all; they just weren't the ones the media were showing. And in portraying things falsely in such a negative light, the media fed the conflict rather than helping resolve it.

We Americans are now facing this same problem, with potentially devastating repercussions for our democracy and our ability to lead the free world.

This week, our nonpartisan citizen's movement Starts With Us released a new study quantifying just how bad the patterns have become. According to the study, conducted in partnership with the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) at George Mason University, during the 2022 midterm election, top-viewed news sources in America covered the most hyper-partisan and divisive politicians four times more than their most bipartisan and constructive counterparts.

If you've never heard of Don Bacon, you can count yourself among the 82 percent of American voters who are unfamiliar with the Republican congressman from Nebraska; Rep. Bacon has just 18 percent name recognition among Americans, yet Don Bacon is worth knowing in that he ranks among those politicians with the strongest record of working across the aisle to solve problems.

On the other hand, 72 percent of American voters have heard of Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican representative from Georgia who ranked on our Common Ground Committee Scorecard as the most hyper-partisan politician in our study.

This discrepancy in name recognition between Rep. Bacon and Rep. Taylor Greene is not surprising, given that Marjorie Taylor Greene garnered 10 times more coverage than Bacon did during the midterm season. Yet Marjorie Taylor Greene has helped to pass only four pieces of legislation since she was elected, meaning most of the stories spotlighting her are less about issues impacting the American people and more about her dehumanizing rhetoric, division-stoking, and spreading of misinformation.

Schumer and McConnell
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) (L) and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (R) walk towards the House chamber to attend President Joe Biden's State of the Union address at a joint meeting of Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol on February 07, 2023 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty Images

I wish I could say that this coverage was not generated by mainstream media, but right after The Daily Mail, The New York Times was the biggest culprit. In fact, alone accounted for 25 percent of all Marjorie Taylor Greene's coverage across the media outlets studied during the midterms.

When challenged, media has defended their responsibility to cover partisan actions in Washington. If this were really the case, and would each cover extreme politicians on both the Right and the Left, but they don't. The New York Times concentrates its coverage on far-right politicians and Fox News does the same for politicians on the far-left. covered Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib more than any other news outlet in the study.

Why is this so problematic?

At a time when not just partisan polarization but demonization is at a high in our country, news outlets are feeding the problem by showing us an incomplete picture of progress in Washington. By giving exaggerated attention to the most divisive, hyper-partisan figures in politics, media (although not all media) paints a false picture of America as a nation at extreme odds with itself. It shows us a hopeless case for cooperation, consensus, and common ground, causing Americans to either disengage or entrench more deeply into their partisan tribes.

In reality, there are politicians working across the aisle who can give us reason to stay hopeful and engaged in building solutions.

What's the solution?

It's us. We drive media ratings, so changing the coverage starts (at least in part) with changing our own behavior.

We need to be active consumers of media by fact-checking, diversifying our news sources, thinking critically, and using introspection to process information, ask ourselves tough questions, and consider different perspectives.

If we give media reason to believe that we want less of that divisive, gossipy red meat they throw at us, we can use our own actions to create a market for more complete reporting on the state of our nation.

Daniel Lubetzky is the founder of Kind LLC. Together with 200 foremost leaders, he founded Starts With Us, a nonpartisan civic movement to replace extreme divisiveness with commonsense solution-building. Daniel also built the OneVoice movement, the largest grassroots movement of moderates in the Middle East.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.