How Partisan Media Outlets Influence Our Leaders

John Avlon has a brilliant piece at The Daily Beast showing how highly partisan media outlets (Fox News, The Blaze, etc), think tanks (Heritage Foundation, AEI), and elected leaders are stuck in an endless feedback loop of confirmation bias and monetary conflicts of interest. I urge you to read it in its entirety. At the risk of not doing his piece justice:

The rise of partisan media has created financial incentives for columnists, pundits, and pollsters to try and please ideological employers with pronouncements that resonate with the faithful. After all, nothing gets clicks like confirmation bias.

 The competition too often becomes about who can outflank their fellow travelers. Natural partisan affinity gets forced into something more militant, with substantive calls for common ground treated as signs of weakness. This dynamic fuels polarization in our politics because even congressmen look to partisan media for their clues about just what the base might want, rather than what is right or practical in terms of actually solving problems.

That in turn creates distorted policy debates, where politicians and partisan journalists (the phrase should be an absurd contradiction, but it is not) put their own independent perspectives through a filter, calibrating their short-term interests against what they might really believe would be in the long-term best interests of the nation. The intellectual dishonestly usually comes in the form of soft collusion—a reluctance to criticize extreme voices on their own side of the aisle in public, even as they are dismissed in private. Team-ism drives the coverage because team-ism drives the funding. There is no profit in making enemies of people who might sign your next paycheck. There is no quicker career-killer than whispers of “disloyalty” to the partisan cause. And all this is reinforced by socialization—the separate social circles that conservatives and liberals travel in, especially in Washington, D.C., and New York. The days of William F. Buckley and Murray Kempton being genuinely good friends seem like a distant dream.

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