Past Event

The Media and Partisan Politics: Democracy in Crisis?

The recent resignation of Van Jones, an environmental advisor for the Obama Administration, and the controversy surrounding FOX News host Glenn Beck’s level of involvement in that resignation has some questioning the growing power of the media on politics and policy. Although not everyone thinks Van Jones resigned because of Beck, many believe his particular brand of political commentary goes too far. James Rucker of writes for The Huffington Post blog: “Watching the Glenn Beck show this past month, one might have assumed that Van Jones had assaulted Beck, insulted his wife, and stolen his kids’ lunch money. Beck devoted time on a whopping 16 shows to crafting a distorted, despicable portrait of Van that few who know him would recognize. As political smears go, it was as serious as it gets.”

Whether you tune in to FOX News or Air America, the question remains—what is the role of media in partisan politics? In reaction to Rachel Maddow receiving her own show on the major cable news channel MSNBC, The New Republic’s Sacha Zimmerman writes, “I am not so thrilled about this trend toward partisan networks and news. By all means we should have progressive and conservative commentators and analysts, but is there no room for argument between the two? Where have all the iconoclasts gone? With this split in the networks and a near perfect red-blue divide nationwide, it seems that we are more and more retreating to our comfortable trenches and refusing to acknowledge anything but spite, paranoia, and conspiracy theory when it comes to the other side.”  

Should the media take political stances or is the role of media simply to state the facts? Back in 2006, when Matt Lauer of The Today Show began referring to the Iraq War as a Civil War, it created a firestorm. Austan Goolsbee of The New York Times wrote, “Fox News refused to follow suit, saying that non-Iraqis were involved in the fighting, ‘and that makes it something different.’ Accusations of partisanship arose all around. Yet newspapers around the country had been making decisions on this matter for months.” Perhaps the facts are muddied by language.

Or is it simply a matter of sides? Author Glenn Greenwald writes for Salon: “The reaction (of Zimmerman and others) to Maddow’s show highlights just how suffocating narrow, and right-wing, the spectrum of mainstream political discourse in America is.” This begs the question of whether we only see the value of partisan politics in the media when we already agree with the players?

Some say that the media is making bipartisan efforts difficult to achieve by creating even bigger rifts.  Author and activist Jeff Chang writes: “[Glenn] Beck is not just trying to make progressives who are young and/or of color absolutely dispensable to the establishment. He is trying to take away their platform as well. To Beck, this is a fight not just over the individuals, but to block the ways change is actually made.”

Others like Robert L. Ehrlich writing for The National Review suggest that the public and the media thrive on partisanship when he states: “If by some miracle the loyal opposition was dispensed with, and a post-partisan leader appeared on the national scene, which media outlet would be the first to bemoan the loss of our most sacred freedom?”

Is the media fair and objective or is the media becoming more partisan? How is political partisanship in the media affecting American politics and policy? Do you think political commentators like Glenn Beck go too far? Can we point to the recent resignation of Van Jones as an indication of the growing power of the media on politics and policy? Does the media influence politics or is it the other way around? What should the role of the media be in a democracy?  

Suggested Resources


For more information, call 312.422.5580.