A Divided Nation

By Rose Gildersleeve

Let’s bring back the Fairness Doctrine and while we’re at it, let’s talk policies, not party affiliations.

With the two most recent presidential elections (2016 & 2020), I think most Americans agree that the United States is starkly divided. But the truth is that our nation has always been divided. Aside from our geography, social class, and diversity, looking back to Civil Rights, Women’s Suffrage, war protesting of Vietnam, gay rights and abortions, was there ever time when we weren’t starkly divided?

We now have access to more information than ever before, from heavy leaning right or left wing news media, to misleading information being pumped out of social media outlets like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Information in alarming amounts all aimed at shaping our opinions to align with either the “liberal” Democrats or “conservative” Republicans. What’s worse is is that no one is really held accountable for the false information they share, Presidents and news outlets alike.

From 1949-1987, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), through the Fairness Doctrine, required all licensed radio and television broadcasters to report fair and balanced news on controversial issues, to their communities, including devoting an equal amount of airtime to opposing views. This meant that the conversation legally had to go both ways and encouraged people to know both sides before making a decision. That is certainly not the case in today’s news coverage.

Since the end of the Fairness Doctrine, heavily leaning news outlets like Fox News and Huffington Post, would dominate each side of the spectrum.

I had a revealing conversation with my sister post election, and what amazed me is the straight refusal on both sides to concede to each others views. We also repeatedly questioned each others sources. In hindsight, what really bothered me the most is that we were less concerned about how we each viewed current political issues and more concerned about how each other were wrong and misinformed.

So why are Americans so prone to soak in the information being fed to them without batting an eye to the opposing view? I think the answer lies in testimony, the intentional transfer of a belief from one person to another, as defined by Oxford Bibliographies. Most people tend to believe in what other people say. Especially if they trust that person, like President Trump, Barack Obama, parents, friends, and even professors. Especially if that information aligns with existing beliefs. I myself am guilty of taking other peoples word for it, rather than doing my own research on the matter, and if I fact checked everything I heard throughout the day, I would literally never set my iPhone down.

Looking forward to 2021

In 2021, I want to see efforts to restore the Fairness Doctrine, or something similar to it. Also, I believe it’s important to hold political leaders and news outlets (licensed or not) accountable for the false information they share because they have a duty to share fair and accurate information and news to their communities—to inform them, not mislead them.

I’d also like to sit down at the table in 2021, to have the conversation about how we will tackle economy, healthcare, global warming, racial justice, law enforcement, and education, and what new or reformed policies may look like, rather than focusing on what party affiliation you belong to, and where your information is coming from.

I think at the very least, I can avoid reducing to tears, and may even have a constructive conversation with my sister, if at the start of our conversation we hear each others views with humility.  And begin our conversation with the intent to solve problems and compromise, because after all, we’re both good people and have similar core values, mine being only slightly more thought out than hers.

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