From Andy Warhol’s commentary on capitalism to sculptures that publicly mock prominent figures, art has long had its role in politics. However, one art form that is rarely explicitly discussed, but arguably has the biggest influence of all, is journalism.
In this era of political turmoil, I’ve spent more time reading online news articles and trying to become educated on “the big issues” than ever before. In my reading, I’ve become more and more aware of the glaring bias that many news sources have.
This bias is not something that should be criticized; it simply must be acknowledged. It plays into our confirmation bias, a theorized universal psychological tendency for humans to seek out information that aligns with our pre-existing views and, more dangerously, disregard that which doesn’t align. As a liberal person and a fan of talk show hosts such as Jon Stewart and John Oliver, I have to acknowledge that I get almost all of my news from sources that are liberal-leaning. But that should change.
When The New York Times reported that Donald Trump had been elected president, they ran an article titled, “Donald Trump Is Elected President in Stunning Repudiation of the Establishment,” written by Matt Flegenheimer and Michael Barbaro. The authors used language like “threatened” and “polarizing” when referring to Trump and the election’s outcome, commented on the irony that working-class white voters connect to an extremely rich candidate that has had extremely different experiences in his life, took note of the hypocrisy in his recognition of Hillary Clinton’s accomplishments in his victory speech due to his previously hateful speech toward her, and painted Clinton in a humanizing manner. The Times endorsed Clinton for president in late September. In their explanation for their choice, they took a decidedly pro-Clinton, but not anti-Trump, stance.
On the other hand, Bret Baier, an anchor for Fox News, took an entirely different tone when addressing Trump’s victory. As the prediction for Trump to win Pennsylvania came in, pushing him over that elusive 270 mark, Baier took Fox’s viewers on a stylized journey through Trump’s campaign. He told an underdog story, a particular lens that has been used to analyze Trump’s candidacy many times over the course of the election. The president-elect’s route to the White House was described in an exciting, adventurous manner. Baier started by commenting on the entire election, saying it is the most “unreal, surreal election we have ever seen. This candidacy starting on an escalator ride one year ago…[Trump] has defeated the candidate once figured to be undefeatable.” The words on the paper can be read as negative, depending on your personal bias, but the way that he said it was exuberant in the news clip. Although touching on the controversy and divisiveness that has plagued his campaign, Baier told a David and Goliath story rather than focusing on the fact that a white man has, once again, beat out someone else that’s more qualified for the job. But maybe that’s my bias showing.
In no way am I suggesting that we must embrace the xenophobia and bigotry that has just become even more explicitly incorporated into the mainstream Republican rhetoric; however, I do believe that, in our current polarized environment, journalism is just another thing that is dividing us. And yet art and the media is what can, in the end, bring people together over partisan lines.
Personal narratives and empathetic conversations are the only way to overcome the enormous gap between liberal and conservative viewpoints. Dividing language that frames itself as an unbiased source of information will only hurt the desire for unity that permeates this country. As I mentioned before, bigotry should be acknowledged and should in no way be set aside for the sake of arriving at a temporary state of peace, but, to arrive at a happier middle ground in terms of policy, we must start a dialogue.
A recent study by David Broockman and Joshua Kalla revealed that an effective way to reduce prejudice against transgender individuals was by having a relatively short, non-confrontational conversation with those that have negative biases. In the conversation, prompting the prejudiced individual to consider the position of transgender people within society with empathy led to a lasting decrease in their bias. Going forward, journalism should not be considered an unbiased source of information; instead, we must see it as a tool that leads to both becoming informed and promoting empathy and understanding on both sides.
Unlike much of mainstream journalism, other art forms usually have a clear bias or intention with their work. A short film called “Love is All You Need?” shows how art can alter our perspectives. It depicts the life of a young straight girl in a world where homosexuality is the norm. Although failing to address a sexual spectrum, it creates an alternate reality that can help heterosexual individuals understand homosexuals’ situation in American society by showing heterosexuals in the “cast-aside” position, referred to with insults such as “breeder.” The film cues us to align with the main character and we are devastated as she is excluded by her peers time and time again. The misery and depression that builds over the course of the girl’s short life causes us to feel deep empathy for her and, when the film ends, we are left wondering why a society would be prejudiced against people for their sexualities. Journalism can, and should, have the same impact.
The light in which a situation is painted entirely affects the way that it’s perceived. The impact of our words as writers cannot be underestimated. And rendering the natural emotional responses that many have to current events irrelevant, like fear of the election of Donald Trump, will only prolong this tumultuous state.
As time passes, all forms of art develop in various ways. Moving forward, we must consciously consider the role of journalism and the inherent bias in any article. As readers, we must be wary, but we must also be compassionate. Artists and writers have an even more important part to play in the immediate future: promoting empathy.
Reale is a member of the class of 2020.