The Student Newspaper of Poly Prep Country Day School

The Polygon

The Student Newspaper of Poly Prep Country Day School

The Polygon

The Student Newspaper of Poly Prep Country Day School

The Polygon

Is the Press Damaging Democracy?

The press is considered integral to safeguarding democracy in the United States. But how does the press actually promote and secure democracy? And do some of our news networks do more harm than good today? How might we change that without limiting the legal rights of the press? 

The press is not a singular category – it consists of a broad range of media networks. According to Business Insider, on the left, there are networks like CNN and NPR, and on the right, there are networks like Fox News and NewsMax. There are also moderate networks like the Wall Street Journal and PBS News. Partisan networks seem to be the cause of our problems today. A study from 2021 analyzed the difference between respondents in a news bubble and those who are not. According to Pew Research Center, a news bubble is defined as when people get “political news in a given week only from outlets predominantly used by people who align with them politically.” On the left, Democrats in a news bubble had CNN, NPR, and the New York Times as their main sources, making up 21 percent, 18 percent, and nine percent respectively. This effect is even more exaggerated on the right. Republicans in a news bubble get 70 percent of their news from Fox News. Both of these bubble groups consider themselves to be strongly ideologically aligned with their parties as well. All of these statistics are significantly more extreme than moderate respondents from both parties. 

Pew Research Center

Individuals in a news bubble also have the most polarized views on a given subject, as proven by a Pew Research study on how Americans in a news bubble disagree with the other party more than all other Democrats and Republicans. 


Highlighted Note Important For Understanding Groupings: The Fox News cable channel and talk radio shows such as Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh have audiences that lean Republican and conservative. CNN, MSNBC, NPR, New York Times and Washington Post have audiences that lean Democratic and liberal. Sources whose audiences are more mixed include ABC, CBS or NBC network television news.


This difference is most notable when it comes to “reducing illegal immigration” for Democrats and Republicans in a news bubble, who had an 86 percent gap. Across the entire table, the gap of agreement between “all other Rep / lean Reps” and “all other Dem / lean Dems” is less than that of the right-leaning and left-leaning audiences in a news bubble. These news bubbles are only creating more division and pushing Americans further apart from each other. This is certainly more extreme on the right, with Fox News being the predominant media source, but to only focus on the right would ignore the smaller but still critical issue of a media bubble on the left. Both sides are to blame when it comes to polarization, and a solution is certainly not to go blaming a singular side. 

 The results of this study could be interpreted to argue that the press has influenced people’s views to be more distant from each other. But people are not necessarily to blame. Even with the human psychological instinct of taking a side, the news seems to only amplify this division. This division is extremely unproductive, so why would news networks promote it? There seems to be only one real reason news networks amplify this division: money.

According to AP News, in a recent legal battle, Dominion Voting Systems sued Fox News for $1.6 billion, claiming that the news outlet aired multiple allegations that the company’s voting machines were rigged against Trump in 2020, knowing the accusations were false. According to NPR, in Fox News’ defense, they argued that, “the Fox stars relaying them on the air reflected an appropriate journalistic response to stark claims about the functioning of American democracy, as they involve ’questions to a newsmaker on newsworthy subjects’ and ’accurately report on pending allegations.’” Fox’s lawyers chose to settle with Dominion for $787.5 million out of court and publicly admitted in a statement that some of the information that the network aired about Dominion was proven false, according to The New York Times. This case proved that networks can be held accountable for their intentional lies, and can be forced to report accurate information. This ruling should hopefully apply across all networks in the United States, though only time will tell if the high cost of lawsuits will be enough to persuade media outlets. 

Some might argue that this lawsuit limits networks from publishing pending allegations, but that is simply not the case nor the goal of this lawsuit. From AP News, a series of texts and emails released from the case revealed that people throughout Fox News, from senior executives to young journalists, knew that what was being broadcasted was false. The only reason they kept the false information going was because they knew that otherwise they would lose viewership to competitors like NewsMax. This is not to say that any pending or controversial ideas shouldn’t be published. In an Aeon journal article, Rochelle DuFord argues that conflict is actually good for democracy, and helps it grow and improve. Importantly, though, there is a difference between productive and wasteful conflict. Productive conflict would be the publishing of controversial topics by news networks to bring light to an issue. A wasteful conflict would be what Fox News did: spreading information they knew was false simply to maintain their viewership. This important differentiation must be noted. This is not an attack on freedom of the press, this is an attack on intentional extremism for profit.

The press is an extremely influential institution in America, and its power should not be overlooked. Right now, some media outlets are using their platforms to gain viewership and ultimately profit. The press is meant to serve democracy, not tear it apart for the sake of a better quarterly report on the company’s finances. This fixation on profit can be changed by holding networks accountable for their blatant lies by taking away the money they made by stating false claims for viewership. The future of American democracy doesn’t have to be hopeless and deemed irreparable, but with the current state of the media, that division is being aired by some networks. With both sides of the media polarizing their audience to hatred, there is no chance for change. The answer starts with where Americans get their information: the press.

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