One of the biggest threats to journalism today, in my opinion, is political commentary. Not all political commentary is bad – in fact, it’s necessary for our democracy. But the political commentator who is disguised as a journalist is dangerous to the professional field of journalism as a whole. People like Tucker Carlson and John Oliver take over news television, fill it with political commentary, and disguise it as news reporting.
These shows are entertaining, which is why networks keep them airing and the audiences continue to watch. They appeal to the emotions by poking fun at the president or debating somebody with opposing beliefs. But Carlson’s show airs on Fox News and Oliver’s show – while it is a late-night show – is so centered on politics that audiences can easily mistake commentary for context in news. Furthermore, people tend to agree with these news biases, further establishing the political divide in the country. This is dangerous.
News outlets are bringing in more commentators than journalists, according to SchoolJournalism.org. Because of this, “the general public sees the [commentators] as biased journalists” instead of simply commentators. They don’t outright call their shows news, but they sit at a desk in an established newsroom and discuss hot political and social topics. This leads to distrust in the media and discredits the journalists that are working hard to produce unbiased and accurate work.
In an earlier blogpost, I mentioned the importance of digital literacy, which is defined by the American Library Association as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.” I discussed this more on the topic of fake news, but it is relevant in this post as well. By being digitally literate, the public can determine what is news (accurate reporting of the truth) and what is commentary. By establishing this difference, the public can then recognize what is known to be fact versus what is one person’s opinion. Ideally, this would put an end to news networks providing political commentary.
Political discussion is good. It is important for us to be able to share our ideas freely and uncensored, especially regarding significant and controversial topics. And I believe there is a place for this. But this does not belong on news networks and it should not be disguised as news.