Chances are that you have some kind of loyalty to a cable news channel.
I know I do. My roommate does. Several of my friends do. During the day, if you're bored and you don't want to watch mindless programming, SportsCenter, or whatever movie is on AMC, you're going to flip to cable news at the illusion that you are being constantly informed.
I'm talking about CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. These three channels are hubs for constant "news." According to popular discourse, Fox News is "right-leaning," MSNBC is "left-leaning," and CNN is "somewhere in the middle."
Surely it's easy to watch Sean Hannity or Rachel Maddow and affirm these conceptions. These people are analysts, talking heads to do little to promulgate facts but instead spout the facts people want to hear.
Last summer, a study from Fairleigh Dickinson University showed that Fox News and MSNBC have a negative impact on viewers' events knowledge. Even more baffling, people who watch only Fox News know less about domestic current events than people who watch no news at all.
On international matters, people who watched "no news" could correctly answer more questions than those who watched either MSNBC and Fox News; fans of Jon Stewart's The Daily Show proved far more knowledgeable than their CNN counterparts and were only outdone in the study by NPR.
Additionally, in 2011 California governor Jerry Brown remarked that the United States is more divided than at any time since the Civil War.
If you flip on cable news, you might think he's right. Run a quick search on Twitter for "Obama" or "liberals;" for "Republicans" or "John Boehner." Not only will you find vitriolic quotes on behalf of elected candidates, you will find truly ignorant and violent rhetoric from anonymous Internet commentators.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., is running for reelection this year, and the moderate is facing a primary challenge from the right. I ran a Twitter search for Lamar Alexander after I watched one of his television advertisements and immediately was hit with "I will be telling all my fellow Tennesseans not to vote for Lamar Pelosi Alexander!!" In the current mindset, someone who is not staunchly "conservative" or staunchly "liberal" seemingly poses a threat to American society in the minds of the two spectra.
I think this is a direct result of polarized cable news. Why do talking heads on cable news tend to be so divisive and uninformative? As 24-hour news channels, Fox News, MSNBC and CNN are forced to fill the majority of their hours with mindless, controversial information to attract viewers in the market.
After Justin Bieber was arrested for DUI and MSNBC cut off a Congresswoman to announce the news, I saw a joke headline: "Justin Bieber Moves to Ukraine to Force Media to Cover Real News."
In this way, cable news sometimes morphs into a cross between real news and TMZ. Granted, I think that there is some merit to morning shows on cable news that actually talk about the actual news and do not become mired in "gotcha" journalism that only seeks to rile up viewers.
All in all, we've moved from a time when big networks delivered 30-minute newscasts to the American people, giving them straight, informed news and facts.
But maybe there is hope. A 2011 Pew Research poll indicated that four times as many people watch the 30-minute nightly news on CBS, ABC and NBC as watch primetime shows on MSNBC, CNN and Fox News. And more than twice as many people watched the least successful nightly news program (CBS) than watched Bill O'Reilly, the top cable news getter.
That does not mean cable news network doesn't have power over people. If Ted Cruz somehow wins the Republican nomination for president in 2016, you can probably thank Fox News.
Surely we are better off if we broaden our news intake, viewing multiple media outlets and reading divergent news sources. For us to come together in factual homogeneity, this is ardently necessary.
Wade Scofield is a senior in religious studies and Latin. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.