The Real Deal: Cable News Sensationalism: An Exercise in Futility

Aditya Tiwari

Far have we come as a media based society. The newspapers and gazettes of old are now in tough competition against the internet, radio, social media posts, and televised news. For the duration of this article, I’d like to mention I’m not an expert on journalism in any way, shape or form. Nor do I call myself a journalist. Consider me a concerned citizen on this one. The majority of this article will center around cable news and how the “us vs. them” mentality that is utilized is not only harmful to our societal and political discourse, but also to the way we might end up seeing situations as individuals.

My biggest gripe with this phenomenon has occurred in part with the 2016 Presidential race, particularly with the excessive coverage given to Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump and his antics. I’ve made my fair share of statements on why Trump is an insufferable and dangerous person, and one could make the case that the media needs to bring to light the level of depravity him and his supporters have fallen to. His supporters draw strength from this “us vs them” narrative he presents, and the resulting news coverage lies in an “America vs Trump” theme. Narratives aside, it’s abundantly clear that the man is enjoying the limelight, and gains power from this undue media sensationalism.

So why sensationalism? Does it sell more papers and accrue more views? Is it yet another unscrupulous marketing tactic? Or, is it fair to assume it as a weakness on our part, as members of an informed democracy, where instead of trying to search for more nuanced arguments we resort to the sweet lull of sensationalism. We assume that there’s always a conspiracy, a war to fight, or some strange ‘other’ to shun. In that seduction, we have become unable to act in the direction of progress. We instead have pushed ourselves backwards. Allowing the mind to bend to a sensationalist narrative opens one up to fear and ultimately inaction.

In 2014 during the outbreak of the Ebola virus in numerous countries in West Africa the majority of media coverage here in the United States was centered around death tolls, infection risks links to terrorism, and debate over barring all travel to the United States for fear of an outbreak here. While there were valid concerns throughout, little was spoken about the plight of those in Sierra Leone and Liberia who could have used more aid. Or what viewers could do to help. We were more concerned about fantasizing over a stateside outbreak than helping those actually suffering.

In truth, I subscribe to sensationalism and paranoia more often than I should. As do many of us. But when we stand and say that we want to see the bigger picture, and the news media fails to answer, we’ll look for a different source. But until then, let’s all try to make a more honest approach to finding the truth in all things.