Media Matters for America released a new study claiming that the religious right is given more airtime on news programs than their more liberal counterparts. Depending on the news source, conservative exposure is 3 to 4 times greater than that of liberals.
As the study says, this should not surprise anyone. The researchers state “Religion is often depicted in the news media as a politically divisive force, with two sides roughly paralleling the broader political divide: On one side are cultural conservatives who ground their political values in religious beliefs; and on the other side are secular liberals, who have opted out of debates that center on religion-based values.” This is so even while the majority of Americans do not attend traditional religious services. (Many surveys say weekly attendance is approximately 45%, while more recently others claim that number is closer to 25%.)
What the study does not say is that religion is presented in this way because it makes for good television. Who wants to watch two people agreeing with each other? It’s like watching paint dry. Far more interesting is someone who is screaming and yelling, even if the people in the audience don’t agree with the person on screen. This is why Fox was so successful — they took a position and screamed it through every means at their disposal. Love them or hate them, you knew what they stood for and you knew where you stood in relationship to that.
Here however is the conundrum: you can’t have a legitimate political debate on television because it’s not particularly interesting. However, 70%+ of Americans get their news and information from television. While you might say, someone should come out with an alternative to Fox. Watch Fox, watch the alternative and let people decide for themselves who has the better argument. Not a bad idea, but unfortunately unsuccessful. When MSNBC brought Phil Donahue — the ultimate liberal — on board, they made him book 2 conservatives for every liberal. MSNBC didn’t have the conviction to go as exceedingly liberal as Fox was conservative.
I see little hope for balancing the weight of conservative voices on television, but I’m certainly open to suggestions.