On Tribes…and American News

Today’s purveyors of political tribalism, on both left and right, may think they are defending American values, but in fact they are playing with poison. America will cease to be America — and will no longer be a super-group — if we define our national identity in terms of “whiteness,” “Anglo-Protestant culture,” “European Christianity,” or any other terms not inclusive of all religions and ethnicities. But it will also cease to be America if enough of us come to believe that our country and its ideals are a fraud. There is a world of difference between saying that America has failed to live up to its own ideals, with egregious injustice persisting today, and saying that the principles supposedly uniting us are just smoke screens to disguise oppression.

The peril we face as a nation today is not only that America might fail to live up to its promise, but that Americans might stop believing in that promise or the need to fight for it. The increasing belief on the left that this promise was always a lie, or on the right that it has always been true — and has already been achieved — are two sides of the same coin.

In Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations, by Amy Chua

March 14, 2017 (Media Analysis) If you have spent any time on-line you have noticed them. In fact, there are areas of the country where people make a point to live along side those with the same belief system. In the most extreme, some Republicans are moving to Texas from California, because they want to live with fellow conservatives.

To be fair, there are liberals moving to more liberal areas as well. They do not want to live along side conservatives.

This is a process known as self- sorting. Long term it will not work. Texas, for example, is trending towards blue, and other states will do the same. The reality is that in many ways we have a population shift. This population shift will likely make the country change its politics away from the Reagan revolution.

However, there is a danger in this tribalism.

Barriers are rising, and people are self segregating into their own bubbles. This is happening in multiple places. It is not just the physical, where people literally are moving to different areas of the country. It is also in other aspects of your life.

Americans are reading different papers. This is not new. With the large immigration waves came papers in a panoply of languages, that like today, reported on the stories that mattered to immigrant communities. But we had a common source of agreed upon newspapers that reported on facts that were accepted by all.

Most of these papers of record were conservative in bent, and ignored labor matters. Why organized labor has publications of its own to this day. But stories on the presidency were reported. Whether it was the New York Times, or Los Angeles Times, there were agreed upon facts. The same can be said about major disasters, such as hurricanes, floods, and fires. You could also include explosions, whether carried out by anarchists, or animal rights groups, or others.

In our age of increasing tribalism that has disappeared. Why the two major tribes, our right and left do not agree on things such as Russian cooperation with the Trump campaign. This is also why some stories are reported on CNN, but Fox ignores them. It is also why fake news has an easier time, since it conforms to preconceived notions of what should be happening.

However, if the atomization of news stopped here, we would be ok. People at times believe their stories do not matter to the mainstream media. It does not matter if this is the death of rural culture, or bombings in Austin, or national student walk outs.

For people who feel they are losing their country, this is a critical story line. So is the fact that the media is not reporting on stories that affect people of color. First off, stories on rural life run regularly on American media. For example, here is one from the Atlantic. We are including a quote from that story:

In middle school, we had an assembly about hunger and poverty in Eastern Kentucky, and they had these numbers, and they’d have students stand up, and they’d be like, “this is how many students in your school could be facing hunger or could be facing poverty.” I find that that is a big issue in our community, living in Eastern Kentucky. I grew up when I was little with both parents, and when I was in first grade, my parents did get a divorce. Neither of my parents went to college. My mom actually went for a little bit, but she never graduated, and my father didn’t go at all. I now live with my mom, and we actually recently moved in with her mom, so it’s the three of us. My mom’s going back to college at our town’s university, Morehead State. That’s exciting. We’ve been low income my entire life, especially since I’ve just been living with my mom, because she hasn’t had a job, we’ve kind of just been living off of child support and what not.

It is critical to understand that rural residents feel, and to. a point have a valid gripe, that their situation is not covered. One reason for this are the deep pockets of poverty. To be frank, poverty is not generally speaking covered in the United States, especially on television. Partly, it is far sexier to have a story on if it bleeds it leads.

This is well known in media studies:

The average American watches five hours of television a day and spends 40 minutes on Facebook. Of that time, a limited amount is spent looking at the news. Poverty, a growing issue both in the United States and abroad, constitutes less than .02 percent of lead media coverage. This compares to politics at 16 percent, immigration at 1.4 percent and education at 1.2 percent.

These figure mean that people are not informed about important issues. Even when the recession hit in 2009, people were still under-informed on poverty.

Poverty is an issue even in the United States, with 50 million people living below the poverty line. During the last election, FAIR performed a study which found that only 309 out of 10,489 news stories discussed poverty at all. Only 17 discussed it in any depth.

So the lack of reporting on rural communities is a lack of coverage of poverty. The same applies to the urban core, and populations of color. Let’s be clear, not every person of color is poor, or on welfare. This is a well known trope encouraged by particularly right wing media. But the media does portray people of color as violent, and crime prone. As somebody once told me, white people are rarely shown in the afternoon news in county blues. So there is a clear media bias, But some of that bias is towards sensational news.

But What About Austin… and the Bombings?

However, this story has been all over the printed press, and has gone somewhat viral on twitter. It is always tricky to know what hashtag to use. Having done media professionally, for me it was relatively simple. This hashtag is #austinbombing.

The story has not just been part of the New York Times reporting and the Union Tribune, but has also gone international. The story has hardly been ignored, but it will slow down. Why? There are precious little new facts, to go on. So until we have a major break in the case, police will also want to keep their investigation under wraps. We may see an occasional leak, but don’t count on it.

There were also headlines in Mexico and Spain.

This is hardly a story that is being ignored. In fact, it is all over major printed media. Just because it is not on the television screen does not mean it is ignored.

But people do not have time to read… if you believe that this is the first time working class Americans have had no time to read you need to crack up a history book. This story is as old as the Republic. Most people do not have time to read, and to be brutally honest, they do not have the interest for this activity either. The lowest common denominator in the United States is not policy. It is not poverty either. For that matter it is not fiscal policy, or inequality. It is if it bleeds it leads.

So as long as you understand this, it follows why stories like this do not stay on the tv for long. However, if you want to know about these stories, you need to read. And you cannot claim that a story is not covered when it is provable that it is being covered.

This is part of the rising tribalism in the United States. This tribalism is leading to extreme forms of identity politics, not just in what passes for the left, but also the right. And both love to engage in a form of selective news reading and news interpretation where both are victims of the news, which is also seen as elite and for the elites.

And if you engage in such activities, you are engaging in tribal behavior. Whether you believe you are doing that or not is immaterial.

Written by

Historian by training. Former day to day reporter. Sometimes a geek who enjoys a good miniatures game.

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