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The politicization of the U.S. media

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From former President Warren G. Harding, one-time newspaper owner, to Rupert Murdoch, founder and Chairman and CEO of News Corporation, there has been a documented, proven history of politicizing media outlets in attempts to change the course of American politics, whether for a more conservative or for a more liberal state.

It is clear that the media can have a pivotal role in deciding elections should it choose to exercise that power, which it so often does. I believe that the power of the media in deciding elections was most evident in the case of the 2008 presidential election. Barack H. Obama, a virtual nobody at the time, rose to astounding prominence after he eventually defeated the seasoned politician Hillary Clinton, wife of former President Bill Clinton, for the Democratic Party's nomination. After that, he defeated Republican nominee John McCain, also a seasoned, powerful politician, in the general election.

How? Obama went from the ranks of the junior senators to a major speaking role at the 2004 Democratic National Committee Convention, which earned him the attention of the national media, which brought him to the attention of some of the American people almost overnight. And when Obama announced his presidential candidacy, the spotlight put on him was incredible.

In an interview I did with him while he was a Representative and just before he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010, John Boozman was quoted as saying, "Before the election, nobody had ever heard of him. I used to be coming home, I used to be coming through Chicago many times, and he would be on the plane. And, of course, then, here's just a regular guy, a Senator that was just traveling. Nobody bothered him, and then, all of a sudden, he rose to prominence."

Simultaneously, the attacks on John McCain, and especially on his running mate, vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, appeared brutal to some. And the attacks did not all come simply from the traditional, news-oriented media, either. There were late-night comedy skits and criticisms from the more entertainment-minded, including the infamous Tina Fey impressions. In one skit, Amy Poehler, depicting Hillary Clinton, said, "I believe that diplomacy should be the cornerstone of any foreign policy." Tina Fey, depicting Sarah Palin, responded with her own opinion, "And I can see Russia from my house!" And when Poehler later said, "I don't agree with the Bush doctrine," Fey countered, "I don't know what that is," in a childish, giggly voice. This was, admittedly, an effective strategy, as the exchange permeated political and casual conversations.

John McCain later said in a 2012 interview with Newsmax, " The unrelenting merciless attacks by the liberal left on Sarah Palin since the day she was the nominee for vice president of the United States is something that continues to confound and frankly sadden me because it just doesn't stop."

One might assume that a handful of liberal commentators handed Obama the presidency and that this was a rare occurrence, sure to probably never happen again, at least in the near future. However, the media's exercises of power are far more frequent than that, and there have been some key media players over the years, large and small, conservative and liberal, that seem to stand out the most in recent history.

In President Harding's case, he, along with others, purchased the failing Marion Daily Star. He eventually bought out the other owners and transformed the newspaper's editorial platform to support and promote the views of the Republican Party, before eventually running for and winning the position of U.S. Senator in 1914.

Harding won the presidency in 1920. He was the first newspaper publisher to be elected to the presidency.

More recently, Rupert Murdoch's trusted deputy, Roger Ailes, has been found to have multiple times promoted a conservative agenda on the Fox News channel. There was some negative response when he said, "Of course social justice means different things to different audiences, however it has been used in situations leading to fascism, socialism, and communism as well." Considering that, to many, but to many liberals in particular, "social justice" is typically meant as a positive thing, this could be seen as Ailes having a certain fondness for twisting the facts and using alternative definitions in efforts to get audiences to believe what he wants for them to believe.

There was also liberal outrage when, in 2010, Fox News' parent company, News Corporation, donated $1 million directly to the Republican Governors' Association.

Also in 2010, in the case of Scott Brown, Fox was accused of being especially biased. Media Matters for America reported, "In the run-up to the January 19 special Senate election in Massachusetts, Fox News hosted Republican candidate Scott Brown several times for softball interviews and provided a forum for Brown to raise funds. Fox News personalities like Dick Morris made explicit appeals on Brown's behalf, telling viewers to 'please, please help' Brown. Stuart Varney claimed that 'your 401(k) could do well' in response to a Brown victory, and Bret Baier compared Brown's candidacy to the 'Miracle on Ice."

And CNN, the supposedly-neutral network, is not innocent, either. CNN has been charged repeatedly with misrepresenting and unfairly treating the Tea Party movement, with one reporter even getting into a heated argument with Tea Party members almost immediately after calling them all a bunch of "Obama-bashers."

While the media, generally, provides a valuable service to the public, perhaps certain individuals' and companies' motives should be taken into account.

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