The media is vital for democracy but has lost what it was founded to do. 

Since its inception, American democracy has had a separation of powers through the branches of government. These branches, the executive, legislative and judicial ensure tyranny does not reign. However, there is a fourth branch of government that is meant to keep all branches of government from corruption: the media. Unfortunately, the public no longer trusts the news.

According to a poll put out by the Knight Foundation, “The 2020 American Views survey, Gallup and Knight polled more than 20,000 U.S. adults and found continued pessimism and further partisan entrenchment about how the news media delivers on its democratic mandate for factual, trustworthy information.”

Americans feel that media companies and journalists are no longer doing their job as a check and balance of the government, but rather, acting with biased intentions to support a particular political agenda.

The article about the poll given by the Knight Foundation goes on to say, “Many Americans feel the media’s critical roles of informing and holding those in power accountable are compromised by increasing bias. As such, Americans have not only lost confidence in the ideal of an objective media; they believe news organizations actively support the partisan divide.”

We all know the major media companies: Fox News is conservative; CNN is liberal. Depending on what channel you decide to turn to, you will get a different perspective and narrative based on what political view the news companies lean toward. details this sort of biased news. Their mission statement states, “Don’t be fooled by media bias and fake news. We display the day’s top news stories from the Left, Center, and Right of the political spectrum — side-by-side so you can see the full picture.” This shows how both liberal and conservative news looks totally different when they only support what they believe.

For example, shows how the news regarding the COVID-19 vaccine has a conflicting story depending on what news source you are reading and what political opinion they have. The Daily Wire says, “Third Major COVID-19 Vaccine Up To 90% Effective, Trial Results Show,” and from the left BuzzFeedNews states, “Oxford’s Coronavirus Vaccine Is 70% Effective, Early Data Shows. It’s The Third Vaccine To Clear A Crucial Hurdle.”

Why is the difference in the headline about the COVID-19 vaccine appearing? The Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca stated in their report that the vaccine could be up to 90% effective but also saw results like 70% and 65%. News sources have failed to talk about the variety of success rates in their articles.

There are political and economic differences in the headlines. The Right wants businesses to re-open so they can thrive again, while the Left wants to lean on the side of caution. No matter what you think is the correct move, the news shifts the headlines to fit their agenda.

For example, the New York Times wrote an article about how the polls in Florida showed that Biden would win the state by a wide margin, yet Trump won the state in the election. Many Republican outlets are still refusing to call Biden the President-Elect, saying Projected-Winner instead. These articles are inaccurate because they are trying to please their respective parties.

This causes the American public to ask: can we ever trust the media again?

Let’s look back on what the media was created to do as a so-called fourth branch of government. The American Press Institute states, “ … the heart of their constitutional responsibilities, journalists are in the business of monitoring and keeping a check on people and institutions in power.” Today, we can see that the news media is still vital but has missed the mark on accurate democratic reporting. Depending on the news media company, headlines vary to support which political view that company holds as true.

News organizations actively support the partisan divide, which is why audience members must look at both sides rather than taking one source as gospel. We need to uphold news companies to a higher standard, and that is done through informed viewers. Do not fall victim to the news companies’ rhetorical strategies to itch your ears and please your outlooks. Understand that they are often reporting what their audience wants to hear and not reality.

The Washington Post Company makes an annual revenue of $4.7 billion. These media companies are often more concerned with ratings and money than properly informing the American people of an unbiased narrative of what is happening in the world. What we click on is what drives the numbers for these companies. As an informed consumer, be careful of clickbait and sensationalism. Do not fall victim to the schemes of media companies and look for reliable factual news.

An informed viewer understands that television and social media often have headlines that present political opinions not facts. A critical thinker knows what they hear on social media and television are often political opinions often skewed in favor of a certain agenda. The educated viewer considers what both sides are saying and doesn’t stand by a platform with a cult-like following. The issues on both sides matter, and we need to carefully examine what is being said because oftentimes the media only tells one side.