Monday, September 20, 2004

Star Tribune : A political Tower of Babel?

In August, the Annenberg Public Policy Center released poll results focusing on Americans who had watched the Bush-bashing Michael Moore film "Fahrenheit 911" and those who regularly listen to the liberal-bashing Rush Limbaugh radio program. Almost nobody (like one-quarter of 1 percent) was in both groups.

As you might guess, Limbaugh and Moore fans disagreed on almost everything.

A society of Limbaugh dittoheads and Moore disciples would be a modern-day Tower of Babel, where nobody spoke the same language or agreed about basic facts.

Changes in the media environment make a total failure to communicate easier to imagine. The Pew Research Center finds that the audience for cable news is growing more divided by party.

Four years ago, 18 percent of Republicans and 18 percent of Democrats regularly watched Fox News. In 2004, the numbers are 35 percent of Republicans and 21 percent of Democrats. Democrats now outnumber Republicans in CNN's audience.

Pew also reports that 29 percent of adults (up from 2 percent in 1994!) now regularly get news online. That doesn't tell you what Web sites they're visiting, but the blogosphere serves up a heaping helping of partisan red meat.

If you subscribe (for free) to the daily e-mail put out by the anti-war, anti-Bush group "Truthout," you will receive dozens of links every day to articles from a wide variety of conventional publications. But 100 percent of the Truthout links are to stories that are bad for Bush.

As New York Times columnist David Brooks recently wrote, "Once you've joined a side, the information age makes it easier for you to surround yourself with people like yourself."

But it's too soon to proclaim an American Tower of Babel.

When Annenberg took the Moore-Limbaugh survey, 85 percent of Americans had neither listened to Limbaugh during the previous week nor seen "Fahrenheit." And there's no reason to believe the Limbaugh listeners and Moore watchers didn't get additional information from other sources.

And considering liberal allegations about Fox's conservative tilt, the 3-2 preponderance of Republicans to Democrats in Fox's audience seems surprisingly small.

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