CNN Host Blames Media For Political Polarization
ORLANDO -- Michael Smerconish shared some uncomfortable opinions Tuesday on the state of political divisions in America -- and he started with his own profession.
Longtime radio host and political commentator, Smerconish traced the roots of the current incendiary political climate to talk radio. Specifically, the year 1988.
Two things happened that year, neither of which generated much news at the time, Smerconish told attendees at the NAILBA 40 annual conference. First, Donald Trump made his initial trip to New Hampshire as a potential presidential nominee. He would return as a "potential candidate" every four years thereafter.
Secondly, 1988 was the year Rush Limbaugh began a new show at WABC in New York City. It catapulted Limbaugh to national prominence as a powerful, and contentious, conservative voice.
"All the while that Trump was threatening to run for president over the decades, the real groundwork for a potentially successful Trump campaign was being done on talk radio," said Smerconish, whose own radio career at WWDB in Philadelphia flourished during the same period.
'Good Guys, Bad Guys'
Fox News and MSNBC were both launched in 1996. Soon, one had Bill O'Reilly and the other, Keith Olbermann, both networks eagerly embracing confrontational politics, said Smerconish, who hosts shows on CNN and SiriusXM.
“The model for each was entertainment masked as news," he added. "Good guys, bad guys, predetermined outcomes.”
Social media only added to political divisions, Smerconish noted, with Facebook manipulating content to spark the most engagement. Lawmakers responded, with members of Congress voting "in lockstep" with their party nearly all of the time.
Smerconish originally was a Republican and held an administrator position in the Department of Housing and Urban Development during President George H.W. Bush's administration. He broke with the GOP and endorsed Barack Obama for president in 2008. Smerconish told NAILBA 40 attendees that he remains a registered Independent.
While the parties are often responding to the loudest, most extreme voices, he explained, that does not necessarily reflect Americans as a whole. Polls show as many as 50% of Americans claim Independent party affiliation.
Unfortunately, Smerconish noted, 58% of Americans live in counties of extreme red or blue. That is, uncompetitive counties decided by more than 20% in the 2020 presidential election.
Even as Americans and the two major political parties seem to become more polarizing by the day, Smerconish has an idea how to reverse the trend.
In 2020, Smerconish started a daily newsletter with news links that reflect a range of political ideology. The free newsletter celebrated 50,000 subscribers earlier this year.
“I’m convinced that a mixed-media diet is the answer,” he said. “The ironic thing is we’ve never had so much choice in where we get our news. Yet so few seem to exercise it.”
InsuranceNewsNet Senior Editor John Hilton has covered business and other beats in more than 20 years of daily journalism. John may be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @INNJohnH.
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