Yesterday, CSPAN Chairman Brian Lamb spoke at the Miller Center’s Forum. Since its founding in 1978, CSPAN has made an important contribution to the revolution in communications, which in turn has enormously impacted the way in which people receive information and relate to government. Two things in particular set CSPAN apart from other media outlets. First, unlike public television or radio, it is truly separated from government. Second, unlike cable news shows, CSPAN airs policy and political events (such as the recent conventions), as well as government proceedings without filtered commentary. While CSPAN has been a pioneer in the communications revolution, Lamb noted that Twitter and Facebook are the sources of news for the next generation and the freedom they offer is even more extraordinary. The main take-away from Lamb’s talk was his belief in the absolute need to maintain a free market of ideas in the media, whether as individuals we agree with those ideas or not.
One of the main concerns that many audience members raised was the media’s contribution the politically polarized environment. Throughout the discussion, Lamb propounded the need to maintain a free market of ideas in the media. We may not like how some media outlets have aligned with one party to attack the other, but regulating what airs is far from desirable. Lamb claimed that he actually likes Fox and MSNBC. While some might complain about the lack of civility, Lamb argued that people were previously forced to the middle and “people were angry and not voting.” One positive aspect of political polarization has been, therefore, its ability to engage the citizenry. Findings of some political scientists would confirm this point. Alan Abramowitz, Barbara Sinclair, and Matthew Levendusky, for example, have pointed to positive outcomes, including more meaningful choices for the electorate between the parties, parties that are more attentive to their bases, higher voter turnout in elections, and greater engagement in campaign activism. However, others—such as Morris P. Fiorina, Jonathan Haidt and Marc Hetherington, Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein—have highlighted negative affects of polarization including increased disaffection from and less trust in government, subordinated institutional integrity, decreased policy effectiveness, and a decline in unbiased information.
What are your thoughts about the media’s role in creating a politically polarized environment? Do you agree with Lamb that a free market of ideas in the media is preferable to forced civility? What suggestions do you have for ways in which civility might be returned to politics? Tell us your thoughts.
Listen to or watch the full forum with Brian Lamb here.