"No matter how absurd one side of any given discussion is, the network will give them equal time to make their point, often normalizing some crazy views.
"If CNN put on a well-known astronomer to explain how he discovered the earth was not flat, the anchor would say, 'Just to be fair, we found this guy who thinks the world is flat.' Then they would give him an equal amount of time to make his ridiculous point. The banner on the bottom of the screen would likely read, 'The debate rages on about whether the earth is flat.' CNN does not seem to understand that every issue does not have two equally valid sides."
To be fair, there is a big difference between news bias and presenting alternative facts (that is, lying). MSNBC and Fox News are biased in both the way they present and analyze the news. That mostly has to do with how they select what to report, what they choose to highlight, how they edit interviews, who they get for their panel discussions, and how the anchors question them. CNN is generally seen as either biased (if you are right-leaning) or more neutral (if you are left-leaning).
When President Trump’s counselor Kellyanne Conway used the phrase “alternative facts” when being grilled by NBC’s Chuck Todd, few people who had been following the news throughout the election season should have been surprised. Numerous surrogates for the candidates would be invited onto all the cable news channels on a daily basis. They would lie right to reporters' faces and almost never be called out on it. The response would invariably be something like, “OK, that’s what she says, let’s see what someone with the exact opposite point of view has to say.”
Given that these surrogates lied to reporters with impunity for a year and a half leading up to the election, why wouldn’t they think they could get away with continuing to do the same thing after the election? Why wouldn’t they continue to think that the facts don’t really matter to the media (or to the voters who elected them)?
Well, there is the obvious answer that Donald Trump is now President of the United States. The world, not just his base supporters, is paying attention to everything he or his spokespeople say or tweet. They can’t continue to operate as though they are only playing to the Fox News and Breitbart audiences. The other reason, of course, is when you use a phrase like “alternative facts,” it almost requires ridicule, which the press has been more than happy to heap on.
As I’m writing this, CNN is actually airing a segment where an anchor is interviewing a guy who claims to have evidence of massive voter fraud -- despite the fact that 1) in the previous segment, the network acknowledged there is no such evidence; and 2) this person is not presenting any evidence to support his claim. Leading into the segment, the anchor had said he’s going to talk to this guy anyway and let viewers decide. I’m sure that some people who were just tuning in thought that there was credible evidence of massive voter fraud. This type of thing is a major reason why so many people believe alternative facts (that is, lies). Cable news networks present them as just another point of view.
Going forward, networks and newspapers need to once again be vigilant. Do more than the occasional fact-checking segment. Call out lies wherever you find them. Go back to the pre-1996 days, before MSNBC and Fox News debuted, before cable news networks saw that the path to profits was through getting their viewers to hate the other side, before the time when facts started to blur with opinion, before the time when reporters’ own political leanings were so obvious.
There is something called objective truth. How about reporting that?