How politically polarized media is driving our alternative realities

HARI SREENIVASAN: But first: The ouster of Bill O’Reilly from the FOX News Channel is an earthquake inside the conservative news media machine that many say, over the years, has contributed to the polarization of America.

Tonight, we look at one aspect of the two Americas what we’re calling news divisions.

White House correspondent John Yang went to Arizona recently to examine how people get their news and the impact that has on how they see the world.

JOHN YANG: Marcus Huey, Ken Block, and Delia Salvatierra all live in the Phoenix area and call themselves news junkies. But that’s where the similarity ends. Their sources of news are as different as their politics.

Salvatierra is a Democrat who voted for Hillary Clinton.

DELIA SALVATIERRA, Democrat: The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, and The New Yorker are sort of the foundational things that I surround myself with.

JOHN YANG: Huey is a Republican who voted for President Trump.

MARCUS HUEY, Republican: As a voting member of the Republican Party, I would say anything that comes out of FOX, I pretty much take to the bank. If something comes from Laura Ingraham, I pretty much take that to the bank.

JOHN YANG: And Block, an independent, voted for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.

KEN BLOCK, Independent: I kind of bounce all over the board. I have Twitter and a news feed on my phone. So, you know, I take a little bit of everything.

JOHN YANG: None of that surprises Thom Reilly, director of the nonpartisan Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University. He’s one of the authors of new a study examining where voters get both news and commentary.

THOM REILLY, Morrison Institute for Public Policy, ASU: Well, voters today basically have this cafeteria type format, where they can choose from personalized news sources that not only serves to inform them, but also reinforces their world view.

We want to hear stuff that we believe in, or just kind of particularly in a very polarized world. So, I do think we’re seeing this, people going back to what — they feel safe.

JOHN YANG: The researchers found that the proliferation of news sources on cable TV and the Internet has upended the relationship between news outlets and their audiences. Instead of voters being shaped by news, Reilly says news is being shaped for voters.

THOM REILLY: What we’re seeing is that, particularly with a lot of Internet sources, is they’re appealing to a base, and they’re attracting a wide audience, and it’s growing. And they’re responding to what voters want, instead of vice versa.

JOHN YANG: It used to be that politicians and candidates would appeal to a base, but now you’re saying that news outlets are appealing to their base?

THOM REILLY: And they’re shaping it, yes, yes.

JOHN YANG: Democrat Salvatierra grew up in a conservative Republican household and found her own brand of politics in college at the University of California, Berkeley. She now runs her own immigration…

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