Media discourse is shifting toward the truth

By Dan Riley

(Katherine Mayo/ Daily Collegian)

My extended family is diversified across the political spectrum. I have plenty of far-right uncles and far-left cousins. Mercifully, we all have the basic tact to leave politics at the door when we gather for the holidays, but from time to time, there is some discussion about the current state of things in this country and across the globe. I tend to be amused when I hear my uncles speaking their opinions in what I know to be Bill O’Reilly’s words. Of course, that amusement is immediately followed by my regurgitating John Oliver’s words.

Political commentary is a staple of American media culture. It shapes our discourse. I see no fault in people spouting off the opinions of their preferred pundit. To some extent, the job of late night hosts, news anchors and comedians is to capture the sentiments that are resonating with viewers and to expressing those sentiments with the appropriate words. They earn their keep through their felicity of expression: Bill Maher can often articulate the words to express my liberal views better than I can, and I would imagine that Bill O’Reilly often articulated the words to capture my uncles’ conservative views better than they could. However, in the political era of “fake news” and “alternative facts,” right-leaning punditry is losing strength, and that is a victory for truth.

The conservative personalities who were household names throughout the election are disappearing. Milo Yiannopoulos was a champion of the white nationalist movement known as the “alt-right” and a senior editor at Breitbart News. The night of the election, Yiannopoulos was at Trump’s victory party in New York. Three months later, he resigned from his position at Breitbart following incendiary comments on pedophilia. Tomi Lahren was a face of youth conservatism, a dominating social media presence and a weekly host for The Blaze. Four months after the election, she was suspended from her show, apparently for having shared pro-choice beliefs with The View, though The Blaze claims that she was an unprofessional and antagonistic worker.  As a result, I have not heard nor read anything about either of the young political provocateurs in weeks. Of course, while they have lost access to far-reaching platforms, they still have massive followings. However, even if their time in the spotlight was fleeting, Bill O’Reilly’s certainly wasn’t.

O’Reilly is a historic figure: the top-rated cable news host in the nation, the tip of the spear for conservative commentary. Recently, his history of sexual harassment allegations and news of $13 million paid to settle cases with five women led to over 50 sponsors to withdraw advertisements from The O’Reilly Factor, forcing Fox to drop him. Yiannopoulos and Lahren may have been fads, but O’Reilly’s release marks a paradigm shift.

Meanwhile, the left end of the media spectrum carries on. News host Jake Tapper has become the face of CNN and has seen 39 percent growth in his audience. Bill Maher and John Oliver continue to provide forums for discussion, comedy and disseminating information on HBO. Since he dropped the standard late night routine and reverted back to his leftist political inclinations, Stephen Colbert’s “The Late Show” has seen ratings increase and is competing with popular programs like Jimmy Fallon’s “The Tonight Show.”

I fear the bubble effect: people only receiving their news and commentary, and by extension the facts they accept to be true, from the pundits whose opinions they share. We are all victims of it; I certainly fall into my liberal bubble and struggle to shake it off. Additionally, I fear that the fall of conservative voices will rob those working class conservatives, who expressed in the election that they felt forgotten, an important voice in political discourse. There must be fair discussion on the national scale to yield agreement and progress.

However, the right will have to find new champions who do not surround themselves in scandals of unprofessionalism, pedophilia and sexual assault. The pickings may be slim, as it seems that the majority of educated, successful, comedic and talented commentators are leaning to the left in 2017. That does not bode well for the future of balanced discussion, but it does bode well for the future of facts. The “alternative fact” espousing side of the spectrum is losing its voice, and that is a victory for the sanctity of truth.

Dan Riley is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]