Blame Modern Media for the Death of Nuance [Opinion]

We are in full-swing of the wacky season that is the mid-term elections. Wall to wall ads are running as we approach the time to cast our votes on the candidates we believe will represent us best. Where the candidates stand on issues can be found, but it takes a little work. You won’t necessarily get it from the barrage of ads on TV, in debates, and news media coverage.


I heard a rhetorical question on a radio recently: “Are we capable of discussing nuance anymore?” With some people’s behavior on social media, and the way the cable news networks “cover” the news, it is certainly a fair question.

In this election, Republicans are outdoing one another to see who can be the most pro-Trump of them all. Democrats are fighting for the top anti-Trump position. And cable networks and other media are no different, taking sides and reporting to support it. If you are conservative, you are supposed to watch Fox News, and there’s plenty to find on the AM radio dial. If you are liberal, you’ve got CNN, MSNBC, and others to confirm your bias.

If you watch the debates, it generally goes something like this. Commentator: “Your opponent has called you an incompetent boob. How do you respond?” That doesn’t leave much room for nuance. I don’t necessarily blame the candidates. They will tell you this is what we have to do and say to get elected. I believe that, but it raises another question. Why is this so?

Elected officials, at least those seeking media attention, seem to bend to the direction of and speak the language of the media. And the direction of the media these days is toward conflict, certainly not nuance.
When you mix in the ability of people to chime in on social media, the conflict gets churned up even more.

There is a fancy term floating around these days called “virtue signaling.” People want to stand up and be counted, and social media is the perfect place for it. You might take the side of some disadvantaged group or you might stand as a proud supporter of law and order. There is virtue in both. But the way it typically works is the loudest and most outrageous voices get all the attention. And the media is more than happy to stir it up even more. That’s where they get the ratings, right?

A prime example of where nuance gets lost is the recent debate over children separated from their parents at the border. Most reasonable people would agree removing small children from their parents, even if the parents broke the law by entering the country, is a problem. But where did the debate go? Some Democrats blamed Republicans for being in favor of concentration camps and some called for the abolishment of ICE.

Some Republicans defended that it was the previous President’s policy, not our guy. What was a problem that deserved nuanced discussion got blown out of the water by wild political rhetoric.

So, what to do? For me, the best move I’ve made recently is to unplug from cable news, which I watched a lot at one time. It does wonders for your mood. And on social media, apply this litmus test before spreading political posts: Is it false? Does the post delight in the downfall of your political opponent due to some personal weakness, greed, or envy? Does the post defend the bad behavior of your side, by pointing out the bad behavior of your opponent’s side? If the answer is yes to any of these, maybe just hold off sharing with friends and followers.

The fact is we live in the most prosperous and peaceful time in history. It sure doesn’t feel that way in this 24/7 digitally connected world. Step back, ignore the outrageous voices, and certainly don’t add to the chatter. It will improve your mood and perhaps make room for more nuanced, civil interactions with others.