In an attempt to cater to viewers’ wants, media effectively extends biases already present in the population. The media can feed off of preexisting biases to strengthen them or even create new ones, therefore shaping public opinion.
When I think of Fox News, I tend to conjure an image of a white news anchor in his 60’s yelling from his seat behind the desk, the word “Alert” flashing, and my grandpa’s blood pressure rising. My stereotypical view of CNN is Anderson Cooper staying calm and appealing to a younger demographic of news-watchers. Of course stereotypes aren’t always accurate, but their existence is based on some form of the truth.
Let’s look at their different coverage styles of the same topic: Syria. Fox News tends to highlight ISIS in its discussions of Syria. (The first two stories here are about ISIS.) CNN, on the other hand, tends to focus on the humanitarian and refugee crises stemming from the Syrian civil war. (The first two stories here are about the lack of electricity/water and the refugees.) Both perspectives offer an evaluation of a legitimate struggle in Syria. Fox News caters to its conservative, Arab-fearing viewers by emphasizing the War on Terror and the need to wipe out ISIS. In focusing on the need to fight ISIS, Fox News legitimizes the fear of ISIS and the need for war. The issue here is Fox News’ failure to differentiate Islamic extremists from other Muslims. Most Muslims do not support ISIS, but it is difficult to believe this fact if Fox News is one’s main news source.
CNN, with its more liberal worldview than Fox News, tends to focus on the humanitarian plight of Syrians who are stuck in the middle of the conflict and those who are attempting to get away from it. This perspective is in no way more or less valid than Fox News’ perspective. The difference is that it tends to focus on the effects of war instead of the reason for US involvement in war. An extrapolation of CNN coverage might lead a viewer to believe that the US should be more involved in providing for the Syrians who are displaced and who are likely suffering mental effects such as PTSD because of the civil war. An extrapolation of Fox News coverage might emphasize the need for increased US involvement to prevent ISIS from gaining more territory. Both networks use viewers’ preexisting values to decide what to run in the news cycle, and the contents of the news cycle reinforces these values and beliefs.