President Donald Trump visited Kenosha in Wisconsin last week. It’s the American city where it was restless for nights after a black man was shot by the police. Two major news media outlets, CNN and Fox News, both report a 17-year-old boy picking up his gun and, as it turns out, killing two people.
Although the images from both channels are similar, the interpretation differs. For example, Fox-anchor Tucker Carlson asked his daily audience of four million people the rhetorical question: “Are we really surprised that a 17-year-old with guns maintains order because no one else does it?”
CNN, on the other hand, had a professor speak who called for “President Trump’s silence on the violence of the 17-year-old” to be condemned. The station maps the disproportionate violence against black Americans and points to President Trump.
“If you look at the Kenosha coverage, you’ll see that CNN zooms in on the injustice done to black Americans, while Fox News focuses on looting. There it seems as if the whole country is on fire non-stop,” says correspondent Arjen van de Horst. “Fox News is using the frame: the anarchists are in charge and the Democrats are letting this happen.”
Propaganda and sensation
Where Fox News is a propaganda channel, CNN is a sensation channel, according to Van der Horst: “Don’t confuse the American CNN with CNN International, that channel is actually quite good
American expert Madeleijn van den Nieuwenhuizen lives and works in New York and is affiliated with the City University of New York, but because of the pandemic in the Netherlands. About the reporting on Kenosha she says: “It’s hard to prove that there is a causal connection, but you can imagine that there is a link between conservative TV hosts that condone violence against demonstrators, and people who then put such violence into practice”
CNN and Fox News have been at loggerheads for years. Brian Stelter, a well-known face of CNN and an established media commentator, launched the book “Hoax, Donald Trump, Fox News, and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth” two weeks ago, about the close bond between Fox News and President Trump.
Fox News presenter Greg Gutfeld, for his part, does not have a good word left for CNN and Brian Stelter:
Yet it is too simple to say that Fox News equals ‘Trump News’, says Van den Nieuwenhuizen. “Lately Trump has been demonstrably more critical of Fox News than before.” For example, he was furious when they showed polls in which presidential candidate Biden was in the lead. Moreover, Fox was positive about Biden’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. A presenter called it a successful home run.
At the same time, this also says a lot about Biden’s speech and about Trump’s approach, Van der Horst knows. “Trump is playing a game: he wants Fox News to lie on his back. He threatens to switch to another news channel, but then he doesn’t.”
The media landscape in the US isn’t just CNN and Fox News. MSNBC is also a big player. In fact, according to correspondent Van der Horst, it’s comparing apples and pears by comparing Fox News and CNN. “MSNBC is really the opposite of Fox News and much more than CNN a left-wing propaganda channel.”
Van den Nieuwenhuizen: “Fox News often shows an extremely conservative side and on the other hand you have the progressive MSNBC who also often exaggerate. CNN is more balanced, but they can’t be called neutral either”
The danger that lurks in this polarized American media landscape is that viewers are always confirmed in the image they already have. “This trend undermines democracy,” says American connoisseur Victor Flame. “People live in different camps and therefore the country is not unified.”
According to Van den Nieuwenhuizen, the media only invite experts who fit their own signature. “It’s not often that someone with a radically different opinion comes along.”
Still, there’s something that doesn’t differ: the rhetoric. “It’s all pretty fatalistic and dark,” says Van den Nieuwenhuizen. “At Fox, the message is: we’re lost when the Democrats come to power. And at CNN or MSNBC the message is: four more years of Trump can’t handle this country. These are illustrations of the polarization.”