Political Outrage in News Media and Social Media

In their book, The Outrage Industry, Berry and Sobieraj argue that a new incivility is arising in American political media. They find their assumptions and evidence in traditional sources of media (print, TV networks and talk radio), but also look towards nontraditional routes for support (like blogs and personality centered network shows, like The Rachel Maddow Show on MNSBC). As a personal media consumer, I’d like to think I am well rounded in terms of sources. I subscribe to a spectrum of news outlets and get their updates on my phone. These are traditional news outlets like Fox, CNN, HuffingtonPost, and Al-Jazeera. I do not subscribe to more opinion or personality-based news sources, though I might use them for starting points. I do not see them as legitimate sources of news because they are more opinion based. One major non-traditional source that I do subscribe to, however, is social media, specifically Twitter. I do not see it as a news outlet, but it is a source of news. Berry and Sobieraj identify 13 modes of outrage that is predominantly utilized in America. That being said, the most prevalent modes of outrage I experience as a media consumer are the utilization of name calling and mockery/sarcasm.

Name calling is one of the most prevalent mode of outrage in my consumer experience. I think this is because it is so easy to do. It brings us back to playground days of elementary schools where if someone doesn’t agree with you or you don’t agree with or like them, you separate them from yourself with name calling. This is seen across both traditional and nontraditional media sources. I think this happens in interviews that cross party lines, but would be partially increased when involving more incendiary figures, like Glenn Beck or Rachel Maddow. This also comes across on social media when there is breaking news and people do not agree with it. It almost is expected from them but at the same time is more acceptable for them than for newscasters who could be easily replaced to read the same news. It is like it is the incendiary figures’ duty to say what the more respectable or toe-in-line newscasters cannot say. One example I always think of with name calling is the recent surge in the uses of “libtard” and “snowflake”. These are used by conservative commentators meant to demean those in the liberal camp.

Media Personality Tomi Lahren and Incendiary Language

Closely related to name calling is mockery/sarcasm. With the use of “fake” fake newscasting, I think this has become especially prevalent. Examples of this type of “news” includes” Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Saturday Night Live (both their skits detailing political events and their “Weekend Update” portion), The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and The Late Show with Stephan Colbert. Mockery in news is standardized in shows like these when they portray true events, policies, and actions with a comedic twist. Mockery is how personality politics (again like Rachel Maddow or Glenn Beck) maintain viewers and popularity. This ties into the name calling case as noted above. Conservative commentators will refer to people as “snowflakes” and take it a step further with the mocking/sarcasm. A snowflake becomes a person who is individual (like a snowflake) and thus is supposed to be special. They are precious and easily hurt. When people take to the streets in protest against policies they don’t like or speak out against it, they are seen as snowflakes who can’t handle any criticism, where on the flip-side the commentator and those who follow them are tougher, not sensitive like the snowflakes, and thus can get the hard jobs (the opposed policies or actions) done.

John Oliver and his show Mocking Trump (It’s long, take what you want from it)

As for modes of outrage that I do not typically experience, the first to point out would have to be verbal fighting/sparring. This is one of the least likely ones, however, so it makes sense as to not experience, especially when taking into account that I do not reach past more traditional media outlets. In actuality I have seen all modes of outrage throughout various forms of media, both traditional and nontraditional.

The use of more or less obvious outrage language is interesting to me. By research, I know that the insidious, less obvious should be more infuriating because it can be more damaging (either lasting longer or impacting more people), but the more obvious language infuriates me just on principle. The authors discuss new incivility where society and politics and political discussions are becoming more uncivil. I see this represented in the use of more obvious outrage language. It matches the trend identified in Susan Ware’s book on tennis legend Billie Jean King, Game, Set, Match, where at one point the media recognized the privacy of individuals and talked straight facts and events, rather than overt speculation.

Outrage language, depending on severity, has various impacts on me. The less severe the outrage language includes things like insulting language, name calling, and belittling and doesn’t really bother me. It is more an annoyance to try to get around to the main discussion. These kinds of things seem par for the course in regards to having political discussions. The more extreme language has varying impacts on me because I see them as severe for different reasons. Ideologically extremizing language, misrepresentative exaggeration, and slippery slope language really makes me angry and makes me want to respond because these are things that threaten democracy; electing officials or creating policy because of false information. People who work to drive a wedge between conservatives and liberals seek to ensure there is no bipartisanship so the government is either ineffective or can only make policy from one side and therefore isn’t a democracy. Other things like conflagration and character assassination make me angry for another reason: these things aren’t pertinent to politics and thus turns important things into side-shows while unimportant things become the reality.

For me the most effective tool is misrepresentative exaggeration. It makes me unbelievably angry and especially frustrated. This should be the least effective, it should be hard to pull off because it should be easy to fact check. Instead, people are ballsy enough to not only exaggerate facts, but also make events and facts up (thinking of the Bowling Green Massacre story concocted by officials from the current White House administration, where there was supposedly a massacre in Kentucky that nobody could verify). I think this shows just how easy it is for people to believe what they want to believe and for others to get their agenda and point across because of it. Initial reactions include wanting or actually screaming out loud and conducting an entire debate inside of my head. It makes me want to run into research and fact checking to point people wrong but also to get justice for those deemed wrong.

Counselor to President Trump Cites Made-Up Massacre

Berry and Sobieraj present compelling evidence to America’s new incivility and shows the perception of deepening ideological factions, likely contributed to by outrage media. For an academic, I think outrage language and media is frustrating and I see it as a threat to democracy. I do, however, see the appeal in it where news becomes based in the personalities of the contributors and where the individual connecting with the “news” feels welcomed, involved, and can better understand it (typically because it confirms their world view point). While outrage language is supposed to be of the extreme, there is some language and devices that are more extreme than other. This, though, all depends on the person looking at it. Outrage language, once the extreme, now seems to have become the norm.

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Darby Matt

Darby Matt

Drake University International Relations (MENA focused), Socio-Legal studies, religious studies and Arabic graduate. This is a blog-like post to learn and share