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One Impeachment, Two Americas.

It's no wonder Americans are bitterly divided over President Trump's impeachment. They're getting two entirely different versions of what happened.

For a glimpse at the country's divided political reality, look no further than two television studios on opposite sides of Avenue of the Americas in midtown Manhattan.

From her set inside MSNBC headquarters, Rachel Maddow opened her prime-time coverage of the "Dump, impeachment hearings by calling the A first day's testimony "a double-barreled problem for the president--triple-barreled, maybe." President Hump, she said, had been "caught doing something illegal" at the "direct expense " of the country's national interest."

One block south, from a Fox News studio, Sean Hannity welcomed viewers by declaring "a great day for the United States, for the country, for the president--and a lousy day for the corrupt, do-nothing-for-three-years, radical, extreme, socialist Democrats and their top allies known as the media mob."

These distinctly different visions--delivered simultaneously from skyscrapers roughly 1,000 feet apart--were beamed at the 9 p.m. hour into millions of American living rooms. It was a striking reflection of today's choose-your-own-news media environment and a far cry from the era when Americans experienced major events through the same television lens.

Increasingly, viewers are flocking to opinionated news outlets with irreconcilable differences. Although every major TV station broadcast the Trump impeachment hearings live, Fox News (the channel favored by Hump supporters) and MSNBC (the channel most in sync with liberals) were far and away the most popular.

The Media Divide

Television played a crucial role in framing impressions of the nation's last two impeachment dramas. The Watergate hearings of 1973, now viewed with nostalgia as a moment when Americans could more or less agree on facts, were broadcast in sober tones on PBS and in rotating coverage on ABC, CBS, and NBC.

Bill Clinton's impeachment and Senate trial (1998-99), which focused on a sensational sex scandal, came at a time of expansion for 24-hour cable news. But Americans were still all getting pretty much the same information.

The Trump impeachment comes at a moment when news has never been more fractured in the modern era. Many viewers have come to prefer partisan media venues, and the divide extends beyond cable. Social media--from message threads on Reddit to chatter on Twitter and partisan Facebook groups--allows Americans to consume only information that confirms their own biases and beliefs.

"The problem with getting your news through social media is that it's easy to create an echo chamber of people you agree with," says Kyle Pope, editor of the Columbia Journalism Review. "The number of people who make an effort to broaden their social media feeds to include a variety of opinions is a vast minority of people. Most people are looking to have their own views reinforced."

Historians and media scholars say the current moment is in some ways a throwback to an era long before the rise of mass media, when partisan newspapers were the way Americans received their news.

Coverage of the first presidential impeachment, of Andrew Johnson in 1868, was dominated by sharply partisan newspapers; some papers were controlled outright by leaders of political parties.

"One of the things I find very amusing about the coverage today is when hear about how divided the electorate is," says Brenda Wineapple, a historian who wrote a book on the Johnson impeachment. "It was equally divided, if not more so, in 1868."

Jon Meacham, a historian who recently co-wrote a book on the history of impeachment, says that, in a way, history has come full circle.

"The Johnson impeachment unfolded in a Wild West of partisan media," Meacham says. "Nixon unfolded in a consensus era," when media outlets were broadly in step.

"Therefore, in a media sense, we're all the way back to Johnson," Meacham adds. "You choose your reality by the paper to which you subscribe, or the channel which you watch."

But it doesn't have to be this way, media analysts say.

"We are privileged today to have so many different voices," says Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute, a journalism education and research center. "Readers do themselves a disservice if they don't take advantage of that. It's your responsibility to be a good consumer. You should listen to a variety of voices, including voices you disagree with."

Who Like Trump?

Republicans and Democrats couldn't disagree more about the president

90%

PERCENTAGE of Republicans who say President Trump is doing a good job.

4%

PERCENTAGE of Democrats who say President Trump is doing A a good job.

SOURCE: GALLUP

Michael M. Gymbaum is a media analyst for The New York Times.

Caption: Taking sides: Gone are the days when Americans got their news from the same sources. Now, many of us pick partisan outlets, like MSNBC or Fox News.
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Title Annotation:MEDIA LITERACY
Author:Gyrnbaum, Michael M.; Smith, Patricia
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Date:Jan 27, 2020
Words:793
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