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The Corrosive Effects of “In-Your-Face” Televised Political Discourse

- December 19, 2007

When most Americans discuss politics, their conversations are with those who share their own political perspectives. How, then, do they hear the “other side of the story,” and what happens when they do? Television is one of the primary conduits through which they are exposed to contrary views — and a study by Diana Mutz in the November 2007 issue of the American Political Science Review “suggests that television does, indeed, have the capacity to encourage greater awareness of oppositional perspectives.”

That isn’t necessarily good news, though, for under certain circumstances familiarity appears more likely to breed contempt than empathy. The uncivil, “in-your-face” character of much televised political discourse can, Mutz finds, “cause audiences to view oppositional perspectives as less legitimate than they would have otherwise.” People do learn from such exchanges, but “The ‘in-your-face’ intimacy of uncivil political discourse on television discourages the kind of mutual respect that might sustain perspections of a legitimate opposition. …Seeing politicians argue about their disagreeable policies up-close and personal rather than from a distance intensifies citizens’ negativity toward those people and ideas that they dislike.”

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