Friday, September 12, 2008

Media and Politics

I recently saw online a YouTube video of Robert Kuttner, an author explaining about the role of economics in political decision making on the Hannity & Colmes show.

I can say emphatically that H&C makes a complete mockery of any resemblance to journalism. What was unsurprising is how Hannity immediately jumped into the interview disparaging the author's comments as "garbage", his loud-mouthed blustering was offensive and unprofessional. Clearly this was not an unbiased news program in any sense. Yet conversely, we see attacks on the "liberal" media being made by Conservatives, and we saw the chants against "NBC" and negative reaction to the elite liberal media at the Republican Convention.

How do we reconcile these two opposite points of view, where we have such a cultural divide pervading the world of journalism and media?

Tonight I happened to catch an episode of Bill Moyer's Journal on PBS. How refreshing it was to have a calm discussion to frankly discuss issues and topics. Specifically it was about the role of media in the political decision process and the quality of discussions that take place.

The novelist Russell Banks, in his first book of non-fiction, just published, explains the Sarah Palin phenomenon even before it happened. In "Dreaming Up America," he writes that we choose our presidents not on the basis of their experience or even their political views, but on how well they tap into our basic beliefs, our deepest communal desires, including our religious or spiritual beliefs. Our presidents, he writes, represent in some very personal way the imagination and the mythology of the people who elect them.

This helps us understand why the facts about Sarah Palin meant nothing when she suddenly materialized on the public stage, like Cinderella at the ball. You could see the convention delegates awed by the magical moment when the small-town girl, church-going hockey mom, mentored by her pastor to think upon the story of the biblical Queen Esther, became an overnight star. Leaping past "go" to the pinnacle of politics and the ultimate goal the cover of "People" magazine.

No wonder reality-based journalists are having a hard time with this story. Mythology is not their beat. But in the imagination of her tribe, Sarah Palin achieved an almost immaculate conception. Her lack of experience matters not to them. Nor do they care that her past is filled with contradictions, and nothing the press reports, no matter how grounded in fact, can shake their faith.

It certainly supports the reactions to Charles Gibson's interview with Sarah Palin. What's interesting is that opinions have NOT changed. Liberal voters were more convinced of how poor her qualifications were, and that Gibson conducted a fair interview. Conversely, Conservatives felt vindicated that Palin had performed well, although slightly mistreated by Gibson.

This an example of the division in cultural thinking in America today.

What is interesting is that the discussion in Bill Moyer's show is that the voters need to exercise some responsibility in determining whether the information is true or makes sense. However, it becomes difficult in today's world with the role of shock-jocks, the 24 hour news cable channel, and the internet sending a barrage of information to the voters. Moreover, the type of information or news offering is not always necessarily driven by what's truly important, but rather what drives ratings - as evidenced by the incessant coverage of the "lipstick-gate".

Furthermore, viewers will not actively go in search of information to correct mis-information, but rather to validate their assumptions. In my mind, conservative viewers will opt to view the Fox news shows, such as H&C or Bill O'Reilly, that supports their preconceived notions. At the same time, more liberal viewers will favor shows such as Countdown or Hardball.

I definitely found Bill Moyers discussion with the role of media and journalism and it's impact on civil discourse in the political arena very refreshing. Of all news programs, it's clear that the information on Public TV (PBS) and Radio (NPR) is of a much higher caliber than anything on traditional broadcast or cable news channels. I felt so strongly about it's quality, that I felt compelled to go immediately to donate money to support their stations!
Sphere: Related Content

No comments: