Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Difficulty of Learning About Our Presidential Candidates

I hate to write another media bashing blurb, but it just must be done. You see, recently I decided that I needed to watch a bit of the mainstream news programs via their swanky new websites just to see what political coverage the majority of Americans are getting. I already know what I feel the important issues are this election, and which candidate is more inline with my political positions, but I also recognize that political races are not usually won on issues. They are more often won on personality and on small, memorable, political moments, consisting either of a gaffe (bad) or a well put policy point (good). Reading substantive articles or watching substantive news programs can not edify you on these essentials of American politics.
The first news program I watched was ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," the Stephanopoulos, who, most recently, was widely castigated for his petty questioning during a primary debate between Obama and Hillary. Mr. Stephanopolous conducted the interview decently, pushing Obama a bit on issues such as tax cuts - where he misrepresented Obama's tax plan as "raising taxes" when it is more a cut than anything else - and Vice Presidential nominee Palin's experience. Overal though, I was struck by how boring the show was. As is most often the case with the mainstream media, Mr. Stephanopoulos exhibited what can only be described as follow-up question phobia, and when he did ask a follow-up question, they were always on very mundane political points consisting of making Obama respond to charges coming from the McCain camp. Most of the time however, the interview consisted of giving Obama a platform on which to talk about what he wanted to talk about. Hardly any context was offered by Stephanopoulos. This guy gets paid to do this?
After watching Obama's tedious interview I switched over to CBS's venerable "Face the Nation" with Bob Shiefer to see how McCain did, or, more accurately, how well Mr. Shiefer asked questions. Once again I was board out of my mind by Shiefer's line of questioning. Shiefer had so many opportunities to get substantive information from McCain. I'm not asking him to hold the Senators feet to the fire - by now we know the American media establishment is unwilling and incapable of doing this. I just want to know a little more about the guy running for president. If I wanted to hear McCain's dry policy positions I would rather go to his website than have to sit through a half-hour of him awkwardly regurgitate them, with the misrepresentations and lies left unchallenged.
There is much talk about why the media is so inept in their political coverage. Some say it is a conspiracy; others say it is the institutional framework that leaves news programs beholden to corporate ad revenue. I don't believe there is a deliberate conspiracy. Such a theory of overt malfeasance would require much more evidence to back it up than what is present. I do think the corporate structure does not work well to create the sort of independent media most people agree we need. But even corporate control can't account for how much worse American newsmen are compared to their just as corporate compatriots in other media markets around the world.
I think that our news outlets are as bad as they are due to a combination of slowly eroding journalistic standards (American journalists obsession with access to politicians is an example of this that I have written about before) and slowly growing media consolidation, which creates a stiff media establishment lacking the motivation to fix itself.
What we are left with is a monopolized media market producing a product of poor quality, and until there is some real competition, there is very little reason to believe the monopoly will be shaken. Luckily there are alternative media options that are refreshingly independent. Just remember that you might want to check back on the ugly news networks, lest you forget how most voters choose their president.

1 comment:

Mollie Joan said...

I completely agree with you, Brett. Watching the debates (P and VP) was like watching a tape on loop. All four of them just kept on talking about the same things and mostly ignored the questions. I channel surfed for part of it.