Monday, May 10, 2004

Election Year Goal: Get Beyond The Media

In case you haven't noticed, this is an election year, a time for all Americans to consider all of the important issues facing our country: war and peace, terrorism, jobs, the economy, and, of course, workplace safety.

So what are political reporter writing about? Where the candidates stand on the issues, or so-called "character issues: who's a "regulary guy," and who's a flip-flopper.

For much more on the subject of the media's failure to seriously cover political debate in this country, check out this essay in Orcinus, a small part of which is excerpted here:
The obvious aspect of this discussion is the way the entire framing of the debate -- as a question of "character" as opposed to such boring details as policy -- heavily favors the party that relies more on imagery and jingoism, wrapping itself in the flag and pounding its chest about moral superiority: in other words, conservatives.

But even beyond the bias is the way this framing really corrupts and trivializes the national debate, so that we find ourselves constantly arguing about the "morality" or "character" of politicians, an issue that is by nature a product of spin and propagandizing. This has never been more clear than in the current election, when the "character" of a pampered fraternity party boy who couldn't be bothered to serve out his term in the National Guard and who went on to fail miserably at every business venture he touched is successfully depicted as that of a sincere and patriotic regular guy, while that of a three-time Purple Heart winner who voluntarily left Yale to serve in Vietnam, and whose ensuing three decades of public service have been a model of principle and consistency, is somehow depicted as belonging to a spineless elitist.

If the press were properly reporting on this election, the public would have a clearer picture of how John Kerry's economic, environmental and education policies would affect their lives differently than those purveyed by the Bush administration. It would understand the significant differences in their approaches to national security, and it would be far clearer just who in fact has more serious and credible credentials when it comes to the "war on terror" and keeping the nation safe, particularly when it comes to matters of basic competence and knowledge. These are issues that affect us in concrete ways.

Coverage of the 2004 election has already begun to resemble the travesty of 2000, focusing on trivial (and mostly concocted) personality traits: Howard Dean is grotesquely portrayed as a maniacal and out-of-control Howard Bealesque loose cannon; John Edwards as a callow pretty boy; Wesley Clark as an egotistical martinet; and Dennis Kucinich as a whiny, limp-wristed socialist. Once he became the de facto nominee, the "French-like" John Kerry was given both barrels of this treatment, as his status as a war hero came under fire without any grounds whatsoever, while other reports focused on his being served peanut-butter sandwiches by a personal assistant. Meanwhile, patrician fraternity brother George W. Bush is depicted as a man of the people, clearing brush on his Texas ranch. Matters of substantive policy that actually affect voters' lives -- the administration's floundering in Iraq; an economic policy that deprived over 2 million Americans of employment and destroyed the nation's job-creation capacity; an environmental policy that ensured more polluted air and water and diminished wildlife, as well as the more rapid approach of global warming; an energy policy that ensured $2-a-gallon-and-worse gasoline and increasing dependence on oil; an agricultural policy that dooms forever the small family farm -- have not even crossed the media's radar
It is up to you, dear readers, to help others see through the media's obsessions to the real issues. You've got about six months. Get going.