Political Accountability – Politicians, the Press & the Public

Covering political events as if collecting box top coupons on the way to election day is not the same as doing a good job, of offering insight, perspective and shining the harsh editorial light to measure what is being said and not just to what is being spoken from the candidate’s lips or media machine.

Advertisements

Calbuzz.com has a very insightful piece The Death of Truth: eMeg and the Politics of Lying about the media holding candidates to their word, exposing contradictions, and pointing out inconsistencies.  It merits thoughtful consideration and discussion.

More from me after this clip.

“Perhaps it’s just a case of wishful nostalgia, but it seems to us that before the rise of Fox News, Rovian manipulation and the abnegation by certain people of fact-based reality, there was some sort of agreed-upon truth that was adjudicated daily by the mainstream media.

A candidate couldn’t say one thing one day — like, for example, that they were opposed to a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants — and another thing another day — like they basically agree with an opponent who favors a path to citizenship. They’d be afraid of being called a liar in the papers, and that would actually matter.

But in the California governor’s race it now appears that we are witnessing the Death of Truth. From a cosmic perspective, this has come about because:

  • The attention span of the average citizen, never very long, has been hyper-accelerated by the rise of new media, including the Internets, where something is old before it barely new — and certainly not fully digested — and everyone is off on the next new thing. Beyond that, the rise of ideologically-sated outlets like FOX and MSNBC ensures that partisans will never again have to watch something with which they disagree.
  • The lugubrious mainstream media is often strangled by self-imposed, on-the-one-hand-on-the-the-hand, false-equivalency “balance,” in part intimidated by loud, if unfounded accusations of “bias” most frequently lobbed by the right-wing. Thus the MSM at times seems unable and/or unwilling to cut through the miasma and call a lie a lie or a liar a liar. (Even Jerry Brown won’t call a spade a spade, referring instead to Meg Whitman’s “intentional, terminological inexactitude.”)
  • It’s now clear that a candidate with unlimited resources can and will blow off complaints, critiques and factual analyses of those who dare to speak up and will instead declare that the truth is whatever he or she says it is — in their paid advertising and the assertions of their mercenary prevaricators.

All of this feeds the corrosive cynicism that infects our politics, demonstrated most visibly in low voter turnout. Even among those who vote, healthy skepticism is often supplanted with a smart-ass, know-it-all facile sophistication that assumes all politicians are liars (they’re not) and that everyone in public life only wants to do well (we still believe there are some who want to do good).

Cynicism, of course, breeds further alienation and disgust, causing a downward spiral of disengagement from the process, leaving voting (and caring) to the true-believing wing-nuts who are certain they know the truth because they read or watch it at one of the ideologically-determined web sites or stations that conclusively confirms their prior held beliefs.”

Political news should not become the equivalent of a sports report of who is merely ahead in the polls, who is neck-and-neck with one another, or who staged a knockout blow; instead it is an ongoing obligation to report on every speech and nuance of the campaign trail.  It is more than reading polls to then proclaim which way the wind is blowing.  It surely demands an investment in better field reporting than to rely instead on the diatribes of pundits who spend the preponderance of their time reading about the campaign from afar, whether in Washington, Sacramento or some glass office in lieu of spending time in the crowds, at the rallies, on the charter, and in the auditoriums.

It requires a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of the campaign and editorial commitment by both the reporter in the field and editor back at headquarters lest five second soundbites from either the candidate or  supporter vs. opponent become satisfying or sufficient for knowledge.

And it does cost money, lots.  It is expensive to stay with the candidates, to ride along on the campaign, to pay for technology whether satellite trucks, transmission facilities or simply a reporter’s per diem. There is no excuse for not making this investment; there are few news events worth more than this investment that will yield comprehensive and sustained coverage of significant races. These are the game changers of our lives.

But the fact is too often even networks, the most prominent national papers, even wires shun White House charters where the cost, first class fare plus fifty percent, is deemed too expensive.  Instead reporters leap-frog ahead of the President or the candidate but miss key moments due to this financially mandated absence.  On a local level there is even less of a an investment and campaigns are covered as episodic events – here a speech there a speech, here a reaction soundbite there a counter point reaction soundbite.  Covering political events as if collecting box top coupons on the way to election day is not the same as doing a good job, of offering insight, perspective and shining the harsh editorial light to measure what is being said and not just to what is being spoken from the candidate’s lips or media machine.

Campaigns now go to greater and greater lengths to limit media access to the candidates.  Some candidates believe they can speak only to affinity-related news outlets and scorn any who are not believed to be boosters for their cause.  Campaigns spend extravagant amounts of time attacking the messengers by specific organizations and individual reporter who they believe are their enemies.

Perhaps this is all the logical outcome or expected result of the Michael Deaver inspired style to control the message, the campaign spin, the mouthpiece also known as the candidate.  Perhaps this is what happens when a need for outrageous sums of money to run a campaign become the dominant force in politics.  If the media is not present to protect their role – to fight for access – to not merely go along for the ride but instead challenge the campaign and make that ride to victory or defeat as bumpy as possible, for who else is in such a position to be as independent and challenging, then in the end the readers, the viewers, and the voters are at risk of being short-changed.

Calbuzz raises some questions about the quality of reporting to date.  The media has not always done a good job for a host of reasons, from the fact that many, experienced old hands have lost their jobs to a lack of commitment of editorial space and dollars to do the job.  And here’s the last part – readers, viewers, voters are not demanding better.  Too often they seem to settle for a diet of political pabulum, brevity and volume, all the while decrying bias whether real or perceived, and no longer recognize that us-versus-them reporting, punditry, and sheer volume is not a viable substitute for insight and knowledge.

Disclaimer – Calbuzz co-founder Jerry Roberts is a friend, and I am currently teaching a directed study program  producing content for the site.
Finally, whether you agree or not I ask that you do two things — send this link to others and leave a comment; create a dialogue or add to the thread so that others will appreciate what you have to offer.