Saturday, July 29, 2006

Who Controls the American Media?

You know what? I’m really sick and tired of pundits from both sides firing off about how the media is controlled by the other side.

I realize that due to consolidation there are a few big companies that control a lot of the news agencies. Also, I do think there is a liberal bias in the mainstream media simply because being well-read and well-educated usually makes you more left leaning than not.

However, we know there are many well-educated folks on the right too as well as in between. I consider myself to be snugly situated somewhere in the middle as I have libertarian tendencies on some issues. I’ll also acknowledge that there is a conservative bias in certain other sections of society.

So what?

The fact is there are liberal media outlets like Mother Jones, and, I would even say, the New York Times, considering how much the Bush administration hates them. However, there are also conservative outlets like Fox News and the National Review.

In Paul Krugman’s most recent op-ed piece in the New York Times titled Reign of Error, he goes after what he claims is the Bush administration’s attempt to misinform the public. I agree with him, but I disagree with who is at fault. I’ve linked to the full text at Rozius’ blog, as again, this is a Times Select piece. (BTW, there is a funny cartoon starting off this post, so I suggest you look just to get a laugh).

Krugman starts off by saying this:

Amid everything else that's going wrong in the world, here's one more piece of depressing news: a few days ago the Harris Poll reported that 50 percent of Americans now believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when we invaded, up from 36 percent in February 2005. Meanwhile, 64 percent still believe that Saddam had strong links with Al Qaeda.

At one level, this shouldn't be all that surprising. The people now running America never accept inconvenient truths. Long after facts they don't like have been established, whether it's the absence of any wrongdoing by the Clintons in the Whitewater affair or the absence of W.M.D. in Iraq, the propaganda machine that supports the current administration is still at work, seeking to flush those facts down the memory hole.

I agree with him because I don’t believe there were ever security threatening WMDs in Iraq nor do I believe that Hussein had an alliance with Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. Of course, the conservative pundits have come out to chastise Krugman’s piece and also liberals have come out to support him. Just click on the link as I ran a search for “Reign of Error” on and found quite a few links.

However, I differ with him by assigning blame to the “propaganda machine”.

Read some treatises on democracy and you know the onus is on the electorate to stay informed, stay active and keep their politicians as honest as possible. As voters it’s our responsibility to realize that those in power and those who want to be in power just might massage a story so that it reads more in their favor than not. In fact, they might do more than massage a story they might lie outright. Should they be truthful at all times? Yes, but would they be successful in politics as they are now? Probably not.

As voters we need to make ourselves as informed as possible to actually elevate the level of discussion. Now all we get are soundbites, watered down statements, and smear TV ads during elections. We get that because, unfortunately, that’s what the ill-informed American voter responds to.

We’re responsible for this dismal situation.

I’m not sure exactly when it happened as it’s been gradual, but the current political climate is one where you’re left or right, liberal or conservative or red or blue. It’s just stupid and divisive.

People need to get smart and realize that slapping a label on themselves and every view out there throws a bias in the way of having reasoned and effective debates. Read the articles published by both sides, watch Fox News as well as listen to NPR radio. In this day and age we really must become and stay informed. The level of debate in most areas of the American electorate is rudimentary at best. However, these are the debates that rule our policies. We must seek out and demand accurate information in order to reverse the tide in our political system.

Who controls the media? Ultimately, we do, but we're doing a piss poor job of it.

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  1. Is the media not part of the electorate? Is the political class not (at least in theory) part of "the people"? Sure "we" are responsible for informing "ourselves" about politics and the shenanigans of the political ruling class. However, there are certain segments of the electorate who have certain responsibilities by virtue of the public trust placed on them.

    Just as it may be all our responsibilities to prevent kids from getting beat up in school for being queer, we would still look pretty closely at specific teachers and principles who turn a blind eye to such incidents in their own schools. More importantly, we would find fault with them if we find that they should have been aware of what was going on and put a stop to it. In fact, it is our RESPONSIBILITY to hold them accountable. Same thing with the media - they are the people being paid to engage in the full time investigation and monitoring of the political class - something that many of the rest of us just don't have the time or experience to do well. Similarly, politicians may not be responsible for always doing the right thing (this would be impossible), but they are responsible for truthfully revealing their own actions - they are the servants of the people, after all.

    I think it's too tempting to just shrug at the media's incompetence/complicity when faced with political lies and half-truths, and to take for granted that politicians will lie, and then to lay the responsibility at the feet of the individual.

    Krugman's piece is precisely a call to hold accountable the public servants that we should be holding accountable all the time anyway. THAT is our responsibility. It is NOT our responsibility to do their jobs for them, or to individually undo all their fuckups.

  2. Right, but did I say anywhere that the media isn't responsible for publishing half-truths and outright lies without investigating them? Did I say that all politicians lie? No, to both.

    Don't assume that because I focused on the voter that I think the media and politicos are exempt from blame. We have seen Kennedy who is pretty much the Democratic party’s archetype to our current president, politicians who lie when they feel they must. Those lies are usually not to protect us, the public, but to protect them.

    I do believe that if the people asked the tough questions of the politicians then we'd have a better system. If people weren’t so damn apt to believe the CNN headlines, but question the information they got and took it maybe just a few steps further we’d have a smarter set of voters. If people let the politicians know that they will be held accountable if they are elected and then “forget” the platforms they ran on then they’d act more responsibly.

    Are you trying to say that everyone you know does their homework prior to an election? Most people I know don't. Most people I know, if they vote at all, base their votes on TV ads or something equally as lame. A lot of people I know don’t vote at all and are proud to say that they don’t.

    Until I see the people around me act as responsible citizens and voters, I don't expect much better from those higher up the chain. I do think ultimate responsibility lies with everyone. However, the reality is power does corrupt. I'm not naïve enough to sit around thinking that a career politician cares more about his constituents than he does his progress up the political ladder. He should care, but I'm a realist and I expect that we're going to need to watch him carefully. We have an electorate system where politicians are essentially bought and sold. They get elected due to big money and they're are beholden to that money when they take office. We have a system in dire need of reform and campaign finance measures fail constantly because no one is going to willingly vote to cut off their source of funding. When you can win or loose an election based on expensive TV ads, you need that money. When voters are influenced by expensive TV ads, we have one hell of a problem.

    What section of society can inspire that change to happen? Yes, the media could, but look at the New York Times. They run stories and get threatened and accused of putting national security at risk when they run stories exposing the current administrations fuck ups. Does anyone react? No, so if we don’t react they will continue.

    The only section that can inspire change is the voting public. However, the voting public knows shit all it seems about the issues, the world outside of their immediate concerns and about the electoral process. I'm sure most people even after the 2000 presidential election only has a vague idea of how the Electoral College works.

    Whose damn fault it that? The person who is ignorant is responsible for that. That's not based on any lies or misrepresentation. That's based on a whole host of reasons which have nothing to do with the press or politicians. That is the fault of the voting public and I will continue to hold them ultimately responsible until I see some change.

    Until we the people get off our lazy, ignorant butts, educate ourselves and then turn that knowledge into action, we're fucked. I hold everyone responsible, but I do think the power does rest with the people over those who are struggling to keep their positions of power.

  3. I agree with you analysis of a voter's personal responsibility to become knowledgeable about the candidates and issues beyond the sound bites and bumper stickers and TV ads.

    The idea of massive voter registration drives to get college and high school students scares me because these are among the most naive and impressionable people in the country. Their idea of long-term is the end of the semester, and with no financial stake in the game, they are free to vote for redistribution plans without regard to the individual cost to the ever shrinking percentage of voters who foot the bill.

    Idealism in isolation from personal ethical and financial responsibility is not the way to create an enduring social contract.

  4. Point taken, but engaging voters young is a way to keep them voting.

    I was a young voter who is now, scary to say, a very active middle-aged voter. I think the habit of paying attention to the issues, forming an opinion and following up by actually voting is something all people should do.

    I think it's a bit jaded to assume that simply because people are young that they're not somehow vested in the system or that they'll be reckless in making decisions regarding long-term issues. You must know some really silly young people if you think their idea of long-term is literally the end of a term. At that time in my life I was looking, at least, a couple of decades ahead. Maybe their understanding isn't as deep as much as someone whose been working for years and has a mortgage, car payments and a 401k, but they're also vested in the system. It's one they'll inherit and it's one that they'll be looking at to support them in the future.

    If you can vote at 18, then you should register and exercise that right.

  5. Like you, I took pride in voting when I turned 18 in 1971 and have voted in every election since without fail.

    I am active in local politics and find that most in our S. Cal. community are too busy or bored to become involved or even to familiarize themselves with candidate stands or the real issues behind propositions. As long as the traffic lights work and the soccer fields are mowed, all is good.

    As to my impression of college aged voters, it comes from conversing with my daughter and her circle of friends at a reasonably selective university. My daughter has been pretty astute when it comes to politics and issues since her high school years - but she is still in the distinct minority at the age of 20. She recounts the amazement of her classmates and professors when she discusses issues in class - many are dumbfounded about what is going on. They just don't know. This has been true for her first three years of college and across groups of friends, so I think it is probably pretty representative.

    She is writing a blog on the Social Security mess as part of a class project. She had to make a class presentation and answer questions from her peers. For the most part they were ignorant of that challenge they as a group are facing.

    I could go on with other examples from local, state, national and international politics and policies. The answer would be the same. I have no problem with someone who is reasonably cognizant of issues casting a vote, but rallying kids to vote by flinging teeshirts into a crowd and yelling campaign slogans is not a good way to attract voters - in my opinion.

    Ask most voters how state or local bonds work and you will get a blank stare. I guarantee that almost nonbody realizes that if you float a $1B bond it will cost $2B to repay it. Which is why bonds are almost assured of passing for every park, education, or road project or cause. Meanwhile the state credit rating drops and the interest rate on bonds soars. And this cluelessness is among people who are obligated to pay for the things!

    If you ask a young person to describe the source of personal income tax payments made to the federal government they generally come out with something like the poor and middle class pay almost all the taxes while the "rich" pay almost nothing. You and I know from looking at the IRS pie charts of taxes paid by income group that those assumptions are completely upside down.

    They are ignorant of the extent of corruption in politics across both parties.

    Anyway, I want more people to vote - but only if they have taken the time to truly learn about the candidates and issues. To encourage them otherwise is not good for our form of government or the fiscal stability of nation.

  6. I'm glad you parsed it out. However, I think what it reduces to is that almost all voters, both young and old, need to take the time to inform themselves about the issues and, not only that, but also about HOW things work.

    The old voters might have mortgages and tax bills but they're just as clueless as the youngster with a free t-shirt. It seems that the more poignant issue is probably almost ALL of the US electorate needs to know more.

    Plus, there are some issues that are definitely weighty for younger voters, like war. If they enlist or if the draft is brought back (not likely), they're going to be the ones sent away to fight it.

    My alarm is not just with young voters but with ALL voters. I don't blame the Bush administration per se, I blame an ignorant public that sat back and let fear rule them while the government was screwing up on the domestic front, the international front and looting the Treasury while they were at it.


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