on media and politics

Tuesday, December 9th, 2003

I don’t know quite how to categorize this post but it’s essentially about politics and participation. I caught the last few minutes of the ABC News & WMUR-TV sponsored “debate” on C-Span tonight and pretty much liked what I saw. In typical C-Span style, there was no commentary or explanation and the display just happened and went wherever it went. I’m a Kucinich supporter myself.

After the “debate” (the definition of this word has changed over the years apparently) I heard Paul Begala of CNN start to bad mouth the candidates as a paid political entertainer. I was in another room but it went something like, “grrr grrrr grrrr grrr.”

Before my antennae stopped working on my car radio, I used to listen to NPR as a matter of course, and for some years (about 17) I’ve noticed a trend in commentary journalism to speak about political subjects and politicians with an attitude of cynical remove, advancing opinions about, say, partisan strategies with language such as “The democrats are concerned with . . .” or whatever candidate “is trying to appeal to their base . . .” or so and so is “tailoring their message to minorities.” Here democrat, base, and minority are being treated as if they’re asleep; they’re present, maybe, but referred to in the third person, as if they have no true presence. Everyone is basically reified.

Then we have the political entertainment concerns: CNN, Fox, and the Sunday talk on channel _____. Crossfire, Hannity and Colmes–I watch some of these the way I listen to talk radio (or used to before . . . well) for a few minutes before slipping in a CD or clicking around the channels for something on carnivorous plants.

What’s the matter with this? The reification and the entertainment approach in my opinion reveal something about media trends that turn American politics and government (two different things) into programmed subjects that don’t exist beyond newsroom decisions and have no vigorous reality. Media loves to talk about strategy, the horse race of elections, personality, and then more strategy, attempting to tell me why so and so is shaping his or her message to “minorities.”

The ubiquity of mediated discussion shapes how we view ideas and issues, of course. Politics is associated with programming. Political entertainment isn’t politics yet it seems to give it a roisterous, unreal context, as if political decisions have nothing to do with the commentators or the entertainers other than as subjects to manage and chunk up into slots and as an excuse to say the same thing over and over. Change the names and play the broadcasts from a year back and perhaps we wouldn’t hear the difference: the president and the office have become mere subject matter, employment opportunity, disconsolate amusement.

What do we need? Do we need the industry of commentators and entertainers? Is this a necessity? How does it shape our concept of journalism and history and our ability to make decisions about life concerns? The promo for CNN’s Dec. 10th American Morning claims this: “Tomorrow, we’ll have a recap and reaction to the final Democratic presidential debate of the year.” Pinch me.


6 responses to “on media and politics”

  1. gibb says:

    I stopped watching most political programming over twenty years ago, and have refined it even more over the years to settle for “live” candidate interviews or debates only. I spent one presidential campaign trying to really keep an open mind and get involved so as to make an educated voting decision, but found it hard on the blood pressure. The candidates were good–although practiced and “eloquent” in their promises, but the instant recap by so-called professional journalists had me screaming back at the TV “He didn’t say that! That’s not what that meant! Didn’t you listen?”

    Perhaps journalism (and perhaps running for political office as well) is becoming more of a creative writing process with success from flair and fiction as the goal. As you have often said, fiction is a lie.

  2. Rina says:

    I gave my television away about…three or four years ago?…exactly because of the 24hour news media. Ten-second soundbites are brilliant strategy but…I don’t need ’em.Now I only watch television at my brother’s house. And when I do watch TV…the more frivolous,the better. For instance, tonight is O.C. night. Last night? The Gilmore Girls. The night before? King of the Jungle. I think Kelly is gonna win, btw.Getting back to news channels…I believe that 24hour news networks have every right to exist. Because when 24hour news channels become outlawed, only outlaws will have 24hour news channels. And I believe that every emancipated adult has the right to let their brains go to mush if that’s what they want.Freedom is a funny thing.Back to politics…How do I make my informed political decisions? I don’t pay attention to a thing they say. Okay. Every once in a while I will tune in to get a ‘feel’ for how genuine a particular politician comes off. But that’s only like…5% of the grade.As a rule of about 3 or 4 years, I research voting records, speeches, essays…and I compare them to my beliefs and values. One of my favorite politicians has always been Ron Paul from Texas…I’m still waiting for him to run for president some day. I can dream.***heavy sigh***Getting back to the research…Very rarely do the words that come from the mouths of politicians match their voting records…or their military policy (as is the case with Wesley Clark).It’s definately a much more time consuming and tedious strategy but…I find that it’s added years to my life because I don’t have to deal with the inuendo, the bias and ridiculousness.

  3. Jason says:

    I think my tune-out point on commentators came during the first Clinton State of the Union. He wrapped up (after saying nothing particularly memorable) and then Dan Rather came on explaining what Clinton said. Hello? Did they really think people needed English translated into English?

    As far as politicians go, the problem is that no one (generalizing, I know) really has any fire about it. Every one of them is just trying to appeal to the middle of the political bell curve, and of course getting over on the other guy. Here’s a good quote from Douglas Adams, “Anyone who can possibly get themselves elected is the last possible person who should be allowed to do the job.”

    Jason

  4. Adam says:

    Honestly, politicking right now just seems like two vans full of circle-jerking people in a head-on collision, and the van with the most survivors being deemed the winner.

    Not helping my depression, either.

  5. Rina says:

    On the actual debates…The only democratic debate I tuned into this year was the one held at Morgan State.The one with the Lyndon LaRouche hecklers.Oh, it was priceless.I figured it could never get any better than that so I haven’t watched another one since.

  6. ersinghaus says:

    So how then do we promote a respectful and smart engagement with the political that touches us every day? We can tune out but toward what do we turn our attention in response?

    For me the Kucinich website offers the most detail about position and belief. We know where Kucinish stands. Cursory reading of Calpundit reveals how things are going in the golden state.