Monday, April 28, 2008

They Sold You The Iraq War and Now the 2008 Election

"If voters want a vibrant, vigorous press, apparently we will have to demand it.
Not by screaming out our windows as in the movie “Network”
but by talking calmly,
repeatedly, constantly in the ears of those in whom
we have entrusted this enormous responsibility.
Do your job, so we can — as voters — do ours."

an excerpt from the NYTimes Op-ed Page

Bowling 1, Health Care 0

by Elizabeth Edwards

For the last month, news media attention was focused on Pennsylvania and its Democratic primary. Given the gargantuan effort, what did we learn?

Well, the rancor of the campaign was covered. The amount of money spent was covered. But in Pennsylvania, as in the rest of the country this political season, the information about the candidates’ priorities, policies and principles — information that voters will need to choose the next president — too often did not make the cut. After having spent more than a year on the campaign trail with my husband, John Edwards, I’m not surprised.

Why? Here’s my guess: The vigorous press that was deemed an essential part of democracy at our country’s inception is now consigned to smaller venues, to the Internet and, in the mainstream media, to occasional articles. I am not suggesting that every journalist for a mainstream media outlet is neglecting his or her duties to the public. And I know that serious newspapers and magazines run analytical articles, and public television broadcasts longer, more probing segments.

But I am saying that every analysis that is shortened, every corner that is cut, moves us further away from the truth until what is left is the Cliffs Notes of the news, or what I call strobe-light journalism, in which the outlines are accurate enough but we cannot really see the whole picture.

It is not a new phenomenon. In 1954, the Army-McCarthy hearings — an important if painful part of our history — were televised, but by only one network, ABC. NBC and CBS covered a few minutes, snippets on the evening news, but continued to broadcast soap operas in order, I suspect, not to invite complaints from those whose days centered on the drama of “The Guiding Light.”

The problem today unfortunately is that voters who take their responsibility to be informed seriously enough to search out information about the candidates are finding it harder and harder to do so, particularly if they do not have access to the Internet.

Did you, for example, ever know a single fact about Joe Biden’s health care plan? Anything at all? But let me guess, you know Barack Obama’s bowling score. We are choosing a president, the next leader of the free world. We are not buying soap, and we are not choosing a court clerk with primarily administrative duties.

What’s more, the news media cut candidates like Joe Biden out of the process even before they got started. Just to be clear: I’m not talking about my husband. I’m referring to other worthy Democratic contenders. Few people even had the chance to find out about Joe Biden’s health care plan before he was literally forced from the race by the news blackout that depressed his poll numbers, which in turn depressed his fund-raising.

And it’s not as if people didn’t want this information. In focus groups that I attended or followed after debates, Joe Biden would regularly be the object of praise and interest: “I want to know more about Senator Biden,” participants would say.

But it was not to be. Indeed, the Biden campaign was covered more for its missteps than anything else. Chris Dodd, also a serious candidate with a distinguished record, received much the same treatment. I suspect that there was more coverage of the burglary at his campaign office in Hartford than of any other single event during his run other than his entering and leaving the campaign.

Watching the campaign unfold, I saw how the press gravitated toward a narrative template for the campaign, searching out characters as if for a novel: on one side, a self-described 9/11 hero with a colorful personal life, a former senator who had played a president in the movies, a genuine war hero with a stunning wife and an intriguing temperament, and a handsome governor with a beautiful family and a high school sweetheart as his bride. And on the other side, a senator who had been first lady, a young African-American senator with an Ivy League diploma, a Hispanic governor with a self-deprecating sense of humor and even a former senator from the South standing loyally beside his ill wife. Issues that could make a difference in the lives of Americans didn’t fit into the narrative template and, therefore, took a back seat to these superficialities.

* * * * *
So, tell me what did you learn from the media today... other than the fact that Rev. Jeremiah Wright is "entertaining"?

Did you learn anything about your candidate's position on:

  • the truckers' protest in Washington
  • rising gasoline prices and its effect on rising food prices,
  • ending US dependence on fossil fuels,
  • bio-fuels and their impact on rising food prices,
  • national preparedness for natural disasters,
  • adapting to climate change,
  • urban crime,
  • our failing schools,
  • plan to deal with water shortages,
  • a plan for improving our infrastructure,
  • a plan to improve the nation's electrical energy grid and avoid rolling brown-outs this summer
  • a plan to address the modern day slavery of immigrant farm workers
  • proposed increases in Medicare costs
  • senior citizens choosing between food and medicine
  • rising pharmaceutical costs
  • covering the uninsured
  • America's vanishing small towns
  • Appalachians being poisoned by mountaintop mining
  • a plan to help American manufacturers become competitive with their foreign competition
  • improving food and product safety of imported goods
  • country of origin labeling for imported goods.
  • closing Guantanamo
  • leaving Iraq and Afghanistan
  • etc., etc. etc.


Related posts:

Final Thoughts on the Edwards Campaign

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