At Odds with our (best) Interests…

Posted on October 14, 2010 by

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At Odds with our Interests

At what point in the process of ensuring that I know “enough” about what is going on with the politics of my country does enough become excess?  Is anyone ever going to seriously ask, let alone answer, this question?  A close friend recently told me that the key to accountable government is a free press, he lives in Russia and may therefore have a sound basis for such a statement.  I submit however that the evolution of a system where a privatized press such as MSN , CNN or Fox news famous for its narrow-casting,  in a free market economy is counted on for accountability in government is destined to lead to an even greater need for accountability of the press.

There are more than enough arguments out there today on bias in the press, I certainly don’t intend to join in that chorus with my precious space provided herein.  Bias, or the opinion of where it sits, is so biased in and of itself that it has become a circular argument meant only for those who wish to become insane.  No, it’s not bias in the media that I am referring to here.  The paradigm that is at odds with our interest needs no political affiliation, nor to lean left or right and does not care who gets elected in November.  Our problem is apolitical, and enormous.

The problem (you were hoping this was coming eventually) is that the media is not interested in what you know, nor whether what you know will positively impact your knowledge of the issues and quality of your vote.  The media is only interested in where you learn it from.  And this is the problem.  For example, if my husband happens to leave the restroom in a restaurant after taking care of things…, and he inadvertently leaves down his “fly” as he walks back across the room toward me, how much harm has been done?  I will make a kind, yet sufficiently sarcastic, comment to him and problem solved  no one hurt.  If a political figure does the same, and a reporter finds out or happens to be there, now it’s an issue.  Why?  Not because it really is an issue, but because the outlet that makes it the most interesting story will get the ratings.  So now we may have a situation where (my innocent husband) may be showing signs of dementia, or perhaps he has a fetish of wanting to be seen partially exposed.  For whatever reason, the story has now become a story where there really was none.  Whether or not my husband might stand on an issue of importance, who cares?

Is this problem?  Only if you consider numerous multi-million/billion dollar corporate entities racing each other to find a “hook” in every story that will get their footage on every local news program and do it before the competition to be at odds with relevance and objectivity.  A high school girl gets with her friends and contemplates what witchcraft is; a candidate attends a church with a pastor who mixes a little religion with his politics; a candidate (or his staff member) for governor of the world’s 6th largest economy refers to his tough opponent with a common expletive in the privacy (or so they thought) of a closed room; a different candidate has a daughter who becomes pregnant as a teenager, and so it goes.  Now here’s the laughable part, each one of these innocuous incidents have lead the national media for days or even weeks and had an impact on the politics and voting in this country.  Why?

When did the American people agree to have the issues in a campaign become overshadowed by the personal and rather innocuous elements of daily life?  I suppose that in a world (or country) where there were no real issues being decided by our votes, these issues and the many others we are subjected to might be harmless.  Instead, we have voters in this country (and way too many of them) who will cast a vote based on the stories that were developed to entertain more than educate, and to market the source more than inform the recipient.  And this is at odds with our interest.

Is Obama really a Muslim?  Will Obama’s health care program actually slow the growth in medical costs over the next five years?  Which story will have you tuning in at 10:00 p.m. if the answer to both is promised?  I submit that it’s the first.  And this is at odds with our best interests, don’t give us what we want – give us what we need.

Though I’m not a politician, I am going to need to “go back on my word” for just a moment.  I wrote earlier that this article was not about bias, and for the most part it is not.  However, bias does indeed play a role in this problem.  You see, it is our biases that tend to feed most vigorously on this irrelevant information, and the outlets know it.  Facts, relevancy and objectivity do not always make the best of bedfellows with a good old fashioned bias against a candidate.  So just when we really have no good reasons to dislike the candidate that we dislike, we are offered even more of them.

So, who is holding the media accountable, we are.  And we are making the congressional committee assigned to oversea Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac look stellar.

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