Thursday, December 09, 2004

Awash In Ignorance and Proud of It

This is not a total perspective on what happened in the election last Nov. 2 – far from it. Instead, it’s simply my contribution of some examples of how our intermediators do a lot of the little things badly, day after day after day.
(BTW: By “intermediators” I mean reporters, analysts, commentators, etc., anyone who operated on the air waves or in the press covering the campaign, holding forth on the candidates and the election. I particularly single out those who are supposed to give us, the voters, a clear view of the candidates to help us make more informed choices when we vote.)

What follows are just a few representative examples of the many, many times these intermediators did the little things badly.

1) On the subject of what his economic plans are, one intermediator (a national print reporter or analyst) actually wrote this about one of the two presidential candidates: ”… the campaign has provided no details”. This, even though in less than two minutes at that candidate’s web site, I found lots of details (LOTS OF DETAILS!), not only on that overall subject (economics), but on each of several component elements within that broad subject. There were enough details to make a grown man cry – if anything there were too many details!

This is NOT intended as a partisan complaint -- I have little doubt that the same may have been true of the other candidate and his web site, so prevalent did I find such sloppy and careless statements in my perusal of campaign coverage.

2) On the day before the election I heard another intermediator on the radio actually say that the issue of health care and rising health care costs had hardly been addressed in the campaign. “Virtually ignored” was, I think, what he said, or something to that effect. When I’d calmed down, I asked myself, how could an intermediator of any stripe make such a sweepingly wrong and ridiculous statement?

This issue happens to be the one that polls throughout the campaign had shown perhaps the clearest separation in voters’ preferences between Bush and Kerry. Had the issue actually occupied so minimal a place in the campaign, no such separation in public opinion would have existed.

3) At least I no longer have to listen to what I call the “Lou Dobbs routine” where he would say “Both candidates have not…”, or “Neither candidate has…”, and then proceed to treat both candidates as peas in a pod (a rotten pod, at that). Lou had so accustomed himself to this routine that he used it even when the candidates had outlined drastically different perspectives on an issue.

For example, what in the world does it mean to say (as Lou often did): “Neither candidate has addressed the issue of Social Security insolvency…” when one said, basically, the following (paraphrased): “Social Security actually is solvent until some specified year in the future (e.g., 2045), so what we’ll do is watch it closely and, when necessary, we’ll convene another joint effort to make needed adjustments, as was done in a bipartisan manner in the 1980’s"; while the other candidate proposed an alternative long term private (or, to avoid that loaded buzzword: an individual) investment plan that would use (divert) a portion of the income stream that’s used to make concurrent payments to retirees, without saying how those removed funds will be replaced or replenished?

Now, how on earth does it serve the voters to treat these two very different responses in the same vein, disparaging them both as if they are equally depraved? Talk about an opportunity lost to inform the voting public. Would it be too much to ask that Lou try to make a dispassionate analysis of these two perspectives, rather than sarcastically disparage them both?

4) Lesson learned: Stay away from most media comparisons of the candidates on issues. Here’s why it’s best to avoid them - because many intermediators are apparently too lazy or too uninformed to do a fair and adequate job summarizing substantive policy programs or proposals. Much of what passes for journalistic coverage of serious national issues these days is better described as pathetic palaver. Here's what we get: Short, simplistic bullet point summaries of issue positions, carefully constructed to appear fair from a visual perspective, but void of insights about the whys and wherefores behind the proposals. This is actually worse than doing nothing at all. What really scares me is that these intermediaries may be incapable of providing real insight into the whys and wherefores, so they just do what they're capable of -- superficial treatment of a serious issue.

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