Sunday, August 01, 2004

Why you probably will not find out too much of use to your life in the coming election from the mainstream media...

...And it's not for lack of trying on the part of the candidates! (At least, not some of the candidates!) It is for lack of trying on the part of the news media though.

I have had many people tell me that they "don't know anything about John Kerry" and that they're not "really interested in politics anyway." Americans are affected by politics in every possible realm of our lives, but the way the mainstream media portrays it--especially the television media--one would think that Capitol Hill and the White House are soundstages where entertainment is produced, not civic bulidings where policy is made.

While our country is facing a 445 billion deficit by the end of September, an escalating occupation in Iraq that has called up an increasing number of armed forces men and women into active duty, and state budget crises that threaten to cripple government operations, the mainstream media is still idly reporting on space suits and Teresa Heinz Kerry's exchanges with reporters (reasonable when one considers that the reporter in question is quite biased, I might add, but the media doesn't tell us this!).

The New York Times' Paul Krugman just wrote a great article about this unhelpful journalism. Here are a few useful excerpts:

Under the headline "Voters Want Specifics From Kerry," The Washington Post recently quoted a voter demanding that John Kerry and John Edwards talk about "what they plan on doing about health care for middle-income or lower-income people...Mr. Kerry proposes spending $650 billion extending health insurance to lower- and middle-income families. Whether you approve or not, you can't say he hasn't addressed the issue. Why hasn't this voter heard about it?
On the other hand, everyone knows that Teresa Heinz Kerry told someone to "shove it," though even there, the context was missing. Except for a brief reference on MSNBC, none of the transcripts I've read mention that the target of her ire works for Richard Mellon Scaife, a billionaire who financed smear campaigns against the Clintons - including accusations of murder. (CNN did mention Mr. Scaife on its Web site, but described him only as a donor to "conservative causes.") And viewers learned nothing about Mr. Scaife's long vendetta against Mrs. Heinz Kerry herself.


Somewhere along the line, TV news stopped reporting on candidates' policies, and turned instead to trivia that supposedly reveal their personalities. We hear about Mr. Kerry's haircuts, not his health care proposals. We hear about George Bush's brush-cutting, not his environmental policies.

Even on its own terms, such reporting often gets it wrong, because journalists aren't especially good at judging character. ("He is, above all, a moralist," wrote George Will about Jack Ryan, the Illinois Senate candidate who dropped out after embarrassing sex-club questions.)


A Columbia Journalism Review Web site called, says its analysis "reveals a press prone to needlessly introduce Senators Kerry and Edwards and Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, as millionaires or billionaires, without similar labels for President Bush or Vice President Cheney."

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