the important and the not-so-important, horribly conflated.

RANT: Cable News

In RANT, the msm blows on October 21, 2010 at 7:25 pm

As elections approach, the best thing you can do is turn off your TV.

All forms of news media, perhaps most notably television, have a strong incentive to convince Americans that We are the beating heart of a healthy public discourse. CNN has “YOU DECIDE” plastered to its ads, Time magazine named “You” as the person of the year in 2008, Fox News relies on instant text polls when it’s not directly taking calls from Real Americans. In this You Decide narrative, the town hall health care meetings of last summer are held up as the pinnacle of Participatory Democracy.

But individual voices didn’t emerge from the clangor of those meetings—unique anecdotes of suffering un/underinsured Americans were repeated so often they became meta-narratives. And the “You” foregrounded by Time or CNN has been similarly conflated to the point where living people become talking points. This is not the golden age of participatory democracy: the Citizens United case confirmed what the downturn of 2008 proved—corporate “free speech” (ie, profits) will be maintained even if their protection inflicts human suffering; anti-war positions are quickly denounced by both political parties as un-patriotic. We (small “w”) are the sclerotic heart within a sickly public discourse.

While most discussions of about the capital-P Public center on entitlements—our country’s system of shaky-at-best “safety nets”—these debates quickly become emotional exchanges, untethered to reason, logic, etc. Nazis are usually mentioned, Sarah Palin tweets nonsense, shouting ensues. It’s not very productive. But I think—or, at least, I really want to believe—that we can have important, human discussions about what the public discourse, and the media’s inevitable involvement  in this discourse, should look like.

How should politicians receive input from their constituents? What percentage of cable news programming should cover international events? What role should advocacy groups or lobbyists play in developing new laws? How can we combat still-continuing disenfranchisement of minority groups? What role should physicians or health insurance companies play in the development of health care legislation? Does the world really need Wolf Blitzer? –these questions (excluding the last) are critical because their answers reposition the collective consciousness on the process of democracy and away from its current obsession with defining American-ness, Freedom, and other proper nouns made vacant of meaning from overuse.

The fallacy of the “You Decide” media is its reactive nature. At no time are outside individuals dictating what news is presented or prioritized by the Fox News’s of the world—we can only respond to their narrative, which serves only to reinforce the media’s obsession with a stark (and false, constructed) polarity of arguments.

  1. Brilliant. Especially the idea of shifting a focus to the process of democracy: I never thought about it that way before.

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