It has been well over a decade since America’s media actually did their job or practiced even responsible journalism. Instead of reporting the news based on facts and reality, various forms of media design, manufacture, and propagate news “the people want to hear.” This is not about op-eds or political commentary; it is about not reporting accurately and not holding politicians accountable for their sophistry.
Unfortunately, those practices have produced a media more concerned with feeding into their readers’ fear and hate than informing the populace. This includes giving politicians an open, and free, forum to stoke that fear and hate with more lies, divisiveness and unbelievably fantastic proposals with no explanation of how they will enact them. The only reason politicians and candidates lie profusely and make outrageous assertions is because the media never calls them out or demands they explain how they will put their fantastical proposals into action.
Since there is freedom of the press in America, there is little anyone can do to coerce the media towards responsible journalism. As usual, it was left to President Obama to use a journalism award dinner to “deliver a stern rebuke of the media and its role in not holding 2016 presidential candidates accountable for unworkable plans.” Although some pundits ‘assume’ the President was alluding to the leading Republican candidates, particularly Donald Trump, one cannot help but believe his “unworkable plans” remark extended to the Democratic side.
The President said,
“A job well done is about more than just handing someone a microphone. It is to probe and to question and to dig deeper and to demand more. The electorate would be better served if that happened. It would be better served if billions of dollars in free media came with serious accountability. Especially when politicians issue unworkable plans or make promises they can’t keep.
I’m not the only one who may be more than a little dismayed about what’s happening on the campaign trail right now. The divisive and often vulgar rhetoric that’s aimed at everybody, as well as the deafening silence from too many of our leaders and the sense that facts don’t matter, that they’re not relevant, that what matters is how much attention you can generate, the sense that this is a game as opposed to the most precious gift our founders gave us, this collective enterprise of self-government.”
President Obama is absolutely right, and except for not calling out the offenders by name, candidates and media alike, there is little anyone concerned about the state of affairs in American politics could possibly hope to add. What one can comment on, though, is that the media is giving both sides millions of dollars in free media time without ever questioning how a candidate will “keep their promises,” or explain how they will ever get their “unworkable plans” put into action in a fiercely divided political environment.
As much as the media helping fueling hatred and bigotry is a giant issue, and it is a giant issue, it is their allowing candidates to avoid in-depth questions where the media is failing; both the well-being of the American people as well as the “collective enterprise of self-government.”
There are far too many Americans voting, or planning to vote, for candidates without a clue as to how they will ever get their proposals put into action. And no; just repeating “I’m just telling it like it is” or parroting “we need a political revolution” are not valid explanations about how a prospective president will convince a highly-partisan legislature to “build a giant wall along the Southern border” or give “free healthcare and a college education to every American.”
Those prospects sound marvelous to each candidate’s supporters, and likely to many Americans, but the media has a responsibility to the American people to demand answers from those politicians regardless their party affiliation. The very least the media could do is ask candidates how they intend to push their particularly partisan proposals through a legislative branch that is fiercely divided by partisan ideology.
Politicians are wont to complain about “corporate media” and this or that bias, but they never mind or complain about the free media time. The President may be a little off on the “billions of dollars in free airtime,” but it is beyond dispute that on-air face time on Sunday political shows is priceless.
In fact, one of the two candidates complaining loudly about the biased corporate media actually has more free, on-air face time on Sunday political shows than any candidate of either party without facing the kind of questions that President Obama cited were lacking in today’s media.
Of course, not being questioned on the reality of their proposals is not down to the candidates no matter which party they represent or how “unworkable” their plans are; that is entirely on the corporate media.
Always the diplomat, the president did note that “unprecedented change” has affected journalism with “newsrooms closing” leaving enormous pressure on journalists to fill the void. But it should not be journalism founded on, as the President noted, “instant commentary based on Twitter rumors and celebrity gossip.” He also reminded journalists that “ten, 20, 50 years from now, no one seeking to understand our age is going to be searching the tweets that got the most re-tweets or the posts that got the most likes.” Sadly, those kinds of ‘statistics’ do drive what Americans have come to expect from the media because it is primarily all they get.
Still, admonishing the press against letting social media dictate their political news and campaign coverage will not change anything; this is 21st Century America. It is a place where ignorance, rumor, unfounded and sexist attacks, and blatant lies trump the truth and reality. Sadly, this kind of “journalism” is going to continue unabated because after over a decade of media “dumbing-down” the electorate, most Americans are accustomed to hearing and accepting as fact manufactured partisan talking points, Twitter and Facebook rumors, and political insight from wealthy celebrities.
With responsible journalism all but dead or dying, Americans cannot be expected to want answers and that is more likely than not exactly what most politicians seeking free publicity want. If a politician really wanted to lay out their plans and explain how they would get them enacted, they would pay for publicity and do what the media refuses to do; tell the truth, lay out all the facts, and offer a cogent plan for how they will lead a divided legislature to actually work for all the American people.