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Media and Politicians: The Eternal Symbiosis

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The United States of America has its share of triumphs and problems, both of which should be noted by discerning patriots. Unfortunately, triumphs need no work; they live in the memory but need no solutions. Practical observers could easily point out many ways that this nation could improve itself, many things that could be done to alter its missteps.

The sad thing is that, in light of all of the legitimate crises facing the world at large, politicians and media create false crises for their own political or monetary gain. These distractions serve to win votes and viewers, but fail to create meaningful discourse or solutions.

Our political system is, for better or worse, muddled and difficult to penetrate. Interest groups, industries, politicians, political organizers, and ordinary citizens all attempt to participate in our system with varying degrees of success. Everyone is trying to defeat someone else; it is an inherently vicious system. Politicians do not necessarily strive for the welfare or wishes of those they represent. I’m sure that there are some politicians who genuinely care about the desires and needs of their constituents, but most representatives will do only what they must to get reelected.

It is this insatiable hunger for votes that drives many politicians to create issues out of thin air or at least magnify insignificant issues. In Oklahoma, the state in which I attend school, senator Tom Coburn suggested that girls in the state may only go to the bathroom at school one at a time due to a wave of lesbianism in the educational system. These remarks had absolutely no statistical or observational support. They are simply the musings of one unbelievably ignorant representative. Yet, making an issue appear to be real reaps real political rewards. Conservative voters in Oklahoma, afraid of an imaginary rise in lesbianism, are more likely to vote for Coburn because he shares their same unfounded concerns.

Such political pandering and issue-dodging has long been a feature of political systems across the globe. However, the rise of mass media and communications has facilitated the spread of imaginary issues. The media illuminate every inane comment or false remark made by political figures in order to upset viewers (this is good for ratings). I especially enjoy Bill O’Reilly’s “culture war” segments, wherein he digs up obscure controversies and applies them to every facet of American social life.

A more responsible media would not report every unfounded remark uttered by politicians, but people in this country seem to need a constant supply of information, no matter how trivial. Do people honestly believe that lesbians are waiting to pounce on girls in Oklahoma bathrooms or that the United States is trying to outlaw Christmas? Why must we continue to feed the monster of triviality and division that is the politician-media symbiosis?

It’s time to tune out. Neither the politicians nor the media will change their tactics unless they become unprofitable. If Americans want to save what political integrity our country has left, they will stop letting politicians rattle their cages with unsubstantiated or increasingly exaggerated remarks. They will stop watching cable news at all hours of the day. In effect, they will refuse to partake in a system of governance that places the needs of the political machine and media empires above solutions for real issues.

There are many important things going on in the modern world, things that actually exist (just like on TV!). The economy is shaky, our country is at war, the environment is being pillaged, tyrannical regimes are being empowered, and poverty and starvation continue to plague huge swaths of the globe. Yet, watching the news, one could easily get the impression that none of these things are that important. Real, hard issues are rarely discussed by either politicians or the media. Instead, muckraking and meaningless chatter dominate the airwaves.

This chatter is especially deafening during campaign seasons, with both sides making ridiculous statements in order to get noticed, or to cause a stir. Basically, politicians and media personalities function identically. Both groups create issues to divide the population and reap rewards. The two groups are also inseparable. Without the media, distractions posed by representatives could not reach a wider audience. Without politicians, the media would have far less fodder.

These puppet masters must be held accountable for their actions, and the American public is the only entity that can accomplish this goal. Instead of taking talking heads at face value, Americans should research important topics themselves. The vast majority of people appearing on “news” programs have no idea what they are talking about. These contributors do not wish to engage in serious political discussion for the sake of the nation; they merely want to achieve national exposure.

I suppose the root cause of all of this media saturation is public demand. News, like much else in America, has become a consumer commodity, something that can be used and thrown out with considerable ease. Not only does this devalue important information, it also creates a near constant need for information providers to scrounge up more media. It is this desperate environment that creates a constant fear of the void in both consumers and producers of media.

This climate of media desperation must be changed. There are countless ways for an American citizen to enrich his knowledge base without resorting to being force fed faulty and false information by disembodied speakers on a television screen. In a country as great as ours, with access to libraries and knowledgeable people from every political camp, isn’t it about time that we as citizens learn to value truth over distortion? Isn’t it about time that we came to an understanding with those people that govern us and provide us with information? Americans should strive for a political and social future free of the shackles of media overload, political triviality and divisiveness. By educating ourselves and deliberately ignoring the drivel dished at us by media outlets and shameless politicians, Americans will reclaim a greater stake in the political process.

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About Cole Ford

  • Given the proliferation of media and “news sources”, I think it’s extremely important that we start teaching media literacy at a young age. We don’t have direct access to the same sources the media has, and we still have to rely on mainstream media for our news. Given that, we absolutely need to give people the proper set of tools to decode and process the information we’re exposed to on a daily basis.

  • Baronius

    Cole, I inferred from that story that Coburn was suggesting that it would be a good idea if girls went to the bathroom one at a time. In truth, he said that schools were only allowing one girl at a time to go to the bathroom. Plus, the comment is four years old. So ask not who in the media is running distracting sensationalized stories; it’s you.

  • Baronius

    Cole, this is a well-written article which makes some valid points. I probably came down too hard on you for that Coburn comment. But my problem with the article is that it only lists social or culture stories as unworthy of attention. Specifically, social or culture stories that would anger conservatives. Would you consider Prop 8 to be equally unimportant? Are there social issues that you would consider important? And where in the media is there a lack of coverage of the economy these days?

  • Cole Ford

    Proposition 8 is a good example of a situation where the media makes an issue of equality and constitutionality an issue of moral indignation. They are skirting the heart of the issue in order to provoke outrage, most of which is justified by unsteady argumentation. With the Coburn bit, I was just giving an example. Though it is old, this sort of thing still occurs, as evinced by the debate over Proposition 8.