(10 am – promoted by ek hornbeck)
In today’s OpEd section of The New York Times, Elizabeth Edwards delivers a very well expressed and unfortunately, very necessary, critique of today’s press regarding the picking of a president.
Opening with a mention of the media’s (lack of serious) coverage of the Pennsylvania primary, Elizabeth hits the nail on the head and calls the press out for what it has become: shallow. She also notes that she is not alone in this observation.
I’m not the only one who noticed this shallow news coverage. A report by the Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy found that during the early months of the 2008 presidential campaign, 63 percent of the campaign stories focused on political strategy while only 15 percent discussed the candidates’ ideas and proposals.
The picking of our president is too important a task to approach without good, solid analysis of a candidate’s policies and positions.
Elizabeth calls attention to the wealth of anecdotal information that the media constantly supplies to us – the voting public.
Watching the campaign unfold, I saw how the press gravitated toward a narrative template for the campaign, searching out characters as if for a novel: on one side, a self-described 9/11 hero with a colorful personal life, a former senator who had played a president in the movies, a genuine war hero with a stunning wife and an intriguing temperament, and a handsome governor with a beautiful family and a high school sweetheart as his bride. And on the other side, a senator who had been first lady, a young African-American senator with an Ivy League diploma, a Hispanic governor with a self-deprecating sense of humor and even a former senator from the South standing loyally beside his ill wife. Issues that could make a difference in the lives of Americans didn’t fit into the narrative template and, therefore, took a back seat to these superficialities.
This superficial coverage does a great disservice to the American public, as Elizabeth points out; not only are we denied information on issues that are truly relevant to our lives, but often, good candidates with strong policy positions are squeezed out without ever being asked about those positions.
Did you, for example, ever know a single fact about Joe Biden’s health care plan? Anything at all? But let me guess, you know Barack Obama’s bowling score. We are choosing a president, the next leader of the free world. We are not buying soap, and we are not choosing a court clerk with primarily administrative duties.
What’s more, the news media cut candidates like Joe Biden out of the process even before they got started. Just to be clear: I’m not talking about my husband. I’m referring to other worthy Democratic contenders. Few people even had the chance to find out about Joe Biden’s health care plan before he was literally forced from the race by the news blackout that depressed his poll numbers, which in turn depressed his fund-raising.
It is a shame that this OpEd piece is even necessary; our country was created with freedom of the press in order to provide an extra check on our government, yet, as we progress (and can we even call it progress?), the media narrative moves further away from providing us – the voting public – with any sort of check on our government.
The so-called Fourth Estate has failed us, and we in turn, have not really called them on it. The fact that campaign coverage is largely more tabloidesque and lacking in almost anything substantive “gives us permission to ignore issues and concentrate on things that don’t matter,” as Elizabeth aptly puts it. Sadly, we do get the government we deserve, but the press is complicit in our inability to pick truly qualified leaders.
Elizabeth also calls attention to the fact that, contrary to conventional wisdom, many folks, if given the chance, do have questions that run a bit deeper than what is now the standard (and superficial) press commentary.
And it’s not as if people didn’t want this information. In focus groups that I attended or followed after debates, Joe Biden would regularly be the object of praise and interest: “I want to know more about Senator Biden,” participants would say.
Today’s OpEd by Elizabeth Edwards is a call to action for all of us; a call to the media to start behaving as if they are worthy of the precious freedom given to them in the First Amendment, and a call to us – the voting public – to start loudly and vigorously questioning the press and demanding real and substantive analysis from them.
One of my favorite Elizabeth quotes is the line she once closed an online discussion with: “Now, back to work.” And boy, do we have our work cut out for us.
cross posted from the EENR Blog
Here is the link to an interview about her piece.