Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Some Thoughts on the Media and the Current Congress

When I signed onto the Internet this afternoon, both AOL and Yahoo greeted me with the news that a deal had been reached to end the U.S. government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling.  I skimmed the first paragraph or so.  Looks like lawmakers have only deferred again facing reality.  Yet, they seem to be whooping it up that they accomplished the deferral.  What's that about?

In last week's Time magazine, James Poniewozik takes the media bull by the horns and asks what is balanced and fair media coverage nowadays and what isn't.  He wrote that sometimes simply stating the bare facts can appear to be biased against one side.  His example: "One party (in fact, one wing of the Republican Party), seeking the elimination or delay of Obamacare, precipitated a government shutdown and threatened to default on U.S. debt."  This is what happened.  But is it a biased statement?  Some Republicans might think it was. 

As the media struggles to make sense of what goes on in Washington, D.C. and the hearts and minds of those responsible for governing, legislators struggle to insure that the message they want out there regarding their activities is published or reported.  It's called "spin."  The purpose of spin is to make a legislator look as good as possible to his or her constituents in order to win re-election.  It's all about retaining position and power. Hence all the whooping about reaching a deal about the shutdown and debt ceiling.  It's not about what's right for the country. They're just spinning themselves around.

Poniewozik points out in his article the various media approaches that strive for balance and objectivity.  One is to stake out the middle ground, i.e. present that both sides are to blame and the truth is actually somewhere between them.  Journalists agonize more than we give them credit for -- they choose this angle to give both sides a hard, fair look, but it also could mean they want to retain access to their political sources or not alienate their audience, or to keep advertising or subscriptions up.

Another, "false equivalence," has the media quoting leading idealogues from each side and claiming they are pointing fingers at each other.  The blame game enhanced, in other words, serving only to confuse people.  Then there's the "let's check out the other side" approach which can make the media look good while failing to provide real balance.

What impressed me about Poniewozik's article was his courage to actually write about this when the media is often excoriated along with Congress.  His conclusion that sometimes reality doesn't have a bias of any kind, although there are times that it appears to, is realistic and true.  It's the media's job to report it as is, not to try to find a way for it to be more unbiased for general consumption.  

As for Congress, I hope they really did reach a deal and it isn't just more spin.....

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