How the Media Undermines American Democracy and Society  by Jesse June 1, 2002

The media influences our lives in many ways. One of which is how we perceive the events around us. The media for the most part has always been about telling and informing the public on news. From the time of Martin Luther in the 16th century, telling the people about the wrongdoings of the Catholic Church, to Dan Rather informing the nation about terrorist attacks on the United States in the 21st century.

The subject matter under discussion is how the media undermines American democracy and society. Over the years the media has changed dramatically. One of which is how the media is now a tool for propaganda. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln's administration censored the news so that the American people didn't worry and get concerned about future attacks on their home front. But that all changed during World War I. Woodrow Wilson gathered some of the best political minds to make a campaign to gather support for the war. Not only did it make the people more willing to accept the fact that they were preparing for war but it made the number of recruits go up. This new idea of changing the media is a way of "public relations."

This is very sort of thing is commonplace even today. For example, how politicians have campaign managers and pep rallies. The pep rallies are not just there to gather votes but to get "free advertising" on the evening news. This tactic is displayed as a major push of the public's part to be aware of a candidates' name and views.

On the note of tricking the people into "fake awareness" the media never says anything when they're stuck in the web of hypocrisy. An instance in which this applies is the 1992 presidential run between Clinton and Bush Sr. The media showed that Clinton attacked Bush Sr. on his stance on maintaining strong trade ties with the repressive China. Later on in Clinton's presidency, he has been shown siding with China many times when it comes to trade; even discussing them joining the WTO, the World Trade Organization. The question I have for the media is why wasn't this point ever covered by news broadcasters and by news shows. Could it be because the media doesn't like to look bad in the eyes of its viewers for stressing the wrong points? or, is it because of the bias at times, usually liberal thinking.

This way of objectivity can and cannot be looked at as the cause for news being reported for the wrong reasons. Referring to my prior example of Clinton and China one definite reason this matter was not retold was that the news story was about Clinton changing his policy not if the new policy was right or wrong. This goes by the unconfirmed ideals of "No conflict, no story." Meaning that the conflict between Bush and Clinton was also as interesting as Clinton's new policy.

One of the ways the media gets the public interested in the news and politics is by adding drama. For instance, in electoral politics, someone is going to win the race and someone is going to lose, but it's the contest between the two candidates that adds the flare to the broadcast. Another situation similar to this is when the Republican Congress tried to control the budget in 1995. The New York Times ran an article about taking funds from Medicare out, but the article wasn't about the Medicare issue but instead it covered only the handling of Medicare and if it would hurt the Republicans for the next election.

This leads me into why sometimes news stories are often over hyped thus making something unimportant or insignificant, a major concern. When a scandal breaks to the media it's better to over-cover it then to play it down. The reason for this is because if they blow something out of proportion and it seems to be nothing important later on the media didn't lose much. But if they overlook a story and it turns into something major they risk the chance of losing out. This has been very consistent since the Watergate scandal in the early 70's. Given this fact all reporters act as the next story has the potential to be the next "Watergate" and all journalists' salivate for a chance to cover a similar story.

In addition, what is important is different from what is urgent, and what is important isn't always interesting. Sometimes the "attention getter of the day" drowns out the main stories. Between 1990 and 1994 the nightly news show 60 Minutes featured about 500 stories. More then one-third of the features were celebrity profiles, entertainment stories, and the such. While, barely one-fifth of the stories spoke about the workings of politics and issues of long-term significance to the nation. This demonstrates the misdirection of the media. The misconception of the evening news is not always apparent though. For example, when Peter Jennings travels to the Middle East the subject isn't the Middle East; rather it is Peter Jennings in the Middle East which is the focus. The Middle East becomes important because a U.S. anchorman is there. When Barbara Walters does a high-profile interview the real story is the interaction between the two "celebrities" not the content.

According to some of my prior comments I think the media needs a strong change for the better. In this reference I think we should apply Franklin Roosevelt's 3 R's but this time directed towards the media, instead of a depression; relief, recovery and reform. Relief, speaking of how the media needs to tone down its "overtones." Recovery, mentioning how the general public needs to notice that they are being ill-informed. And finally, reform; stating that the media and journalists need to reconsider their priories and cover the news on all levels and report it the way it is...


by Jesse


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