Missing the media circus

Diterbitkan: Rabu, 12 November 2008 12:00 AM

(Ubah saiz teks)

Mainstream TV journalism turned viewers away and helped Obama become president.

YOU either love them or hate them, or in my case, miss them. The longest-ever campaign to pick a president is over and America’s election media blowhards are no longer spewing their in-your-face kind of television journalism.

The circus of panellists have taken a break from giving their two cents worth on everything to the point of interrupting and out-shouting each other.

After three weeks of listening to such rants, the obvious reaction should be of relief but, strangely, its not. Like most hooked on the arguments, ridiculous as they were most of the time, I’m feeling withdrawal symptoms.

Bill Kovach, senior counsellor for the Project for Excellence in Jour­nalism and one of the most respected journalists in the United States, was correct when he described television reporting in the country as “infotainment, and nothing more than that”.

The Harvard University fellow and former curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism was among the several eminent people who met and interacted with a group of 50 journalists from around the world that covered the recently concluded US presidential election.

After watching the endless political talk shows, it was easy to agree with the media doyen that American journalism had “failed miserably by turning over its job to vested interests in the country”.

“It’s disturbing that TV, where most Americans get their news and views about anything, is being run by political advocates. The highlighted discussions are mostly those by former politicians or those who had worked for them, all of whom have their own interests,” he said.

As hyped as journalism is in the United States over free speech and media freedom, the American media, particularly in the context of TV, has in reality evolved into a predictable prac­­­tice moderated by advocates of both the Republican Party or the Democrats.

That much was clear from the reporting over the biggest TV networks. If the basic function of journalism is to seek the truth, verify information and educate the public, it was certainly not seen on Fox News or heard from painful right-wing rants like Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh.

Hate, prejudice and fear dominated the language in their shows. Guests who steered away from their mode of thinking were quickly cut off to maintain the spin and media hard-sell of the moment.

In one of his tirades, O’Reilly claim­ed that collapsed brokerage houses like Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch were allowed to buy up risky loans which banks made to folk who didn’t have much money (read blacks and Latinos).

He said: “When unqualified home­buyers couldn’t meet their payments, the market crashed. The Feds (federal agencies) simply stood by and watched the whole economy unravel. So who can blame the folks for being angry and fearful? It seems nobody is looking out for them. And so they flocked to the new guy: Barack Obama.”

Then the vital line to influence: “But the fear factor may be shifting. For the first time, a new Rasmussen Poll shows that more Americans believe John McCain is better on economic issues than Obama.”

Limbaugh, meanwhile, said this: “Every poll taken is so over-weighted with Democrats, it’s hilarious. So you have all these early voters, and they’re supposedly so many Demo­crats. Early voters favour Obama over McCain 57%-38%. Now, that’s 95%. What about the other 5%?

“Did they vote for the Socialist Workers Party? Did they vote for the Communist Party? What’s the difference in that and the Democrat Party this time around, in terms of agendas, in terms of platforms? It is an onslaught that is designed to make you think this is over, that you have no reason to even go vote, that it is hopeless.”

On Nov 4, it indeed turned out hopeless for the likes of O’Reilly and Limbaugh. The results reflected an almost total rejection of conservatism in its continued form. The voters’ verdict repudiated all forms of abuse of power, hate-mongering of the media spinmeisters included.

The results also proved Kovach’s accurate reading that the American public’s anger with the mainstream media had reached the worst level in decades.

Instead of making efforts to find the middle ground of truth and facts, the dispensing of self-serving information resulted in people becoming more polarised in their support.

With the media being the antithesis of what it’s role should be, it was no surprise that the people, especially the young, resorted to the Internet, especially to independent websites, political bloggers and pollsters to get an idea of what the real issues were and how the candidates were faring in the campaign.

That’s how Americans were influenced into making history by electing Obama as the country’s 44th, and its first black, president.

Among the alternate media darlings that have emerged from the elections is Nate Silver, who blogs under FiveThirtyEight.com. He was the first to announce that Obama had won, at 9.46pm.

Most television stations only made the call about an hour and half later. FiveThityEight.com, a relatively new site, outdid many established players like RealClear Politics, Pollster, Rasmussen and Politico.com, al­­though most of the pollsters were found to be generally accurate in their surveys.

To be fair, not all of the television reporting was skewed to one side or the other. C-Span, for example provided a steady stream of balanced reports and hosted rational experts in its shows.

Its debates, including one notable discourse between conservative spokesman David Frum and Demo­cratic consultant and author Bob Shrum, provided valuable insights and perspectives and explained why the candidates were doing what they did.

The trademarks of the nasty windbags – sarcasm, cynicism and venom – were totally absent. Yes, I hate to admit it, but it was somewhat boring.

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