The Media and the Malarkey

“Malarkey”—Vice President Biden’s popular catchword that arguably won him Thursday’s debate isn’t reserved only for government. Malarkey has dominated media coverage of politics for some time now.The Friday editorial of The New York Times stated, “Thursday night’s vice-presidential debate was one of the best and meatiest political conversations in many years, showing that real differences on public policy can be discussed with fervor, anger, laughter and real substance.”

Yes, the Times editor knows that with replacement of only a few words, the review might as well end up at the movies with Ebert and Roeper.

It is this movie-review type coverage of political campaigns that promotes legislative ambiguity and fuels modern disdain for politics.

Legislation in itself is ambiguous. Take the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare: a 5,000 page tome begging for interpretation. With such a divisive issue like Health Care in the U.S., it’s a wonder news agencies haven’t bothered to interpret it. This lack of analysis manifested in the descriptions of the Obamacare in the first presidential debate.

“Obamacare puts in place an unelected board that’s going to tell people ultimately what kind of treatments they can have,” Governor Romney said.

“If you don’t have health insurance, we’re essentially setting up a group plan that allows you to benefit from group rates that are typically 18% lower than if you’re out there trying to get insurance from the individual market,” President Obama said.

These arguments contrast, and while that presents conflict good for news ratings, it doesn’t get any closer to the truth. It’s a “he said, he said” conversation. Though it might dominate a dinner table, it should be checked in presidential debates. Hamilton’s fourth estate, the Press, can and should check such pervasion of political doggerel in government. With the health care debate, as with any piece of legislation, news agencies should cite specific sections of bills when analyzing whether or not a candidate’s words ring true or false.

In short, the press should analyze what they report with the same professionalism with which a Supreme Court judge might analyze the constitution.

As it is now, the press—the mouth-piece of the people—has muted truth and amplified conflict to stimulate ratings.

But some would argue against this critique. They would champion the press for its balanced presentation of multiple sides. We’ve all heard this mantra of professional journalism. It stipulates that only through press neutrality and objectivism can any truth prevail.

This is a well-intentioned, but nevertheless inherently-flawed argument.

“Media covers news like a toothpaste commercial,” said Ian Zuckerman, recent Columbia graduate turned UMD Professor of Political Science. “They avoid bias, and duck under the pretense of objectivism.”

Note the word “pretense.” It’s the fallacy that “fair and balanced” news constitutes objectivism. It’s considered news because it supposes truth as the opinions of everyone, and because it presents those opinions equally.

But opinions, as anyone knows, are not equal in truth. Sometimes, opinions are blatant lies. We must weed out lies to establish truth. Media analysis would do that.

“The news is worthy, balanced—and misleading,” said T.R. Reid, a former journalist of The Washington Post and author of multiple works which focus on health care in the U.S. People are innately aware of being misled by the news media, and it shows in their disdain for election season. The people are tired of a political system in which the press fails to inform and validate candidates with concrete, factual analysis. Until the ideology of the press includes this analysis, the political system will continue to distort public perception and elect candidates based on showmanship rather than merit.


photo credit: ColumbusCameraOp at flickr

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