Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the circus! Two eternal enemies in a desperate struggle to the death! So entrenched in their hatred for each other, each would rather have its own eye sockets gruesomely clawed out and skull fucked than allow the other to claim victory! One is a fat, trunk-sporting, money-hoarding bastard and the other brays like an ass while always trying to get its goddamn filthy hooves on what’s yours! Beware, because both will do anything to get your vote!
Anytime you turn on CNN, Fox or MSNBC, you can get 24-hour coverage of the biggest circus in town, and if watching it doesn’t make you disillusional or cynical, you are probably just a piece of living room furniture.
As Washington more closely resembles a circus every day, is it any surprise that Americans are turned off by politics? While the amount of apathy that exists on this campus and in the U.S. in general is disheartening, how can you really blame someone for not paying attention? Politicians never seem willing to compromise or do anything productive; for most Americans, politicians are seen as bickering, corrupt, and immature. Even voting choices are commonly referred to as “the lesser of two evils.” According to a Pew Research poll from April last year, 80 percent of Americans don’t trust the federal government, a record low, and a recent Fox News poll puts Congress’ job approval rating at 10 percent, another record low.
However, the catty political bickering isn’t entirely the fault of the politicians themselves. An important contributor is the intermediary between the people and their elected leaders: the media. Now while we can all argue over whether or not there is a “liberal media bias” or if Fox News is really “Fair and Balanced,” there is one undeniable truth that we all should be able to agree on — that news organizations thrive off conflict.
People are much more likely to tune into coverage of “speechgate” or “the debt crisis” than compromise and agreement. Because of this, news organizations trump up and sensationalize political conflict, trying to get you to tune in and watch just long enough so that you catch a couple advertisements and make McDonald’s multi-million dollar ad deal worthwhile.
The fact is, in the U.S. we have a media that is more concerned with maximizing profits than providing a public service. While that is fine for Dr. Phil and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it creates a conflict of interest for CNN, Fox and MSNBC that is a danger to effective democracy.
Part of the problem can be traced back to the 90s, when Clinton signed into law a huge de-regulation of the media industry, and immediately giant media corporations like Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation gobbled up hundreds of television stations, newspapers, radio stations and movie studios. By 2000, Murdoch owned over 800 media companies in 50 countries, including Twentieth Century Fox, Fox News and the New York Post.
This giant consolidation of media has created a hyper-commercialism that permeates every form of media in this country and creates an emphasis on the sensational. The result is that, instead of encouraging healthy public discussions on health care or deficit reduction by focusing on the issues themselves and how best to solve them, the cable news networks instead focus on the conflict that the issues create, which fans the flames on both sides, creating further conflict. Investigative journalism is practically nonexistent, as news networks have become more like politically charged reality TV.
I had a layover in the Miami airport this summer and watched two full hours of CNN programming dedicated solely to “debt crisis coverage.” The CNN anchors gave generalized, watered-down versions of what was transpiring on Capitol Hill, followed by heated Republican and Democrat interviewees giving completely contradictory accounts of the “crisis,” then a cut to commercials and repeat. None of the news anchors or reporters questioned or challenged interviewees, even when some made completely ludicrous statements, such as presidential candidate Michele Bachmann claiming that suddenly not paying our debts would not be bad for our economy. She almost spewed more bullshit in a minute than Tiger Woods did in a lifetime, yet the news anchor just smiled and nodded.
The media spoon-feeds us sensationalized conflict that provides no insight or information and instead focuses on Wiener-gate, Speech-gate, and 24-7 coverage of Sarah Palin and whatever part of U.S. history or world geography she can’t get right, and our democracy suffers because of it.
Riley Schenk is tired of watching the media circus clown around with our nation’s democracy.