I don’t consider myself to be an overly or outwardly judgmental person. However, there are certain occasions where I condone judging. The first is reality television. Whenever I find myself watching “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette” (more often than I care to admit), I can’t believe the things that pop into my head. My thoughts swirl with, “Why is she on this show? She’s ugly,” or “Ugh, he is so dumb, I can’t believe he said that.” At first I feel ashamed for my blatant disrespect for these strangers. But then I realize that every person on these “reality” shows is an educated adult, perfectly aware they are completely opening their lives to millions. They signed up for this! And many of the contestants seem to participate only to gain popularity or celebrity.
The second place I allow myself to freely judge people is in politics. The current Republican race for a 2012 presidential candidate has already included numerous media events where judgment of the candidates is imminent (and imperative in our democratic society). As Americans, we have the luxury of choosing who our president will be and, much like with Spider-Man, this great power comes with great responsibility. We must question, probe and critically assess these politicians in order to choose the most reliable, moral and capable person to lead our country. The media (and our increasing access to and reliance on it) has played a major role in disseminating information about what issues these politicians stand for and allowing a glimpse into their personal character.
At the Republican debate in South Carolina last week, the topic of media in politics and its use to circulate false or trivial information was breached by one of the candidates. The first question of the debate was aimed at former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, concerning a recent interview on “Nightline” with Gingrich’s ex-wife, who claimed he had cheated on her and asked for an open marriage. Though Gingrich fervently denied the accusation that he wanted an open marriage (but not that he had had an affair…), his main response was to attack the media’s ruthless assault on politicians. “I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country,” Gingrich said. His views were met with wild applause from the audience.
Though I do agree that this should not have been the first question of a presidential debate, I do not think that Gingrich’s views of the media or how the release of such personal information has no place in politics is correct. On the contrary, I think that sharing personal information in politics is essential for Americans to make the best decision possible. As a political candidate, people will judge you — and with good reason. Citizens must be able to trust the person they choose to run their country for four years, turning to the media for detailed coverage of their candidates.
To me, it seems cheap of Gingrich to bash the use of media in politics — especially considering the importance of free speech in our country. In today’s high-tech world, the media’s prevalence in a political race cannot be overstated. It’s used by every politician to both tear down opponents and strengthen their own positions.
As seen most prominently in the first-ever televised presidential debate in 1960 (Kennedy vs. Nixon), the media can be an extremely important tool in politics. And, much like reality television, candidates for political office must be willing to completely expose themselves for the greater good. If someone like Newt Gingrich can’t understand or accept this, then he certainly has no place in government today.
Corie Anderson is a third-year film and media studies major.