My Media Independence

So we are in a time when things are changing. Obama won. He has given two major speeches, both of which have moderate level laundry lists of progressive projects he is emboldened to work on. The list is a range, from immigration, gun legislation, minimum wage increase, tax restoration energy, climate change, to health care. We are seeing some more favorable reaction to this list; the president and his agenda have some good polling numbers.

Will they actually ensue? Who knows? As I digest the beginning of the weekend news analysis, as usual, the talking heads tend to set the issue up in the following format: First, a provocative question, based on a generalization. Then someone gives some sort of summary why we should not be quite so provoked (though the media is happy because they have drawn the listener in). We move to some data, some might be carefully selected to make a point, and these data might be supported by another generalization. Then, if the program time is afforded, there is some breakdown, which groups have which perspective. At this point – those consumers of media who are willing to commit the time – choose which group they will side with, and it is time for a new topic.

Meanwhile, political operatives work in exactly the opposite order. They begin with choosing a targeted audience segment choice that needs some influence. Then they formulate some talking points that spin chosen the issue their way, and off to the press conference they go. On a parallel, behind-the-scenes track, the operatives make their choices based on scoring political points. Which approach will get us re-elected? Re-election was, at one time, a matter of appealing to the voters and the good of the country, state, or local polity. Now, the first group that matters is donors, and then the party political base. These two groups are almost never the same, and they are just as often different from the voters as a whole. There is a commonly cited statistic that 66% of Americans do not know how many branches there are to the federal government. I happen to know such things.

What’s a regular feller to do? Granted, the media’s first duty (public media included) is to have patrons; and this comes at the expense of what should pass as a pure approach to news and naked analysis. At best, a clouded, abbreviated and dressed version is presented in any mass medium. There are consumer market segments, to be sure, and they have different levels of willingness to pay attention. It is reasonable to say, the harder you look, the more you can learn. An unbiased perspective must accompany one’s study. Still, at some point, each of us will break down and take sides; and that is the point the media and the pols shoot for in their delivery. Many of us choose to be happily ignorant, and choose our sides right away. In my opinion, popular media and agenda based media latch onto this audience readily. I do believe that if one wants to truly learn what’s going on, she or he must have a divorced attitude, a fair amount of time, and some ability to think for oneself. These are rare commodities!

Here is my ideal, though I am sure I fail at it: I try to consume a good variety, in liberal (word choice?) doses of seemingly objective media. So, I NEVER try to quickly agree with either base. I NEVER try to justify my opinion with political polls. I don’t agree outright, even with people I admire. I try to see the big picture, and look for the root causes of issues. Yes, this effectively means a lot of skepticism and reticence.

From the esteemed and illustrious Groucho Marx, in a telegram to the Friars Club of Beverly Hills: "Please accept my resignation. I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member."

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About Jim

I've been leading outdoor environmental education in the YMCA since the 1970s. I love teaching nature, history, current events, being a dad, fixing stuff, groups, and general thinking.
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One Response to My Media Independence

  1. JP says:

    We do both see ourselves as true independents who think for ourselves and do not go with any flow just because it is flow and who try to consume a wide variety of media. Not sure we both always see the other that way, and self-examination is always good.
    The press, of course, is the only industry mentioned in the constitution. Your point about needing time to be informed is important. We work more hours now than we did a generation ago. The modern world has more and more time pressures to fill up our lives and make it harder to find time to be informed. And that is a big part of our problem. And makes it easier to have us in a downward spiral of being ever less informed.

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