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General News    H2'ed 1/29/13

Politicians As Media Critica

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"Some of [the institutional barriers] have to do with our media and what gets attention," he said. "Nobody gets on TV saying, 'I agree with my colleague from the other party.' People get on TV for calling each other names and saying the most outlandish things."

Now this is pretty mild, and does not examine why a calculated form of formulaic polarization is used to benefit the media itself by stoking ratings and eventually revenues.

Much of our political discourse takes place on cable channels that do not have the audience that networks traditionally enjoyed. Everyone who works in media knows that wrestling was one of the most popular formats on cable with outsized almost cartoon like characters getting all the attention. Politics is just another form of wrestling with smack downs and bitter fights increasingly common.

Former Vice President Al Gore who has been showered with media criticism for his role in selling the cable channel Current to AlJazeera, and profiting from the sale, has in the past been more insightful (When was the last time you saw the media attack other media executives and companies for enriching themselves in media deals?)

A former journalist, he wrote in his 2007 book, "The Assault on Reason," as quoted on "Lost Remote, The home of Social TV: "In practice, what television's dominance has come to mean is that the inherent value of political propositions put forward by candidates is now largely irrelevant compared with the image-based ad campaigns they use to shape the perceptions of voters. The high cost of these commercials has radically increased the role of money in politics, and the influence of those who contribute it.

"That is why campaign finance reform, however well drafted, often misses the main point: so long as the dominant means of engaging in political dialogue is through purchasing expensive television advertising, money will continue in one way or another to dominate American politics. And as a result, ideas will continue to play a diminished role."

" He goes on to cite the news media's fascination over the years with O.J. Simpson, Chandra Levy, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, among others. "In the world of television, the massive flows of information are largely in only one direction, which makes it virtually impossible for individuals to take part in what passes for a national conversation. Individuals receive, but they cannot send. They hear, but they do not speak. The "well-informed citizenry' is in danger of becoming the "well-amused audience.'"

That reminds me of the even more trenchant TV critique call "Amusing Ourselves to Death" by the late media critic Neil Postman whose ideas among many from media critics that are rarely seen or heard on the air.

The industry magazine Broadcasting & Cable spanked Gore for daring to blame any of our social/cultural problems on TV, writing: Television didn't create this situation. It is there to be watched, or not. It can be tuned to Spike or PBS. Al Gore concludes that the "well-informed citizenry" is in danger of becoming the "well-amused audience." There are some "inconvenient truths" in Gore's media screed. There's also a load of hyperbole."

How profound, (or not) in their words) but saying Gore is "groaning" is just a way of deriding and dismissing his critique. He tried but failed to build Current into a channel that could challenge our mediaocracy, but maybe just by being there. he helped create the possibility that its successor, AlJazeera America, can do a better job.

News Dissector Danny Schechter edits, the media watch network that goes back on line this week. He blogs at He also hosts a show on ( 



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News Dissector Danny Schechter is blogger in chief at Mediachannel.Org He is the author of PLUNDER: Investigating Our Economic Calamity (Cosimo Books) available at See
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