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The 2006 Election: Another Nail in Democracy's Coffin?

By       Message Danny Schecter     Permalink
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New York, New York, November 28: After every election, there are post-mortems and then, after that, come the studies to confirm the presence of many institutional and deep seated flaws in our ritualized electoral-democracy.

Annually, journalists acknowledge their own limits and mistakes. The honest ones admit there was a uniformity of outlook in which the horse race is over-covered and the issues under covered.

They concede that there was a focus on polls without explaining their limits adequately or how polls in turn are affected by the volume and slant of media coverage. There are criticisms of how negative ads and entertainment values an infiltrated election coverage, what Time magazine calls "electotainment." They bemoan the fact that were was more spin and opinionizing than reporting along with less investigative reporting.

And then they do it all over again.

It happened again this year, as if the media industry and the press corps never learns from its own mistakes and is doomed to repeat them. Why?
Phil Troustine former political editor of the San Jose Mercury News, told Nieman Reports, "too many reporters are cynics, not just skeptics. This leads to the sense that they are hard bitten realists when they are simplistic and often biased." They also work for corporate media outlets who design the coverage and assign the journalists. Mostly, they are not free or independent agents.
Phil Troustine former political editor of the San Jose Mercury News, told Nieman Reports, "too many reporters are cynics, not just skeptics. This leads to the sense that they are hard bitten realists when they are simplistic and often biased." They also work for corporate media outlets who design the coverage and assign the journalists. Mostly, they are not free or independent agents.

5. When the system works-voting occurs without widespread problems and the media establishment isn't faltering-citizen sentinels, bloggers, and other observers, while potentially important watchdogs, have a more restricted role."

Sorry to disagree.
The system is NOT working well. On November 26, three weeks AFTER the election, the NY Times discovered that voting machines in Florida swallowed 18,000 votes and worry that without a verified paper trail. Results will be compromised. Their editorial was titled "De'jà vu" in Florida." The Times seemed shocked in concluding that electronic voting "could end up undermining democracy""

"COULD?"

Now I am the one who is shocked. How is it that so many of our mainstream media outlets IGNORED this problem, and did not demand that it be fixed BEFORE the election. For years now, an election integrity movement has been crusading on this issue but they have been brushed aside, and rarely in the news. There is no shortage of information on the subject.

BURYING THE LEAD

Years ago, Jim Naureckas of FAIR wrote: "In journalism, it's called 'burying the lead.' A story starts off with what everyone already knows, while the real news -" the most surprising, significant or never-been-told-before information -" gets pushed down where people are less likely to see it...."

Why? What accounts for media organizations looking away and covering elections the same way each year as if they are following routines?

Says Naurekas: "many journalists are instinctively protective of the legitimacy of the institutions they cover."He then addss, "but the job of a journalist is not to promote but to question. The theory behind the First Amendment is that the system will be strengthened by an unflinching look at the system's flaws."

Too many journalists fail to separate the election outcomes from the self-interested financial interests that influence them or the way incumbents manipulate the system to their advantage. Elections are often determined by what's called the "Air War"-"TV commercials, many negative attacks ads that do more misrepresenting than presenting, more selling than telling. The cost of these political ads on television, the third highest source of ad revenues for the industry, has more than quadrupled since 1982.

Today, commercial media has gone AWOL on this most obvious responsibility. "Pre-election news coverage of the candidates has in many cases all but disappeared," says Paul Taylor, chairman of the Alliance for Better Campaigns -- a MediaChannel Affiliate that advocates free airtime for candidates. "What little candidate coverage that remains is devoted to incumbents, by a margin of nearly five to one, over challengers."

In a study of media coverage, MediaChannel affiliate Norman Lear Center revealed that the amount of election-centered discourse provided by the typical local station during the height of the 2000 presidential primary season was just 39 seconds a night -" far short of the five-minute standard advocated by a 1998 presidential advisory commission headed by then Vice President Al Gore.

Another MediaChannel affiliate, the Center for Media and Public Affairs, found that the total minutes of coverage of the 2002 midterm election on the national network news programs had declined by 78 percent over the coverage those networks devoted to the 1998 midterm election.

POLITICAL DEVOLUTION

All of this got worse in 2006. The media is failing us along with the political system it allegedly coveres. There is a devolution underway, not reform and change.

Years ago in a book called "Hail to the Thief" on the outcome of the 2000 election, I wrote:

"The media is no longer, if it ever did stand apart from politics as a neutral-- much less objective-- watchdog operating outside the political system to strengthen democracy. In an age of corporate mergers and unprecedented media concentration, the media have in effect, merged with politics and now function as a key component of a system that Norman Mailer sees, with a whiff of the Mafia theory of Organization, as a "family."

"The American political body has evolved," he wrote in an essay in his l998 anthology The Time of Our Time" into a highly controlled and powerfully manipulated democracy overseen by a new species of aristocracy formed at the junction of four Royal Families -- the ten thousand dollar suits of the mega-corporations, the titans of the media, and the high ogres of Congress and the upper lords of the White House."

In 2006, years after all the hand-wringing over the fiasco in Florida, and the debacle in Ohio, I see no reason to revise this judgment.

 

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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 Amazon.com. See Newsdisssector.org/store.htm.

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