Television is one of the mixed blessings of modern society. No one doubts its useful capacity to inform, educate and entertain, but we also know it promotes unhealthy eating, encourages alcohol consumption, depicts way too much of what most of us deem senseless violence, and coarsens society in myriad ways. But worrisome as these issues may be, they pale in comparison to the risk television poses for our democracy.
Television certainly serves to educate and inform the electorate, thereby encouraging voters to vote. It provides them with some of the information they need to make informed decisions. The problem is that the information provided by the major television networks is being filtered in ways designed not for the benefit of our country and its citizens, but for the benefit of those who own and manage the television networks.
The result is that those who set the rules as to who and what will, and will not, receive television coverage have a powerful influence on our thinking. And our thinking, of course, influences our choices when we vote. Broadcast media influences elections.
Two illustrations. Representative Paul was recently excluded from the FOX News debate here in N.H., and last night (1/15) Representative Kucinich was excluded from the MSNBC debate in Nevada. We can all agree that not everybody who files to run for president should be given a place on a national stage, but it shouldn’t be the broadcast companies who make that decision. Like them or not, both Paul and Kucinich have millions of avid followers who were disenfranchised in a significant way when their candidates were excluded from these recent debates.
The presidential campaign “race” is already narrowing due to the results of voters, both in the votes they have cast, and in their willingness to fund the campaigns of individual candidates. The broadcast media companies should let this natural selection process proceed, and should not arbitrarily exclude any candidate who has established that he or she has a sizeable following.
Moreover, the broadcast media has done a generally poor job of selecting the questions and topics presented to the candidates during debates. Many questions have been repeated almost verbatim, debate after debate, other very important issues have rarely been mentioned.
MoveOn.org just pointed out in an e-mail message that “last year, the major TV networks asked presidential candidates 2,679 questions.” (Who adds all this stuff up?) The question is, how many were about global warming? Hint: 165 were asked about illegal immigration, 3 were asked about UFOs. You know where I’m going with this, yes, there were just three questions about global warming, it ranked right there with questions about UFOs.
There has to be a better way. Let’s get the media out of the business of running presidential debates.