Did those of you who watched the Republican presidential debates this weekend notice? There was a notable dullness to Sunday’s FOX News Republican debate when compared to the much more lively ABC News debate hosted Saturday, January 5, 2008. When the ratings are in, my bet is that the ABC debate that included Congressman Ron Paul will come out on top. FOX News, thinking it knows what is in our best interest — although curiously clueless when it comes to what is in the best interest for ratings and the democratic process — purposefully left Dr. Paul out. If we’re not talking about him, it’s because THEY are not talking about him. What’s wrong with this electoral picture?
FOX News has failed to exercise responsible gate keeping. Their blatant attempt to shape early public perception as to who is or isn’t a serious contender come Election Day has already begun to backfire. Rudy Giuliani, a FOX News darling, has slid precipitously in the polls — no doubt in reaction to tiresome, obsessive coverage, which has only given Giuliani’s critics added incentive to come out of the woodwork. In an ironic twist that FOX News producers and pundits apparently never saw coming, the former New York City mayor seems to be suffering the political equivalent of the backlash against pop star Brittany Spears. Yes, there is such a thing as too much news coverage. Enough is enough.
The merits of Dr. Paul’s campaign and his grassroots popularity or lack thereof are not at the heart of this commentary against FOX News. The issue is control. Control of who you see. Control of who you hear. Control of how you perceive the electoral process. FOX News may not have a monopoly on the problem, but it is certainly leading the way.
In some ways, Dr. Paul is the 2008 equivalent of Ross Perot — speaking his mind, rocking the boat, and generally scaring the establishment into pushing him out. (You may recall the threats that Ross Perot reported before falling silent and exiting the 1992 presidential race.) Like or dislike him, Dr. Paul has over 30 years experience in Washington. That alone should qualify him for serious attention. But the media would have you believe Congressman Paul is irrelevant. If Congressman Paul is a long shot, it is only because the powers that be decided early on to portray him as such — not a conspiracy perhaps, but certainly a self-fulfilling prophecy.
When it comes to modern-day elections, there is no such thing as letting the proverbial chips fall where they may. With media polls leading the way, it is not “You decide 2008” — it is “We decide 2008”. With few exceptions, the competition is over when media prognosticators say it is over, and for the most part the American sheeple follow suit for fear that going against the all-powerful polls will split the ticket or cost their favored party the election.
That’s why presidential election polling is bad for America.
It is human nature to line up behind the leading horse in the race. Nobody, after all, wants to back a loser. If the media did not provide second-by-second polling data, voters might be inclined to vote for whom they WANT to win, not merely for who they believe CAN win. This is what I call the “Lesser of Two Evils” philosophy of voting — and it is essentially turning our electoral process into a farce.
When we ask ourselves why nothing ever seems to change for the better in Washington, we must first ask ourselves why fear of change, fear of splitting tickets, fear of wasting our vote, fear of rocking the boat, or fear of being ridiculed for supporting an “outsider” has such a powerful influence over our electoral behavior. Are we pack animals? If not, perhaps it is time to trust our own better judgments enough to clean the electoral house. And that goes for BOTH parties.
As much as it pains me to say this as someone who has served as a member of the media, the public must awaken to the realization that the mainstream media is actively framing our perception of who the “eligible” choices are. Truth be told, Americans of all political bent tend to back media-sanctioned choices if for no other reason that the media, by omission or derision, can cause some candidates to appear less prominent or desirable than others. Need proof? Simply count how many times one candidate’s name is mentioned over another during a single hour of political programming. Within the first 15 minutes, you will begin to develop an appreciation for how subtle yet insidious the process of narrowing the electoral field has become.
It is time we reclaim what is rightfully ours — a government of the people, for the people, and by the people. Yes, the media has an irreplaceable roll in a democratic society. But when it comes to presidential elections, my advice is to tune in for the debates and tune out for the commentary. Under no circumstances should news “consumers” rely on a single pundit or broadcasting corporation for news and views. Those who wish to exercise good citizenship ought to turn off the propaganda box in favor of a handful of newspapers or magazines that cover the gamut — from the New York Times and Mother Jones to the Christian Science Monitor and The Economist. Those who watch FOX News ought to tune in to National Public Radio, PBS or LinkTV. Those who favor CNN or the New York Times ought to surf on over to WorldNetDaily or NewsMax. Why? Because there is nothing intellectually or morally honest about fear. If you have confidence in your views, you won’t be afraid to avail yourself to the diversity of thought, perception and choice that exists in the marketplace of ideas. And remember: It’s not over until it’s over.