Vail Valley Voices: Voters misinformed by biased media, politics
Vail, CO, Colorado
In 1920, H.L. Mencken wrote the following: “On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their hearts’ desire, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
Some might say recent history proved Mencken correct.
So, how do voters decide whom they will support? And, are voters in this country really prepared to make a good choice on Election Day?
Americans gather information about candidates principally from television, newspapers, political speeches and special interest groups.
Is this information biased? I think yes. Is information spun politically? I think yes. Is it based upon specific issues? I think most of the time.
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Political advertisements on television are expensive and purported to be the most effective way for candidates to connect with voters.
Unfortunately, these ads are fraught with misinformation, exaggeration and sometimes venom. The more insidious they are, the greater their impact.
The most powerful and effective example was President Johnson’s “Daisy Girl” ad in 1964, which suggested that Johnson’s conservative opponent, Barry Goldwater, would initiate a nuclear war if he were elected president. Though it only aired once because it was such a powerful mischaracterization of Goldwater, it did the job and helped Johnson get elected.
In 1988, Willie Horton, a convicted murderer, was furloughed from jail in Massachusetts while Michael Dukakis was serving as the state’s governor. In a political ad, the Bush campaign suggested that Dukakis was soft on law and order and would indiscriminately release convicted felons from prison if elected president. This misleading ad played a significant role in the first Bush’s victory.
Political advertisement has increased campaign spending exponentially over the years and has made a mockery of the electoral process in this country. Today, the candidate who raises the most money has the best chance to win.
The 527 political groups have fueled the situation even further, as advertising by these organizations are not materially restricted, and their ads are often mean-spirited and almost always misleading.
Recent efforts to reform campaign spending were sabotaged by candidate Obama when he decided not to accept public financing for his campaign as he had promised earlier. Obama then went on to break all fundraising records, giving him a significant advantage over his opponent, who opted for public financing and the attendant limitations on spending.
The mantra of every newspaper is that they provide unbiased reporting.
Opinions of a paper’s management and columnists are supposed to appear only in the editorial section. Yet the reporting, even though every newspaper denies it, is often biased. The influence of newspapers cannot be overstated, so when their reporters overtly and covertly support candidates, it is unethical because it is against their stated policies.
Exacerbating the situation are talking heads on network and cable television, who “report” around the clock in a biased fashion. These “reporters” are not journalists. They are “on the air” bloggers who spew twisted logic on innocent viewers. What’s most disconcerting is that the data is transmitted is such a manner that many viewers are not aware of its hypnotic effect.
Political speeches are repetitious chanting of ideology by presidential candidates. In the primaries, candidates try to appease their most radical constituencies, only to move to the center during the general election. The result is broken promises and empty words. Every speech has a spin and a specific target. Candidates never tell voters what they stand for and how they will govern. Mostly, candidates attack opponents.
Special interests have overwhelmed our political process. Politicians are hounded endlessly by every type of lobbyist, including the National Rifle Association, abortion proponents, the religious right, unions, trial lawyers and anti gay groups.
Unfortunately, elections are overly focused on emotional issues which will never be resolved. Our political campaigns should be directed toward issues that impact mankind including nuclear proliferation, religious fanaticism, global warming, energy prices and education.
So, how does this all affect voters? The fact is that voters are continuously misled and misinformed. Many are encouraged to be insular and to focus on one specific issue rather than the totality of the problems facing America.
The competing forces have created a hostile atmosphere in the United States. Every group is whipped into a furor, all to gain votes and political advantage. It’s blacks vs. whites, liberals vs. conservatives, Republicans vs. Democrats, the rich vs. the poor, urban vs. rural, religious vs. secular, abortionists vs. right to life, men vs. women and so on.
Those responsible for “reporting” must provide the relevant information voters need before they cast their votes. Frankly, facts are more important than opinions during an election.
Sadly, the facts remain elusive because every journalistic organization seems to have an agenda. If this continues, we are likely to elect and reelect morons, and our democracy will suffer.
Sal Bommarito is a New Yorker who has skied Vail for 20 years. He will periodically report on national issues that affect Vailites. A former investment banker, he recently published four fictional novels.