Gotcha Politics and Sound-Bite Journalism

“Gotcha” politics has got to go.  And I think that time is here and now.  I want to thank George Stephanopoulos (who has, in my humble opinion, lost all credibility as an intelligent political voice), Charlie Gibson (who never really had it) and ABC for making it possible. 

Finally, we are having a debate about debate; about political discourse and about the media’s coverage of politics via soundbite, innuendo and a series of “gotchas.”  Last night was, perhaps, the tipping point; the straw that broke the camel’s back.  A ninety minute debate and for the first 45 minutes, not one bit of policy was discussed.  Not one merest suggestion of an issue was raised. 

Call me an elitist, but to question Barack Obama as to whether he “believes in the flag,” (whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean) would be insulting, if it weren’t so ridiculous.  That Obama chose to actually answer showed him to be a man a lot more tolerant than I would have been.  (Beside the fact that I’m not a man.) 

This country is in an endless and fruitless war.  This country is in a recession; threatening to veer into the sort of stagflation I remember when I was just getting out of college in the late seventies.  Global warming is breaking off big chunks of ice fields (and George Bush’s plan is to begin to cut emissions in 12-15 years-that is, after they’re allowed to peak in 10 years.)  Our cities’ infrastructures are crumbling and our military is stretched too thin; Iran continues its nuclear program and in Afghanistan, the Taliban grow more powerful (hey, I thought we won that war) with each passing week.  And the media want to talk about David Ayers, a 60s radical.  Hey, Congressman Bobby Rush was a 60s radical too.  And former Tom Hayden.  Even Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (he, the son of Richard J– who helped all hell break loose in 1968 at the democratic convention) thinks its ridiculous to bring up William Ayers, who is a professor at the University of Illinois.

But yesterday, Obama countered.  He called this for what it is; and for what it is not.  The time has come, he said to talk about substance.  The post-debate coverage has been less about who said what, or who did what, than the substance of the questions themselves.  And I say it’s about damn time.  Criticism of Stephanopoulos, Gibson by people like Tom Shales, <i>Editor and Publisher </i> and others in the media and public life have dominated the discussion.

Last night Obama made a surprise appearance on the <i>The Colbert Report,</i> placing the word “distractions” on Colbert’s “on notice” board.  Distractions like the trivial questions coming from the real issues, when the issues are as serious as they are in this election, are not useful and are examples of lazy journalism. I’m not saying ONLY policy issues should be discussed; and character is an important thing to examine.  But when “journalists” insist on spending 75 percent of their coverage on distractions, and not at taking a hard look at the differences between the candidates (including the differences between the two democrats and John McCain) they are doing us all a disservice. 

So, maybe, finally, in the aftermath of the ABC debate, the main stream media are put on notice to discuss issues; real substance.  Not whether a candidate “believes” in the flag.  The stakes are too high to do otherwise. 

2 thoughts on “Gotcha Politics and Sound-Bite Journalism

  1. Barbara,

    I didn’t see your article in Blogcritics under politics, or elsewhere, or I would have responded. I have no idea why I didn’t see it, but it just doesn’t appear to be there.

    Here is what I said in response to a comment on another article<,my own my own.

    “Tangentially, perhaps, have you ever heard an actual debate? I consider the media circuses in which our candidates “debate” to have little more to do with actual debates than with mud wrestling or the more popular reality TV shows.

    “Typically, in a debate, the specific topic is agreed upon in advance, and there are no questions from reporters: “Resolved that this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country,” or “Resolved that Life begins at Puberty,” for example. The debaters then try to persuade the audience, and the judges, of the superiority of their respective positions. Such debates are often enlightening, and the debaters have to articulate actual bases for their support of or opposition to the specific resolution. I wish that we could experience at least one such actual debate between the two candidates for the November election. I don’t think we will, however.”

    I disagree with much of what you say, but on the need for intelligent debates which are actually debates, I think we agree.


  2. Hi Dan,

    didn’t post this one up on Blogcritics. I didn’t have a lot of time to really make the level of argument I wanted to for a BC article, but I felt I had to say something. I also sometimes get a bit gun-shy at posting political stuff there (as I’m so very clearly in the minority of political opinion in the politics section)–so I chose to post this only on my personal blog.
    Anyway, thanks for finding me here.

    In response to your comments. Yes, I have actually seen a real debate. My daughter was a Linconln-Douglas debater in high school (she’s 22 now). I realize that the debates we now have are really extended Q/A’s rather than debates. I would also love to see a “formal” debate amongst the candidates.

    I have said in other BC articles that the level of discourse in the primary has gotten very much off track. It seems that when John Edwards was still in the race, people spoke much more substance than they have been more recently.


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