Chattering Media

Different bloggers write for different readers. Ken enjoys the cut and thrust of debate in the comments box with threads often attracting scores of extraordinarily erudite contributions to the debate. The Bunyip on the other hand, simply flings his vitriol into cyberspace with little concern about where, or upon whom, it lands. Both have their place in Ozblogistan.

I blog for myself. It’s my way of quietly marshalling my thoughts about a subject, putting them in writing and, by doing so, synthesising different points of view and polishing arguements for and against. If some one deigns to comment, well and good, although I generally find that most commenters want to argue with me, rather than debate the subject.

From time to time I read something that is so close to what I think that I don’t have to Google up some background or look at it from different perspectives, I just enjoy the wordsmith’s efforts.

“Election campaigns cause politicians to promise things they can’t deliver and don’t believe in”, writes Robert Samuelson, a member of The Washington Post Writers Group, in the AFR 10/8/04. The fact that the piece is, IMO, equally applicable to Australian politics (just replace the politicians names) makes it even more pleasant.

Almost everyone in the news business loves political campaigns, but not me. It’s true that campaigns are fun, dramatic and significant. Covering these slugfests blends sports reporting and instant history. Meanwhile, we can flatter ourselves that we’re making democracy work.

The only drawback is that we’re supposed to be in the truthtelling business, and political campaigns draw us inexorably into a labyrinth of lies and deceits. Political campaigns are exercises in exuberant irrationality. People say things that they know are untrue; indeed, if they believed some of these things, they ought to be barred from office. But the media treat these routine untruths as respectable statements that ought to be analysed and debated.

My favourite example involves jobs. George Bush and John Kerry regularly argue over who ‘d do best at job creation. The truth is that presidents create few jobs. Their policies may influence the economy over the long run. But at any moment, jobs depend mainly on the business cycle. The media pretend that Bush and Kerry are debating big issues, when they aren’t. To be sure, some big issues are automatically engaged: Iraq and terrorism, for example. But here differences mainly involve style and competence, not substance.

Beyond security, Bush and Kerry quietly agree not to debate some of the big issues facing the country. To wit: (a) baby boomers’ retirement costs; (b) immigration; and (c) China. You won’t hear much about these, because candour would offend millions of voters. Oh, Kerry might suggest that Bush threatens social security and Medicare try to win votes for enacting a Medicare drug benefit.

But both will avoid the real problem: the costs of social security and Medicare will ultimately swamp the budget. Immigration is a similar political swamp. The present system is broken. It keeps out people we ought to admit (foreign scholars and students) and admits people we ought to keep out (illegals). But any critical mention of immigration might upset Latino (insert the chardonay set) voters. As for China, its economic expansion is already curbing America’s global power. But every president since Carter has encouraged China’s economic liberalisation.

What’s there to say? It’s easier to say nothing, and the media condone the silence. Is there an alternative? You cannot write a story every day that begins: George Bush (or John Kerry) yesterday refused to discuss *(name your favourite issue). Worse, we treat their proposals as serious, when they’re often campaign slogans. ……. elections are less about specific agendas than about character, trust and basic instincts. [Australians] already know how [Howard] and [Costello] govern. Now [we] will judge [Latham] and [Crean]. Probably this is the best democracy can do: a commonsense judgement culled from much exaggeration, simplification and distortion. We in the media will enjoy ourselves. But those of us who think we’re a powerful force for clarity and candour ought to sober up. Mostly, we’re part of the clatter.

My sentiments exactly.

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2022 years ago


I presume that there’s a certain pressure just to splat out the column inches. I would guess its easier to repeat the media releases, and speculate on campaign strategy, (since neither involves any real work), than it is to dive into policy detail, and try and make some real sense of it.

Then of course there is the other strategy employed by the likes of Fox News which actively seeks to participate in the political process by magnifying and distorting the material.

I’m not sure which is worse. Lazy speculation like this. or the distortions of a Fox News. At least with Fox you know its tainted.