ENID — Too often today’s television news channels are simply a cacophony of critics. Participants vie for attention and air time, and those who are the rudest and the loudest win. Moderators consistently reach for criticism, rather than honest discussion about governmental, educational, business or any other leadership issues in our society. TV news anchor cynics demand that everybody must be either a critic or an apologist.
Controversy is too often the goal. They think that “sells.” Few seem to be really into valid information dissemination, which the “communications” industry is supposed to be about.
News channel programming and issue discussions don’t have to be a cacophony. Nor does a news channel have to be utterly partisan like Fox in order to avoid the constant harangue of arguments between guest partisans like CNN has too often become, in their effort to be “balanced.” There has to be a better way. And, its focus needs to be on honest coverage of news events and information about issues – not one-sided partisanship, and not a cacophony.
Recently, this writer visited a friend in his home. His family name is easily recognizable in Oklahoma politics. We are of different political persuasions, but we often have cordial and interesting discussions of state and national affairs. Of course, I could not but notice on entering the room that the television set was on the Fox News Channel. In a way, that accounts for many of our differences.
Quite often, my friend’s strategy in initiating a political discussion is to raise a question in a manner that implies that I might possess significant knowledge of that subject.
It was not too long until he began raising questions about the health care bill in Congress. Noting that nearly everyone seems to be against the health bill, he asked if I knew what was in it and why everybody was mad about it. That was a good question. I wish I could have answered it well. I doubt I did.
First, I said that it was not final, and nobody really knew for sure what would end up in it, so some attacks were irrelevant. Then I said that not everybody is against it, and most people actually favor the main provisions when polled on those separately and non-politically. However, some television channels, and certain special interest advertisers, had been very busy telling people that it was bad, and that they should be against it.
If anything is actually said in those ads about what is in the bill, then that is frequently misrepresented. A prime example is reforming Medicare hurting old people to save money. Actually the principal reform is to eliminate a 20% subsidy paid to private insurers in a Bush era effort to privatize Medicare with an experimental plan – saving around $400 billion over the next ten years.
On the other hand, I noted that we have a lot of folk telling us that it is good for us all, but usually mentioning only a few features over and over. Not much is said about the details, nor about the methods of financing to avoid increasing deficits. I said that we needed to communicate more real information about the bill. However, it is difficult to communicate too much about details of a bill that is not finalized yet. Likewise, it is a little early to condemn it.
Finally, I did try to name a half-dozen or so provisions of the senate bill. I pointed out that it was hard for anybody to be against those, and that most people are not actually against them. Then I mentioned financing proposals having to do with surtaxes on incomes of $250,000 a year or more (House version), and taxes on gold-plated benefits programs (Senate version) for high paid managers and for members of some unions -- amounting two or three times ordinary family health insurance premiums.
I suggested that it was from those business and corporate sources, plus the insurance industry, that much of the money came to pay for all the negative advertising against health care. Money corrupts politics, and it buys politicians, I said. Of course, the opposition party has simply been against any progressive proposal of any kind, and their leadership has sought to politicize health care reform negatively at every opportunity.
In due course in our conversation, he asked what I thought could be done. I replied that nothing can be done with such deplorable situations until we get the money out of elections and finance campaigns totally with public money and conscripted air time from electronic media. The McCain-Feingold bill in its base form would have helped, but it was contaminated with loopholes and rendered ineffective.
We had a good, healthy discussion. Nobody got angry. Nobody’s feelings were hurt. We parted cordially, and we look forward to another visit. That is as it should be.
On the subject of corruption of politics with money, there is a so-called “free speech” case now before the United States Supreme Court. It is being taken there by wealthy individuals and by corporations who claim that their “free political speech” is being unconstitutionally limited by laws limiting their campaign contributions and political spending. Some of us fear the conservative Supreme Court may be about to rule out all limitations on political contributions and spending. More money – more corruption!
God help our democracy if that happens!
Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard, AKA The Militant Moderate