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There's something that's always puzzled

There's something that's always puzzled me about the existence of certain branches of the media; politically biased talk radio shows, talking head commentators and analysts from either side of the political spectrum. They obviously don't exist to convert anybody to their point of view, so there has to be some other reason for their existence.

Of course the other part of that equation is their audience. What do people get out of listening to people like that? They don't listen to them to expand their intellectual horizon, that's for sure, or to hear opinions that might broaden their world vision, so why bother?

I'm sure this type of political opinion expression has always existed; probably since the first newspaper was invented if not earlier. Since the days of the first democracies and even earlier, pamphleteering was an accepted means of reaching a broad audience. Probably the most famous American pamphleteer was Thomas Paine, whose publications prior to and during the Revolutionary War summed up the desires and aspirations of the colonists seeking independence.

Unfortunately the drop off in intellectual reasoning from Thomas Paine to Tucker Carlson and his like that dominate today's press is equivalent to a fall from the top of Mount Everest. Instead of reasoned arguments we get undiluted hatred and vitriol directed at whomever is the target of the week.

The left may try and pretend they are above such posturing but I'm sure they'd give their eyeteeth to have the opportunity to reach the audiences that Mr. Carlson and Mr. Limbaugh are able to draw to their programming. The best they can hope for is that people will pay any attention to the nattering of Jay Leno, David Letterman or some other supposed satirist of the day.

But do any of these guys actually make a difference in public opinion? Or is their job more along the lines to let the converted know what the issues of the day are and how they should react? During the run up to the invasion of Iraq when France and other European countries were pushing for diplomatic solutions and opposing military intervention, who was it that whipped up the feeding frenzy of hatred against them.

It was the talk radio hosts, television pundits and right wing newspaper columnists who stirred that cauldron of bile. Like a spoiled child who can't get there way all the time, they lashed out in fits of uncontrolled rage calling into question everything from France's capabilities as soldiers and their dedication to freedom.

Not only was their behaviour rude, bordering on racist, their accusations ignored America's own history. The European country that's always been the most appreciative, and supportive of the United States over the years, has always been France. That statue in the New York City harbour was a present from the French on the American centennial.

But trivial matters like accuracy don't seem to matter in the world these people occupy. They only seem to delight in whipping up hatreds and unreasoned emotions. Just ask Joseph Goebbels what an effective tool that is when it comes to directing public opinion. The dissemination of information should never be hampered by a dependence on facts; it will only confuse people.

Obviously those commentators of a conservative bent will focus on subject matter dear to their hearts and the same would go for the ones on the left. How is it though that they can all decide to go after the same target on the same day? You'd think coming form competing media outlets they would choose different targets in order to try and attract a larger share of the market.

Isn't that the way the media is supposed to work? They compete to see who can get an exclusive on a story and blow the competition out of the water by being the only one to carry an explosive revelation or the latest inside scoop.

Not these guys though; it always seems as if they are conducting an orchestrated attack on the same target. What a strange coincidence that Monday morning producers, publishers, editors and writers across America wake up with the same idea on their minds. That's probably something of an exaggeration, but the attacks do seem to come in waves; one after another in an attempt to build a case against their target.

The main focus of their attacks seems to be on anyone who openly challenges the Bush administration. They never say that, it's always couched in terms of being either unpatriotic if their target is an American, or anti-American if a foreign power is involved.

Like a diva who is always critical of those around her, but lashes out in fury if anyone dares to offer her a critique, they would be objects of ridicule if they did not have so much influence. For citizens of the most powerful nation on earth to be so insecure that they can only lash out at criticism with disparaging comments is pathetic.

What's truly unfortunate is that they seem to have an audience that wants to hear this type of rhetoric. Ask any psychologist and they will tell you the reason people put down others is to make up for feelings of inadequacy. Another result is to reduce the impact of their opinions and make your stance seem that much more secure.

So when someone like Tucker Carlson refers to Canada as a "retarded nephew" like he did recently, or disparages French military prowess, he is not only bolstering his own opinions he is making his audience feel superior to other nationalities.

The same would be true for those who refer to Tucker Carlson as an inbred, illiterate piece of white trash who doesn't know his ass from a hole in the ground. They would be making themselves feel superior to him, while at the same time reducing his opinions in stature. An audience hearing that, and who supported those sentiments, would lap it up as eagerly as Mr. Carlson's audience would his statements about Canada.

Neither argument actually conveys anything except the speaker's personal opinion on subject matter they may or may not know anything about. They are basing their commentary on the accepted party line. No self-respecting person to the left of Mr. Carlson would ever admit that he might have something of value to say because it would be unacceptable to his audience and her ideology.

I'm sure that radio and television stations, newspapers and magazines, and more recently web sites keep pundits like this around to drive up the ratings. What outrageous thing will they say next? As more of the audience comes to expect and demand this, the commentators are becoming are becoming less interested in their arguments, and more interested in the inventiveness of their invective.

These types of "news casts" don't require any thought on the part of their audience. They are being told how to think and how to feel. They are designed in the same manner as a political sound bite; one thought and one emotion in one easy to digest heat and serve package. Playing on simplistic emotional responses, (us good them bad) they allow no room for doubt and elicit strong reactions.

The continued refusal to allow for voices of dissent to be heard, and for contrasting opinions to be held, does not make for a healthy society. Instead you are constructing a powder keg with a fuse that is rapidly burning. Hatred and mistrust breed hatred and mistrust; through constant exposure they will eventually spread to all segments of society, not just foreign policy.

Unless something is done soon to buck this trend I think we are all heading for a period of intense civil unrest. One needs look no further to the events in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to see the potential for that powder keg to blow. The media of North America have a responsibility to their audience to provide balanced coverage of events that allow for decisions to be made based on reason. Their abysmal failure to do so threatens all of our well-being.


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