The Deaf Claque

Because they’re worth clapping for…probably…

Op-Ed: A Political News Media Form

Central to the theory of the constitutional republic is the press—or news media—as a facilitator of political discourse as well as a means of political information of the masses (5). It follows then that any constitutional republic must therefore contain and utilize a body that serves this purpose; the United States, as an example of this governmental mode, must adhere to this basic principle. In opposition to this view is the argument that the contemporary news media should shape their output material with readings of informational or program popularity as its main content barometer.

Constitutional framer Alexander Hamilton argued for a dynamic conception of the press, with respect to its liberties and restraints, subject to the opinions of the people (1). This point is often extended to argue in defense of “infotainment”—a form of media that mix information and entertainment in response to the reception of the people—and includes stories of which the chief aim of content is to entertain rather than to inform (4). Playing to popularity in this way is not universally bad; there are some important points to be made regarding this. First, a definition of the news must be understood: in an article for The Poynter Institute, David Zeeck thinks of news as a “manifestation of a human desire to know what’s going on” (6). This definition provides for a wide variety of interpretations as to the role of the news media by the way in which they fulfill this desire. Based on this understanding it is clear to see that the media in general must be separated into categories depending on the specific desires each category intends to fulfill; news of which the chief am is to fulfill the desire to be entertained should be distinct from that of which the chief aim is to provide a platform for political discourse. Key to understanding this concept of media compartmentalization is the idea that the chief nature of the specific material must cohere to the desire to be fulfilled.

A perfect example of an improper mixing of material under a single category is Bill O’Reilly’s interview with “Obama Girl,” a sensationalist political icon from this past election. In one of his intended “hard news”—news concerning issues of import—segments devoted to the 2008 presidential campaign, O’Reilly interviews “Obama Girl,” legitimizing in the sphere of public political discourse sensationalism that is irrelevant to critical political evaluation (3). There is a place in the media for entertaining news and a place for news relevant to political discourse but issues of the former should never be cast as that of the latter. Journalist Christopher Patton argues that viewers of infotainment programs such as The Daily Show actually are among the most informed and therefore this form of infotainment can be and is a good thing (4). However, the problem with this argument is that it assumes a link of causality between viewership and viewer knowledge that cannot be derived from mere correlation: this finding only states that these viewers are more informed, not why they are more informed.

Finally, the strongest argument in support of the news media as a function of popularity is that hard news is more difficult to sell and that news should be sensationalized in order to retain the attention of viewers—surely if there are no viewers, the material presented is pointless (2). Stephen Harrington, contributor to Journalism, argues that if the content and means of analyzing supposed hard news is altered in order to gain popularity, the content can become something that can no longer be considered hard news and therefore fails in its purpose to serve public political discourse. It should be explicitly noted that this argument holds true only in the specific case that the actual substantial content of the news is altered for purposes of viewership.

There are, however, ways of getting around the problems of low interest in hard news and a degradation of the political news media in the seeming failure to adequately provide for responsible public discourse. This solution rests on three key points. First, the general media should be divided up based on the intent of the content itself: political news media should be distinct from entertainment news media. Second, the primary mission of the political news media must be to educate the public and to encourage honest, accountable political discourse on all levels. Lastly, the way in which the political news and analysis is presented must be enjoyable but the content itself must not be altered as a result. There is no reason why political discourse must be drab in order to be considered legitimate. Indeed, it is conceivable for a model similar to The Daily Show to be implemented in the political news media but with a distinct focus on hard news, solid discourse, and the use of comedy only as tool of analysis. The issue of media functionality and purpose is much more complex than many give it credit for and therefore should not be thought of in terms of simply “popularity or education,” but in terms of how it best serves both society and individuals’ interests.

References:

1. The Federalist Papers No. 38

2. Popular News in the 21st Century (Journalism)

3.

4. In Defense of Infotainment

5. The Role of Media in Democracy

6. Toward a Definition of News

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February 12, 2009 Posted by | Journalism, Nathan Schmitt, The Media | Leave a comment

Deaf Claque is Back: Obama Administration Resources

By Nathan Schmitt

Inauguration 01.20.2009

With the dawn of a new administration and an exciting new political atmosphere, the Deaf Claque will again start to be updated regularly.

I’d like to start by providing a few new resources that I believe had enormous potential to be incredibly informative and will hopefully encourage genuine political discourse:

1. White House Blog: This is the newly established blog for the White House. Its priorities are as follows:

Communication: This site will feature timely and in-depth content meant to keep everyone up-to-date and educated.

Transparency: The President’s executive orders and proclamations will be published for everyone to review.

Participation: we will publish all non-emergency legislation to the website for five days, and allow the public to review and comment before the President signs it” (1)

2. State Department Blog: Statement of purpose:

Blogs.state.gov offers the public an alternative source to mainstream media for U.S. foreign policy information. This blog offers the opportunity for participants to discuss important foreign policy issues with senior Department officials” (2)

3. Congress’ Daily Digest: Congress’ Daily Digest provides a daily summary of the events of congress and is, of course, updated at the end of each day. It is separated into two parts: the House and the Senate. This is not RSS subscribable but hopefully it will be soon.

4. Speaker of the House’s Blog (Pelosi): For a more detailed look at the House. Updated multiple times daily by both Karina Newton (Pelosi’s Director of New Media) and Speaker Pelosi.

This seems to be a huge step in the right direction and though this is still a new direction, I hope the Obama Administration’s focus on transparency and public accountability is developed and utilized to its full potential. The Judiciary has yet to update its website but hopefully this will take place soon.

If you’re interested in learning how to stay informed with minimal effort let me know and I’ll show you how to set up a blog newsfeed so the news you want comes to you instead of having to search it out (this is mostly for my friends around these geographical parts).

January 22, 2009 Posted by | 2008 Election, Barack Obama, Department of State, General Discourse, Hillary Clinton, House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, Nathan Schmitt, Senate, The Media, White House | 3 Comments

Ron Suskind’s Interview on NPR

Tonight OPB aired an interview with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ron Suskind whose new book, The Way of the World, came out this past Tuesday, August 8th. In it, he puts forward harsh allegations against the Bush Administration based on credible sources–the most important of which are on the record–with respect to misleading the American people on the path to war.

The interview follows. Click here then click on the “Listen now” button on the top of NPR’s page.

August 7, 2008 Posted by | Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Impeachment, Iraq War, Journalism, Terrorism, The Media, White House | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Phase 2: Senate Report on Pre-war Intelligence

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Phase 2 of the Senate Report on Pre-war Intelligence was released this past Thursday. In a press conference about it’s release, Senator Jay Rockefeller stated that, “In making the case for war administration officials distorted the facts or were not supported by the facts, and said that they knew or should of known were not true.

The Huffington Post is sadly one of the few news sources that really covered it. Below is an excerpt, kind of the meat of it:

“the breadth of the Committee’s citations of examples in which the Bush administration’s comments were not supported by intelligence could reignite public dissatisfaction over the war. According to a release from Rockefeller’s office that was provided to The Huffington Post, these examples include:

— Statements and implications by the President and Secretary of State suggesting that Iraq and al-Qa’ida had a partnership, or that Iraq had provided al-Qa’ida with weapons training, were not substantiated by the intelligence.

— Statements by the President and the Vice President indicating that Saddam Hussein was prepared to give weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups for attacks against the United States were contradicted by available intelligence information.

— Statements by President Bush and Vice President Cheney regarding the postwar situation in Iraq, in terms of the political, security, and economic, did not reflect the concerns and uncertainties expressed in the intelligence products.

— Statements by the President and Vice President prior to the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate regarding Iraq’s chemical weapons production capability and activities did not reflect the intelligence community’s uncertainties as to whether such production was ongoing.”

June 11, 2008 Posted by | Congress, George W. Bush, Iraq War, Jon Stewart, Nathan Schmitt, Senate, The Media, Video, White House | , | Leave a comment

Last Night’s Democratic Debate: Hyperbolic Reporting

By Nathan Schmitt

Before last night’s debate, MSNBC along with other networks raised hype (Note: they update the article so it is now in the past tense) about the Democratic candidates ganging up on Hillary Clinton. The word “attack” came up many times in many articles but this seems to be a bit of a misrepresentation. First, here are some examples:

Moments later, the tone changed as [Barack Obama] launched the first of a series of attacks on Clinton, claiming the 2008 presidential race ‘requires us to be honest about the challenges that we face. It does not mean, I think, changing positions whenever it’s politically convenient.’“(1) (emphasis added)

and

John Edwards of North Carolina zeroed in on Clinton’s vote for a congressional resolution that declared Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.

That vote, he said, cleared the way for President Bush to invade Iran.

‘I mean, has anybody read this thing?’ Edwards asked. ‘I mean, it literally gave Bush and Cheney exactly what they wanted.’” (2)

Then continued to say,

The contention over the Iran resolution was the sharpest disagreement in a debate that saw Clinton, D-N.Y., come under a gang assault from a field of rivals hoping to chip away at her commanding lead in national polls.” (2) (emphasis added)

Now, it is almost impossible to argue that the news media–especially mainstream–has not become increasingly theatrical in the past few years, presumably for the sake of viewership. This seems acceptable to a degree from the perspective of the free market as well as news media organizations “as businesses” with corresponding interests. And, indeed, it can be argued quite well that this theatricality (hyperbolic misrepresentation in this case) does not harm public discourse in most cases. This may well be true. In most cases…

Despite the seemingly trivial nature of this particular instance (“gang assaults” or “attacks” on Hillary Clinton) it seems to point to a much more important and fundamental issue: the distinction between legitimate argument of ideas and personal attacks of character.

Very rarely do candidates within the sphere of debate attack others on a personal level–certainly considerably less than the media reports. This is a pretty big statement considering how much candidates’ “personal attacks” seem to come up in the mainstream media. Here is the distinction I think is imperative to make if one is to begin to analyze this national debate effectively:

Personal Attacks: Attack the worth of a person as a human being and are intended to debase their unique personality.

Ex: “I do not respect this person. He/she is a fundamentally evil person.”

Argument of Ideas: This includes any arguments intended to criticize those aspects that a person presents or doesn’t present to the public that are of substantial (in terms of qualitative content) concern to the issue at hand.

Examples of this range from criticizing positions on the war, to campaign money fund raising, to a person’s honesty.

I should also specify that questions of honesty are not personal attacks because they do not intend to devalue a person as a person, but rather to question their qualification for a specific position of responsibility.

In any case, it seems that the media would benefit the people to honestly make this distinction, though it seems slight, because such issues are the foundation on which we base our decisions about who will be the next leader of our country.

October 31, 2007 Posted by | "The Candidates", 2008 Election, Debates, General Discourse, Hillary Clinton, Nathan Schmitt, The Media | , , , | Leave a comment