The primaries have begun, the polls are churning out their predictions, and the SuperPACs are flexing their newfound powers to produce independent-expenditure-only political ads.
Amidst all the media's distortion, U.S. citizens need to make informed decisions about which candidates they will support in November.
Almost all information, other than raw statistical data, comes in the form of a story. Mass media news agencies are supposed to be "unbiased," but anyone who has every watched the evening news knows that news reports are actually news "stories." They almost always incorporate a good guy, a bad guy, some kind of plot climax, and a turning point. And from the highly subjective and interpretive nature of narration, we derive the pervasive bias in the media.
Unbiased news? Forget it. Despite our best efforts, we will probably never experience a truly unbiased mass media. What we value is intelligent reporting, with balanced, logical, evidence-based reports. Reporters should mitigate their own bias by telling both sides of the story. They should let the "bad guy" have his say, or they can ask, "What are the alternative narratives to my own?" They should also abide by the rules of logic, constructing the plot of their story as a philosopher constructs an argument. And finally, they should justify the premises of their argument by grounding them in empirical and historical evidence.
What we seek is not an unbiased report; it is a balanced, logical, evidence-based story. This is as true for editorials as it is for news reports. On January 14th, the Daily American printed August Gatto's letter, titled "Presidential Concerns."
Mr. Gatto doesn't like President Obama. Good, he should let us know. But where is the argument? A brief review of Mr. Gatto's letter reads less like an editorial and more like a Hollywood thriller:
"Disaster and devastation are just around the corner" - we have suspense.
"President Obama proceeds with his plan to bring fundamental change to America with his assault upon freedom, liberty, and the traditional American way of life" - Wow, I didn't hear about that plan on CSPAN. But he sounds like a great villain!
"Regardless of which candidate is chosen by the Republican Party, that person will have to be the horse the American people ride into battle against the self centered man-child that is Barack Obama." - Uh, we're going to war with a man-child? Well, this should at least be entertaining to watch…
If you are going to take the time to contribute to the public media, construct an argument. Provide evidence to back it up. Encourage people to make an informed decision about an issue or candidate. Don't spew your rallying cries about party-line voting onto the pages of the local newspaper. Seriously, you don't care who you nominate, as long as he's the Republican horse? And I believe the appropriate mammalian quadruped is the elephant, if you're seeking symbolic flare.
Without doubt, Obama has disappointed many of his supporters with particular actions over the past three years. Most recently, he resignedly signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which is viewed by many Americans as an extension of the over-reaching Patriot Act.
But these rash statements ("he hasn't done anything good for Americans") are simply unfounded, especially for those of us who supported withdrawal from Iraq and recent strategic adjustments in military operations (which facilitated the assassination of bin Laden). Like him or hate him, explain your reasoning according to events and issues, not party lines.
Right now, many people are vehemently opposed to the new SOPA legislation in the House and PIPA in the Senate. There is a real threat to civil liberties here; the bills allow the government to regulate the Internet through DNS filtering. This is akin to China's state-control over Google. At the same time, supporters of the bills cite a genuine need to stop online pirating of intellectual property.
SOPA and PIPA are very similar bills, with Lamar Smith (R) introducing SOPA and Harry Reid (D) introducing PIPA. So far, this is not a partisan issue, unlike the ridiculous debt-ceiling debacle we witnessed last year. As such, this issue is more likely to be resolved through academic discussion and intelligent debate. For that to happen, citizens need to know where their elected officials stand on the issue, not simply their party affiliation. Our democracy will start to make more sense when citizens stop voting according to their candidates' 'D's and 'R's and start voting according to their "nays" and "yays."
Resources like OpenCongress.org make this kind of democracy easier, tracking our leaders' voting records. Viewers can even use the website to send a message to their congressional representatives. But articles like the one presented by Mr. Gatto, which lack balance, logical construction, and evidence, hinder the advancement of informed democracy.
Tanzania, formerly of Somerset