Democracy works best when ordinary citizens inform themselves and participate in public policy discussions

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fourth Estate Accountability: Sports Reporting, a Case Study

There is a weak link in our democracy.  So much depends upon the citizenry possessing relevant and factual information about the effects of our existing policies as well as reasonable approximations of the consequences of legislative proposals.  The so-called "fourth estate", also known as the free press, is pretty much free to report the story however they see fit. 

This is not to say that the commercialized free press tends to report out-and out-lies, sometimes they do, but promoting an out-and-out lie is hard to sustain.  When the lie is finally exposed, credibility is compromised.  A much better way to mislead the public is to focus on red herrings and present the story within the context of a paradigm that obscures the truth.

A contemporary example of this phenomenon is the way the commercialized free press is consistently mischaracterizing the Occupy Wall Street movement.  A deceptive narrative that the mainstream media is pitching hard is that OWS is a Democratic Party alternative to the Tea Party, and whereas the Tea Party is opposing big government, OWS is opposing big money.  The truth is that both occupiers and rank-and-file members of the Tea Party are opposed to the corrupting influence of big money on our political process.  Another truth is that top Democrats as well as top Republicans are recipients of sizable corporate endowments and are beneficiaries of our system of crony capitalism.

So why would the commercialized free press deliberately obfuscate these truths? 
Because the current legal framework recognizes corporations as people and money as free speech, those who control these corporations have greater influence on our political process than ordinary Americans.  Efforts to dissolve corporate person-hood and eliminate money as free speech have wide-spread support from ordinary Americans of all political stripes.  By framing the story within a construct that pits ordinary Americans, on the left and the right, against one another, the corporately controlled main-stream media diffuses the energy of popular movements that threaten their power and control of our society.

During a recent fund-raising drive by National Public Radio, one of the commentators indicated that it wasn't the job of commercial news outlets to bring information to the public.  Instead, it is their job to bring customers to their advertising sponsors.

Unfortunately, there is no way to legally force the commercialized free press to focus on what is most relevant, avoid red herrings or present their coverage within illuminating constructs.

Sports Reporting:

When I pick up the paper to read about how the Mets did the previous night--rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for Goldman Sachs--I can be reasonably certain that I am going to get an accurate account of the game.  The score will almost certainly be correct.  Plays that were identified as key will definitely be important to the game's outcome.  In other words, there won't be red herrings.  If the reporter chooses to identify motifs or put the game in some sort of defining context, the choices will generally not come from left field. 

It is my contention that the most accurate reporting in any media outlet will be its sports reporting.  Now, I'm not talking about sports opinion or commentary, just the stories which report the details and narrative of the covered event.  Why?  Because too many people witness the incident being covered.  Too many people watch the game for the narrative to be twisted towards obfuscation.

Since we cannot use the law to hold the free press accountable for their political coverage, we must employ the technique that sports fans use to hold sports reporters accountable.  More people have to watch the game!

What is the game and where is it played?  I am not suggesting that if more people watch CSPAN our problems will be solved.  It wouldn't hurt, but what is televised from the floor is a little bit more than the tip of the iceberg.  In addition there is no way for the fans to engage their representatives through CSPAN.

I used to do government relations (lobby) and communications (deal with the free press) for a not-for-profit environmental organization.  One of the techniques representatives will use to placate constituents or advocacy organizations is agree to vote for, sponsor or introduce legislation designed to address the problem--and then spend not one second of their time advancing the legislation.  Floor speeches and sponsored bills are often red herrings.  If you really want to know what the priorities of a legislator are you need to know how their time and the time of their staff is spent on a daily, weekly and annual basis.

I'm not talking about time spent getting re-elected.  I will grant that a significant or even majority of their time is spent attempting to hold onto their office.  I'm talking about what legislation and policies they are actually spending time advancing.  How do they spend their days?  What are their staffs being directed to research and advance.  What are the subjects of the meetings between politicians behind closed doors?  Are they discussing the bills they agreed to sponsor to placate constituents or policies designed to help big donors?

As far as I know there is no way to get a window open on how their time or the time of their staff is spent.  In other words we can't watch the game that is actually being played.

An alternative strategy is to insist that a greater portion of the game is played right in front of us.  In other words make the game come to us.  Play it on our home court. 

But, how can we do that?  I pose the question to begin a discussion.  Certainly the potential of electronic information technology has not been fully realized. 


The current political "game" is largely played behind closed doors.  The majority of American citizens rely on self-promotional information released by politicians and commercial news outlets with a corporate agenda for political coverage.  As a result, the news suffers from the use of red herrings and obfuscating paradigms.  This is in contrast to sports reporting, where the game is played for all to see.  The resulting coverage is accurate because the fans hold the reporters accountable.

1 comment:

  1. I always thought that the best way to change the perception of the Media is to make its perception the American perception. one way, a way that I wrote about Substantially in college, is to make the media a government institution. like the three branches, the media would be the fourth branch, with no controls, except for ones deemed wise by a moderate congress. after reading these posts, a new idea emerged. How about enticing media outlets, instead of jaw jacking with the affluent and influential,to watch C-Span every morning and take the quotes from the people who participate, both influential and the callers. I speak of the Washington Journal.