Campaigns shed light on political, media failures


Our long national nightmare is over. The 2012 presidential campaign has ended.

Was the election the most divisive the United States has ever seen? No. Was it the one of most consequence? No. But it has been one of the most inane and depressing elections in recent decades.

This election was a sobering snapshot of American democracy. This isn’t to say that voting in the election wasn’t important. But in the seemingly endless buildup to Nov. 6, there was a serious failure — both from elected officials and from those responsible for keeping tabs on them — to do their jobs.

On one hand, there were Republican members of Congress swearing to block anything President Barack Obama pushed for in the name of keeping him from becoming more than a one-term president. That meant everything, including a jobs bill that never left the House of Representatives. Then, politicians opted for petty arguments blaming each other for stagnated job growth.

Not to mention the inane comments on the scale of severity in rape, the lies spread about where Obama was born or rumors that The Dark Knight Rises was actually an anti-Bain Capital film.

Yet, this inanity and misuse of power went underreported thanks to the media. Of course, not everyone in the media is bad. Dozens, if not hundreds of journalists have spent months covering the election, reporting on important events and fact-checking candidates. But there are also the big media entities like Fox News, CNN and others that tried to sway the election by pushing a “narrative” that would portray a neck and neck race, even until the end. Superficial stories got the big coverage, while discussions on actual issues were swept aside. Reporting and facts gave way to punditry.

Want proof? Look at the presidential debates. They were poorly handled by moderators who failed to reign in candidates and let them ignore questions, and in the actual debate as well as the media coverage afterward, important issues from financial reform to climate change were ignored. Voters were instead treated to hours of discussion on binders, bayonets and more.

And worst of all, there was no major fact-checking of the candidates’ plans or speeches. No one really went up on national platforms to call out lies from either side. This is why so many of these lies still persist. But even misinformed voters can still vote.

Unfortunately, there was a push to prevent Americans from voting, such as efforts to require identification in Pennsylvania. These were thankfully shot down, with officials saying it would help elect Romney. And on Election Day on Tuesday, there were a number of reports across swing states of machines altering votes or people trying to prevent others from casting ballots.

Misleading or blocking people from voting sounds like something out of an oppressive regime’s tactics, not something that campaigns or officials in the United States do. The fact that it happens today shows how much work this country still has to do to live up to its reputation as a land of freedom, democracy and tolerance.

Perhaps the saddest part is that the election cost more than $6 billion. That impressive sum of money could have gone toward education, fixing roads, loans to businesses and so forth. Instead it went to negative ads, propaganda, huge rallies and voter suppression.

Americans deserve better. Democracy, debate, a healthy discourse of the issues facing the country — all of these things are invaluable and must be encouraged. There isn’t a grand overarching conspiracy to prevent that from happening — there’s incompetence, gullibility and the influence of money. The year 2012 was a depressing look at how our system can be manipulated, willingly or not, to prevent an informed public from having its say.

But it’s done. So instead of spending time, money and effort on lying, manipulating and blocking constitutional rights, let’s focus on issues that matter. Let’s rebuild the East Coast after Hurricane Sandy. Let’s help Haiti recover from the hurricane and the earthquake that destroyed much of the country. Let’s send relief to the civilians in Syria being massacred in a civil war. Let’s do something constructive before this process starts again in 2016.

 

Nicholas Slayton is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism and is the Daily Trojan’s Multimedia Editor.


  • William Buttrey

    I echo your sentiments fully. The news media in far too many cases comes across instead as advocacy infotainment. Accuracy is considered far less important than the agenda being put forth, and the profit model is simplified when you merely have to reinforce the prejudices that serve your agenda. While Fox News does well in the ratings, studies have shown that their viewers are the least informed. Their use of the slogan “Fair and Balanced” is downright Orwellian.

    With all the crucial issues this country faces, imagine how easily the results of the presidential election could have been altered at any point over something mindlessly trivial. Supposedly the campaign process itself is meant determine who is qualified by who performs the campaign Kabuki dance sufficiently well to convince a majority of voters they are “more presidential.” Relentless spin and unlimited corporate cash have served to render even facts as intangibles.

    Ronald Reagan famously said “Facts are stupid things” misquoting John Adams who said “Facts are stubborn things.” I fear we’ve reached the point where regretfully, facts are trivial or inconsequential things. When Adolph Hitler wrote of effective propaganda and asked rhetorically whether it should be directed at intellectuals or the masses, he basically said, don’t worry about the intellectuals, there aren’t enough of them to matter. In a democracy where power is bestowed/wielded by convincing 50%+1 of voters (at least those who are not prevented from voting by illegal and unscrupulous means and whose ballots are counted accurately – certainly not a given) to channel that power to your side, a win based on lies, distortions, and gaming the system is still a win.