Media, Misinformation and how to strike back

Tracy Van Slyke

During the last week I've avoided the news. The first three days after the election I felt physically sick even turning on NPR. I couldn't look at newspapers and I kept my mouse far away from the Internet Explorer icon on my desktop. Of course, I couldn't avoid all the emails flooding my inbox. Those emails kept me on top of the latest debates and analysis of electoral maps and the new hot word, "values," as well as the much appreciated black humor coming from friends and family. I didn't want to avoid the news, I just didn't want to go the sources. While always aware of the superficiality of the mainstream media (that's why I'm in this business) I've become increasingly disgusted with how the media continues to purport itself. More than any debate about how "values," effected this election is the question of how the candidates and the issues were framed by the campaigns and most importantly by the media. An Oct. 21 report from the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) which put together the findings from several polls and analyzed the variations in perceptions according to respondents' attitudes toward the Presidential candidates said: The Decision to Go to War Majorities of Bush supporters and Kerry supporters agree that if Iraq did not have WMD or was not providing support to al Qaeda, the US should not have gone to war with Iraq. World Public Opinion on the Iraq War and George Bush???s Reelection Only three in ten Bush supporters believe that the majority of people in the world oppose the US going to war with Iraq, while an overwhelming majority of Kerry supporters have this view. A majority of Bush supporters assume that the majority of people in the world would like to see Bush reelected, while a large majority of Kerry supporters believe the opposite. Bush supporters also lean toward overestimating support in Islamic countries for US-led efforts to fight terrorism, while Kerry supporters do not Candidates??? Foreign Policy Positions Majorities of Bush supporters misperceive his positions on a range of foreign policy issues. In particular, they assume he supports multilateral approaches and addressing global warming though he has taken strong contrary positions on issues such as the International Criminal court and the Kyoto Agreement. A majority of Kerry supporters have accurate perceptions of Kerry???s positions on the same issues. In addition to the PIPA study, the Committee for Concerned Journalists released a report in late October that analyzed the election coverage of 13 media outlets (4 newspapers and 9 broadcasts) from Oct. 1 through Oct. 14. One small sample of the results includes: The press was even more negative when covering policy (55%) and the candidates' characters (47%) than when covering political internal matters such as horse race (36%). The tendency toward negative tone stands out because it suggests the press is prone to act as an enabler, accomplice or conduit for negative campaigning. The irony, at least from the standpoint of making coverage appealing to readers and viewers, is that most citizens claim they are sick and tired of negative politics. Apparently journalists, like politicians, either believe that despite what citizens say, negative politics works and thus the attack lines are important news. Or perhaps at minimum journalists themselves simply can't resist the attack lines. When it came to positive coverage, the networks overall were the most likely to produce sunnier Kerry stories. Cable, entirely due to the two weeks of Brit Hume programs studied, was the most likely to produce stories with a positive tone toward Bush. There is much more info in this report and is an educational read. The point is that this is the time, not only to continue organizing, mobilizing, and educating citizens for 2006, 2008, and beyond around political and issue campaigns, this also is the time to take back our media. It's time to kick some big, corporate media ass. As Bob McChesney of Free Press says, "Media IS the issue." One thing to do is to tune into organizations such as Free Press and Media Matters. They have tons of mobilizing efforts which are bringing in a growing number of people every day. One major campaign to get involved in is reinstating the Fairness Doctrine. The other is to start talking back to the talking heads. When a reporter doesn't represent the real issue, real quote or real facts, call them on it. Write to the reporter and their editors. Write letters to the editors. Let them know that you're watching and expect more. And in case you're wondering, I did break into the New York Times on Sunday - but I just read the international stories.

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Tracy Van Slyke, a former publisher of In These Times, is the project director for The Media Consortium.
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