The Lemmings of Cable News Politics

It’s perfectly reasonable to expect voters to do their own research.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve read a few articles about the influence of cable networks on the polling of candidates for office. Most of them say pretty much the same thing: greater exposure in the new cycle leads to better polling for candidates who run for office.

Just yesterday I read an article right here on Medium about how the media are ignoring Tulsi Gabbard. The presentation was thorough and convincing. I was reminded of another study of statistical analysis of cable news stories on the 2016 candidates that demonstrated that Donald Trump received more than $1 billion in free exposure for his election. Just being in the news provided the polling support that Trump needed to win the election.

I am also aware of Professor Larry Lessig’s mayday.us website and his campaign to get big money out politics. I loved his idea, The Equality Act, a proposal to provide public funding for elections, to make election day a holiday, and to make elections fairer. I also like his work promoting to provide for real criminal penalties for corruption in elected offices. But that idea to take money out of politics…

Money in politics means influence. Money buys advertising and network time. Money buys air time. Much of that effort is for people who sit in front of screens, watching TV. Considering the cord-cutting trends in television viewing demographics, I can hardly believe that cable news is still a major influence in politics, but it is. People still watch programming like Morning Joe, Fox News, and Real Time with Bill Maher. Are these people susceptible to the influence of animated bears when they shop for toilet paper?

So millions of people in America are just watching TV to learn about their candidates? Do they allow the news presented by cable TV to influence their vote? They don’t have the time to do their own research and draw their own conclusions?

Every candidate has their own website. Every candidate uploads videos to YouTube. A few candidates even publish here on Medium. Numerous candidates write opinion pieces and submit them to major news outlets for publication.

I make a point of reading those opinion pieces because the byline is a candidate making a case for a cause they believe in and their election to office. We can read what the candidate is thinking and feeling in their writing. We can see what they have to offer, unadulterated by editors. We can see their thinking process laid out. No need to rewind if someone spoke out of turn in the living room. We can go back and read it again.

I love reading other people’s writing, especially the people I know, because their writing lays out and lays bare their thinking process, how they see the world, and how they reason with reality. I’ve read articles by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Tulsi Gabbard, and a few others. Those articles provided me more insight into their thinking, their positions, and their plans, than the soundbites of TV. They are even better than the debates.

I am planning on watching the debates for the Democratic candidates. Debates are nice because they give us an idea of the temperament of the people running for office. They show us how people improvise on their feet. They tell us what is most important to them because the most important things are the easiest to recall under the bright lights on stage. But they don’t really spell out the entire policy agenda like a candidates website.

Television is a passive experience. We sit, we watch, we turn off. I can recall how television evolved in my life. At first, there was only what we could get over the air, live. Then we could record. Then we got cable and we could record that. Then everything went digital and now we can get video on the big screen, the computer, the tablet and our phones. Viewing choices expanded and we weren’t confined to the living room anymore. We don’t share experiences watching programming much anymore.

However we watch video, it’s mostly a passive activity unless we’re active listeners. An active listener is asking questions while listening, and taking notes on the way. But judging by the influence of cable networks on polling, I don’t think we’re very active listeners, much less researchers.

I believe we should do something about money in politics. I think that’s important. But what is really important is that we cultivate critical thinking skills in the body politic. I would like to see people thinking for themselves rather than allowing themselves to be influenced by others.

When I research a story, I look for the same story in politically opposed sources. I will read about the same topic from The National Review and Mother Jones. I will watch video on the same topic from CNBC, Fox, RT, and Democracy Now!. I believe that observing the opposite of viewpoints on the same topic will yield an intersection of facts that could be called, “the truth”. If Fox News and Democracy Now! agree on a certain set of facts, then I have a better foundation for the conclusions I might reach.

I would hope that all people, regardless of political persuasion, will listen to the other side to check their assumptions. To check their facts. To see what the other side sees, because the other side is not evil. They are probably not even confused. The other side has convictions, just like we do, regardless of the side you’re on.

Don’t be a lemming. Be an active investigator of your choices in politics.

Write on.

Written by

Husband, father, worker, philosopher, and observer. Plumbing the depths of consciousness to find the spring of happiness. Write on.

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