Thursday, January 21, 2010
Why the Media Loves an Uncomplicated Story
It may be a premature reaction.
My reading is that much of the public distrust of the Obama healthcare plan is more a function of
Americans' anxiety about jobs, more than any other issue. As James Carville so eloquently phrased it in another political time, "It's the economy, stupid." Americans are historically predisposed to distrust anything governmental. It is part of their heritage of rebelliousness that stems from their revolt against the British crown as well as the deep commitment to self-reliance and volunteerism. Something as ungainly as a national health plan just doesn't make a lot of sense to many in the US.
More immediate is the media coverage of health care negotiations. This was bound to create a backlash as the sausage factory view of legislation making was given more close-up shots than people wanted or needed. The sense of "celebratory politics" (Obama's election) gave way to the conflictual nature of Parliamentary politics (health care reform). This gave Americans a deepening sense of gloom about the future. It wasn't the media's fault. In fact, the coverage I thought was deep and contextual. Americans have been without serious political journalism for so long that the view of the workings of Congress was a shock for many. The intricacies of the legislative process did not give a comforting sense that much had changed.
But as Harold Wilson once remarked, "a week is a long time in politics." Obama's vision for America is a long way from being defeated.
In Canada, we are effectively without a government. Using a little-used Parliamentary manoevre, the government has prorogued Parliament and will reconvene after the February Olympics are over. Not many Canadians seem to mind, which is precisely what the Government anticipated. Instead Canadians are engaged in celebratory politics as they watch the Olympic flame make its way across Canada, stopping in small towns, Indian reserves and coffee shops in its way to Vancouver. People are making the obvious comparison that this is much more pleasant than watching politicians slag each other every day in "question period."
The media's abandonment of serious policy issues has resulted in this retreat from responsible journalism. The question still remains: how do we make the interesting important, and the important, interesting? In the US, health care seems on the verge of being abandoned. In Canada, Parliamentary inquiries into whether Canadian troops knowingly handed over captured Afghan prisoners to be tortured has been suspended.
Are these journalists still capable of doing a job of reporting? Or have they become social workers? My sense is that many of them seem ill-prepared to do what they were sent to Haiti to do. They seem lost in the powerful emotions of the place which may be understandable. While the public is donating money in record amounts, the audience is being abandoned without any context and unprepared for what may come next.