Reality is Not Debatable, Issues Are

Bob Garfield rarely rails into my earbuds, but his Feb. 6 podcast of NPR’s On the Media was an exception. After playing a series of newscast clips of anchors teasing stories on the growing “debate” about vaccines, he erupted.

“For crying out loud, there is no controversy. There is no debate,” said Garfield, emphasis in the transcript. “Cynical politicians like Rand Paul and Chris Christie may pander all they want to frightened moms and the tinfoil-hat crowd–just as 49 US Senators can deny man’s role in climate change. But there is no rational basis for their beliefs. They are simply wrong — and when the media frame such idiocy as one side of a debate, they are not only legitimizing ignorance and demagoguery, they are threatening the lives of children.”

Garfield’s boil was followed a few days later by the announcement of Jon Stewart’s retirement. And I was immediately reminded of his 2004 takedown of CNN’s crossfire. Stewart did his own quiet railing that day, telling Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson to “stop hurting America” by reducing serious issues to predictable daily doses of partisan rant.

Of course Stewart and Garfield aren’t complaining about the same thing. Issues deserve debate and Stewart’s point is they deserve nuance rather than a 30-minute squeeze through the cable hack funnel. Continue reading

Digital Divide & Conquer

In August, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism reported on the presidential campaigns’ use of digital to bypass traditional earned media. The broadest conclusion was that the president’s campaign posted almost four times the content as his challenger and was active on nearly twice the number of platforms.

The Pew study also revealed that the dominant national message of the campaigns dealing with jobs and the economy was not the dominant interest of voters on the digital hook. For both campaigns, issues like immigration, health and veterans generated two to four times the reaction.

The digital divergence didn’t matter to the campaigns. As Pew said, “neither candidate engages in much dialogue with voters,” referring to citizen content on the digital channels of the campaign. Continue reading