I’m increasingly of the opinion that the modern media (television and the Internet) is largely to blame for the sorry state of politics in America today.
Politicians are judged more on how they look than ever, as well as how they carry themselves on TV. Intellect and brilliant policy ideas get lost. Great minds and bold plans are drowned in a sea of rapid-fire snippets and punditry masquerading as news.
The modern media reduces political speeches to sound bites. In the past, entire speeches were published in newspapers and people typically read them, or at least good portions of them, instead of reading just the tiny snippets selected largely for their impact on TV.
This sets up a scenario where people are almost guaranteed a biased view of candidates. Everything you learn about a politician is based upon sound bites selected to have the most impact on the audience of the show or network you choose to watch, so they are almost guaranteed to be selected to skew your view of the politician based on the leanings of your preferred channel’s typical audience.
Fox News chooses sound bites to make liberal candidates sound bad and conservatives sound good (to their audience, which leans conservative) and CNN does the opposite. Since they don’t give you the whole speech, your entire opinion is based on intentionally misleading information.
Since almost nobody, except the few people who really dive in, ever hears or reads the full speech or policy statement or proposal, the entire electorate makes decisions based on biased, skewed information they’ve gotten from these intentionally leading sources on TV.
In the past, yes, newspapers had bias and their politically likeminded audiences, but the statements and speeches and treatises were published in full, so even with the punditry alongside it, readers still got the whole story and could judge for themselves.
Abraham Lincoln is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, leaders in history. But I doubt he would have been elected if today’s media existed in his time. He wouldn’t look good on TV. His magnificent speeches, then published in their entirety in the papers, would be broken into sound bites and hammered by pundits trying to score with their audiences, and he would lose.
His kindness and goodness and keen intellect would be lost in the muck of TV news.
I’ve seen newspapers from the days following November 19, 1863 in which the Gettysburg Address is published in full alongside an article—almost a review—dissecting the speech. Most of them slammed it as being meaningless or second-rate. But it was there for voters to read, and it made an impact. Today, its words are famous and that speech is considered one of the greatest in history.
It’s now known that Lincoln was suffering from the early stage of smallpox when he gave the speech. He looked pale and unwell even as he clearly spoke his brilliant words. How would that have played on TV, broken into snippets with the liberal media and the pro-slavery media both picking and choosing sound bites and commenting on how he doesn’t look fit to be president?
Instead, Lincoln was reelected a year later, in part because of speeches such as this. The people saw his address for what it was and what it was meant to be, despite the pundits.
We’ve lost that. We take in what we want to see; what silly or stupid or semi-profound tidbits our friends retweet or share on Facebook, and what the pundits we listen to want us to hear, then we vote based on that partial (meaning both incomplete and biased) information.
We live in a TL;DR world, and it’s killing our ability to have an informed electorate.