Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Obama, Media, and OJ

I am reading Obama's book at last; The Audacity of Hope. The title alone thrills. I've complained before that campaigns are won and lost these days on sound bytes and opinion polls. When did we stop picking candidates on calibre? Why would I care what Sally on the Street thinks, if I have no way of judging how much thought she put in to her answer. "I dunno, he he. I came here for the sale. What was the question again?"

Rare for me, I'm marking the book where his words resonate with my unspeakable restlessness in the way things are run these days. The first I've marked, "...I had watched campaign culture metastize throughout the body politic, as an entire industry of insult....somehow profitable - emerged to dominate cable television, talk radio, and the New York Times best-seller list." (p. 21) and "I am convinced that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose. Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose. For it's precisely the pursuit of ideological purity, the rigid orthodoxy and the sheer predictability of our current political debate, that keeps us from finding new ways to meet the challenges we face as a country".

I am reminded even of the days leading up to Obama's inauguration, when the media finally caught up with the news that they were witnessing a historic event, a historic figure. What were we given on cable television? Breathless blow-by-blow coverage of Obama's arrival in Washington. What Mrs. Obama was wearing, how many times she touched him. Speculation on the closeness of their marriage. The setting of the stage and speculation on how many people arrived. An endless stream of endless sound bytes, mindless, with no destination or no purpose other than to provide a blow-by-blow for the gawkers. Kind of like watching the O. J. Simpson car chase.

I am sure there are royalty watchers that got a great deal from that coverage. I thrilled listening to the musical quartet leading up to the inaguration. I also took notes of Obama's speech.

What value is the mindless information filler that disguises itself as news these days? Is this all we require as a public, to be passive observers?

The draw of the internet, though, with the opportunity for dialogue and an interactive audience, however, speaks to the even greater need for the public to be involved, to be heard.