Broken Media Covers Broken Government

“In the three weeks leading up to Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 7, CNN will marshal its resources and political expertise in multiple one-hour reports looking at the widespread dysfunction besetting Congress, the courts and the executive branch.”

These words open a CNN press release announcing the network’s 2006 election coverage. The same notice closes with this quote from CNN political director Sam Feist:

“As voters prepare to make critical decisions about the prosecution of the Iraq war, the wider war on terrorism and the economy, Americans of all ideologies have a nagging sense that something is fundamentally wrong with the way our government operates.”

If those sentiments represent the tenor of CNN’s reporting, we may actually witness an election season where the public is helped, rather than harmed, by television news.

Of course, it’s difficult to suspend a natural and earned skepticism that big media can suddenly perform its duties in the public interest. The facts that government has been dysfunctional, and that Americans have sensed this for some time, have been largely ignored by the media. As have the facts that the media has been dysfunctional and that Americans have sensed this as well. The decline in approval for the president and the Republican controlled congress is not a revelation to most Americans. But it did not gain much traction in the press until a Republican congressman heated up the debate with lurid tales of sex and depravity. Now the press is just noticing an electoral wave that has been building on the horizon for months.

Giving them the benefit a doubt that they don’t deserve, here are some of the upcoming programs that appear most interesting:

WEDNESDAY, OCT. 18, at 7 p.m. Lou Dobbs’ “War on the Middle Class,” conveniently borrows the title of his just released book to look “at the cost of housing, education and health care, as well as stagnant wages and the difficulty of achieving and maintaining middle-class status in this country.”

THURSDAY, OCT. 19, at 7 p.m. “Jack Cafferty’s: Broken Government,” presents the curmudgeon’s view of “government spending, corruption, abuse of power, electronic voting, the political party system and America’s borders.”

MONDAY, OCT. 23, at 8 p.m. “The Do Nothing Congress,” has Ed Henry explaining “the paralysis brought on by partisanship and obsession over raising money for elections.”

SUNDAY, OCT. 29, at 7 p.m. In perhaps the most profound topic of the series, Lou Dobbs and Kitty Pilgrim investigate, “Democracy at Risk: E-voting’s Threat.” This hour will cover the issue from “voter fraud and voter ID legislation to systematic problems with electronic voting machines.”

It remains to be seen if there will be any substance behind the fluff in this PR. It would be easy to produce the same kind of mushy programming for which these conventional media outlets are known. Some of the pitfalls that lead to inferior journalism are standard components of their reporting toolkit. For instance, the common practice of presenting opposing views, even when those views are baseless (or lies), is called “providing balance” in contemporary jounalism. If CNN can avoid falling back on the practices to which they are accustomed, the schedule above might actually hold some promise.


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