Thursday, June 11, 2009

Polls and Other Partial or Untold Stories

You probably heard it quoted almost as many times as Supreme Court nominee Sotomayor's remarks about Latina women. A recent new Fox News Poll showed more respondents describing themselves as "Pro-Life" than "Pro-Choice." Thanks to fellow blogger Cashewelliott at Open the Vein I found this site that puts the poll in context by comparing it with other polls. As you can see, the poll––big surprise––was conducted by Fox News. Compare it to the CNN poll conducted generally over the same period, and you'll also see that a majority––in fact a whopping majority––would not like to see Roe v Wade completely overturned.

Let me stop here to interject that this is not going to be a political post. Not that I'm ashamed of my Pro-Choice views, but because the world doesn't need another blog where people shout at each other about political beliefs. This is a writing blog and so it shall remain. However, if you've followed this blog for a while you know that I include under the rubric of writing both newspapers and the news media in general, as someone writes the stuff we hear reported, and that someone decides just what news we will hear and what we won't hear. And in this case we heard controversy where we could have heard consensus and a minefield was created where we could have found that elusive middle ground.

Look, taken together these polls show a good trend in a country portrayed as irreconcilably divided between the reds and the blues, believers and atheists, the right and the left. While a slightly higher percentage of respondents considered themselves more Pro-life, as in they probably wouldn't have an abortion themselves, or they'd think long and hard about it, they do not want to deny that right to others, or maybe even themselves should they feel differently under extenuating circumstances. You certainly wouldn't know that from the media hyping this as some cultural seismic shift.

A recent illness in my family caused me to fall a bit behind in my reading. The other day I picked up a weekly newspaper from the end of April with a blaring headline about the Swine Flu. I had to remind myself what it was all about. The Swine Flu was, like, soooo last month. Throughout the hysteria and "He said/She said" interviews, members of the World Health Organization and others from the medical community, tried desperately to bring it down a notch, knowing how easily the American public can burn out on over-hyped news. There's good reason to believe the virus will attack again and be even stronger, however, by then will anyone be listening or will the media have cried wolf once too often?

Speaking of the Swine Flu, you may have thought the epidemic in Mexico wiped out all the drug cartels. Sadly, it isn't so, only the news about the flu wiped out the news about the Mexican drug wars. And where have all the pirates gone? That's another story we haven't heard about in the past few weeks. In this world of hyper-kinetic news reporting, I often find myself disoriented. So many "crises" are covered over such short periods of time that I sometimes can't remember if an incident took place last week or last year.

A free press is one of the cornerstones of our democracy, but what's the point in the press being free if citizens aren't learning what we need to know to hold our government accountable and to make the right decisions in the voting booth? It isn't enough to report scoops that quickly, and literally, become yesterday's news. We need a more measured approach that provides details and covers a situation between the crises, when most of the important stuff happens.

What was happening in North Korea between the negotiations of the Clinton administration and their testing of a nuclear missile last year? What goes on in Israeli politics between suicide bombings?

The news media is fond of blaming their woes on the Internet, but it was long before the Internet caught on, in fact, during the First Gulf War that news agencies acquiesced to relying on news feeds rather than gathering news themselves. I personally don't believe the intended consequence was to become the mouthpiece of those in power. That was the harmful but unintended consequence of doing things on the cheap in order to return better profits to shareholders. And while it is true that, theoretically, I can read any number of varying opinions and foreign newspapers online in order to form my own opinion, many of us still feel that it takes far too much of our valuable time, not to mention, we'd like to have some entity we can trust to do the vetting––asking the right questions and verifying sources.

Just this week I switched to receiving my weekly Indian Country Today in PDF format for the same subscription price I've been paying for the print version. Why would I pay the same amount for something I get online? The same reason I, who am not American Indian, subscribed to the paper in the first place. Researching articles on a candidate I was supporting at the time, I found the articles and editorials informative, objective, and extremely well-written. While the emphasis is on Indian issues, over the years I've learned more about how the Supreme Court and Congress actually function, and how laws are proposed and passed, than I did over a lifetime of reading the Inquirer and the New York Times. In addition I read stories about Canada and Central and South America that are never reported in our mainstream media.

That isn't just what I want from news reporting and it's not just what we deserve. It's what we require to be informed citizens who can participate knowledgeably in our democracy. Provide me with that, and I will gladly pay for it, whether I receive it online or can hold it in my hand.

1 comment:

CashewElliott/John said...

Thanks for the nod. I have a feeling that me and my generation (and I think generations are getting smaller and smaller, thinner, as technology advances so quickly- so I'm saying, basically, those of us who came of age politically during bush II) is the last to rely on cable news for anything more than background noise.

Ask my little brother, incoming college freshman in the arts - like, media arts, nothing political- where he gets his news, and he'll tell you Real clear Politics,, and a survey of the online cable news sites, but not so much for their news element as to see what they are saying about it. In other words, these kids, the ones paying attention, don't really see anything wrong with bias, they just see all news source as editorial, and assume that it's their job to inform themselves of reality...

perhaps i'm overly optimistic though.

On the issue of abortion, I can't but think that Dr. Tiller's assassination will hurt the pro-choice movement, which they have all acknowledged. Best cartoon editorial, by my own home towns own Pat Bagley, here:


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