Smelling blood

Friday, August 26, 2011

I wonder what would happen if big news organizations realized how they are subverting the American political process.

I'm talking about TV networks and metropolitan newspapers. Newspapers, especially, have a history of fact-finding and digging for the truth. Major TV networks have, from time to time, proudly carried on that tradition.

But the era of ferreting out information of value to voters and decision makers in general appears to have faded into memory. Instead, now we have sonorous talking heads telling us what sounds important but turns out to be little more than the latest titillation guaranteed to draw listeners. Or readers for newspapers.

That's the problem: News organizations have abandoned serious reporting in favor of gossip and naughty bits because a willing audience is eager to lap up whatever drivel is delivered.

So we know a lot about the peccadilloes of those who have been elected to public office and in whose stewardship we have entrusted our local, state and national governments. But we know precious little about the serious ideas and programs these politicians favor.

For example, now that we know the names of the Gang of Twelve who have been charged with saving the nation's economy by slashing government spending -- and, it is presumed, its debt and deficit -- news media are scrambling to find out what these folks think. We know if they've had an affair or if they've abused tax dollars, but we know little or nothing about their ideas for reducing government spending, making better use of tax revenue or raising taxes to pay for everything government wants to give us.

So, here we are, entering another major election cycle, and what are we learning about those who are willing to submit to the scrutiny of the tattletale press? We are being told about indiscretions, not all of them minor, but precious little about how they think.

In recent days, several of my friends have made a point of saying they could never run for public office now that they see how they would be treated by the news media. They are referring to something in their past that they would rather not have aired for public consumption. When I questioned a couple of them to share specifics, it turns out their worst fears would probably be of little interest to voters.

But there you are. If you want to be a public servant these days, you have to be squeaky clean or have a campaign staff skilled in diverting attention from the big and small indiscretions of the candidate.

Sure, our politicians should be squeaky clean. There's nothing wrong with expecting that. But the plain fact is nearly all of us have something in our past we don't want anyone else to know.

If you want to find out what voters are really interested in, just announce you're running for office. The news media will gladly oblige the blood-sniffing voters who presume you must have something to hide.

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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