Everyone’s favored punching bag, partisan politics, may be responsible for maintaining the shutdown, but it isn’t to blame for how we got here. To find the culprit, one need look no further than their nightly news.
The last time the government shutdown was in 1996, under President Bill Clinton, and it lasted 26 days. At that time, the news of the shutdown came as a complete shock to the public. NBC News and the Wall Street Journal had taken a poll before it happened and only 13 percent of the population feared that the government would shut down as a result of not coming to an agreement to avoid the shutdown.
Asked before the shutdown, in a poll that was conducted September 19-22, 2013, a sampling of 1,003 adults from across the nation found that 46 percent of the public thought the two parties would make an agreement regarding the budget while 45 percent said they did not think it would happen.
America’s digressing confidence in its legislative body reflects the more frightening revelation that as a people we are more and more unsure of our representatives’ ability to compromise, solve problems and make progress for this country. One source of this division and lack of faith can rightly be found in the talking points of the political pundits who not only openly deride persons that do not agree with them but frequently fail to find merit in arguments from their opponents for the soul reason that they are their opponents. For individuals who work to earn a living wage and retire, relying on these men and women to express their viewpoints, to be their spokespersons, can be a particularly dangerous endeavor. Today’s politician is not subject to the will of his or her people but rather to the will of his or her people’s available media outlet(s). The result of which is a public disjointed, confused, and hopefully concerned.
Continuing the diatribe, politicians seeking to have their message heard are forced to adhere to the mainstream’s sound-bite, partisan narrative or be passed over by the shining light of primetime. Perpetuating an insular populism in which lines are drawn and players on both sides “know” that they have “the answer” and the best interest of the People at heart. Bill O’Reilly, meet Chris Matthews.
Today’s news hosts have no obligation to be credible, of service to the public good, or even accurate. They simply need to be entertaining and hold an audience’s attention.
David Foster Wallace once said that it is, “… a peculiar, modern, and very popular type of news industry, one that manages to enjoy the authority and influence of journalism without the stodgy constraints of fairness, objectivity, and responsibility that make trying to tell the truth such a drag for everyone involved.”
But the internet has offered us an opportunity for repreve. Outlets like Twitter, YouTube, and Reddit provide means and empowerment to individuals to report the world they see. What it lacks is the budget and ability to sustain investigations of the very real forces working to undermine the liberties and rights of people, but that is changing. NSA, meet Edward Snowden.
Mainstream media has been trusted and empowered to provide honest and timely reporting. Instead, what has been found is that pandering to an audience and entertaining them is more interested in profiting off its audience than educating them.
That’s not rocket-science but it is afar from what is needed.
MTV, meet PBS.
Joshua is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. Follow him on Twitter @Joshual33.