The current government shutdown has underscored a tone that has resonating through halls of congress and growing in volume for going on 30 years now. That tone hums into the ears and comes out as the cackling and bantering of politicians and political leaders unwilling to compromise, rises to an overwhelming din and before long, nothing but static and confusion can be heard.
National media serves a purpose in the American public discourse. It is important to a democracy and helpful to citizens. In a Gallup poll from earlier this year, Americans’ confidence and trust in mainstream media maintained a low 23 percent rating. Meaning that only 23 percent of respondents feel are confident that the news and information they receive from their news can be relied on.
This would be less concerning if, in light of the news, the outlets were making an effort to improve their products or provide better insights and analysis – but they aren’t. Instead, the news outlets are trading in the traditional newsroom, one equipped with a well informed journalist and questions that could cut marble, for the bridge of the S.S. Enterprise. Or, trying to sell that they aren’t just another glitz’a’palooza, deceptively providing partisan speaking platforms guised as balanced reporting.
Today’s Americans are no longer interested in having the conversations necessary to maintain the functioning of a democracy. Their proxies, mainstream media broadcasters and networks, have shown that these conversations ultimately prove futile, resulting in a people that cannot be bothered to take an interest in their own interests.
When the Carnegie Commission met for the second time in 1978 to review the progress of the Public Broadcasting system, the commission published a report following and outlined what it saw as lacking or needed by American people and why Public Broadcasting is necessary.
“Our age is known for violence. It’s been marked by alienation. It has spawned bureaucracy, it has embraced cynicism. Yet human beings yearn for alternatives. They long to matter. They hunger for a community of shared values reflecting the triumph of intelligence and the life of the spirit. We believe that public radio and public television can lead the way. The power of the communications medium must be marshaled in the interest of human development, not merely for advertising revenue. Public broadcasting can reveal how we are different and what we share in common. It can illuminate the dark corners of the mind. It can offer forums for a multitude of voices. It can reveal wisdom and understanding and foolishness, too. It can delight us, it can entertain us, it can inform us. Above all, it can add to our understanding of our own inner workings and of one another.”
What’s implied by the Carnegie Commission’s observations is that in the absence of well-performing news outlets that are ushering informative conversation, that conversation may be severely slowed, if not utterly stopped. It’s not the job of the media to place roadblocks between parties that produce stalemates. It’s the job of the media to ask questions that may illuminate the pathways to progress. Currently our mainstream broadcasters fail at this. Instead preferring to chase ratings and advertising dollars in the interest personal and professional gain. While their business is booming, our discourse is becoming more dangerously fragmented and disjointed.
Joshua is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.