Reporting as a problem – and a solution?

Can we talk?

Seriously, when it comes to politics, can we talk? And listen? Thoughtfully?

If you’re reading this you probably follow political news and are reasonably media savvy. And how do you feel?

I don’t know about you but coming away from the 2012 presidential debates I was actually depressed. My take-away was no matter who wins in November, half the country may harbor a sense of helplessness and anger that the wrong side — the “bad guys” — won.

Does the general public get real information, a full spectrum of choices and the opportunity to arrive at solutions? Or has everything become clogged with hype, cant and spin? (Not to mention fear, distortion and distraction.)

Between culture wars, a partisan political process and media shortcomings there’s plenty of blame to go around.

If you accept the premise that this schism is toxic and unproductive, are there any solutions on the horizon?

One place to start might be civility.

Krista Tippet, the host of “On Being” has developed something called the Civil Conversations Project. (“On Being” airs each Thursday on NCPR at 1 pm.)

Tippett recently featured an in-depth conversation between former Senator Pete Domenici (R) and long-time economist Alice Rivlin, a Democrat. The two made some interesting points, including the way community contributes to civility: if you see your political opponent as a decent person (instead of an alien from that different political planet) dialogue is more respectful and fruitful.

I have to say, I’ve reached the point where I needed to hear that respectful engagement is possible. If you want to feel hopeful again, maybe take the time to go listen to that episode archive.

Another area that needs some work (a lot of work?) is reporting. There are some big arguments out there right now. Is ‘he said/she said’ reporting good enough?

What about bias? Is true impartiality possible? Is that actually good? Would it be better if reporters or their employers just stated bias upfront and reported with that orientation in plain sight?

It’s reached the point of getting tied in knots about something you might think would be clear as day: truth and lies.

Is there such a thing as truth? Who gets to say what that is? When”truthiness” comes into question, is the press just a bunch of scribes – or should reporters also function as referees?

Andrea Seabrook may be a name you remember from her many years with NPR. (Note: Because she’s left NPR, her resume for that network is no longer found on the main NPR website. But it can still be found on different member station’s websites.)

Seabrook wants to escape some of the limitations in current mainstream reporting. As she explained in July on an appearance on NPR’s Talk of the Nation:

“One of the reasons that I am leaving to start a new project,” she tell NPR’s Jennifer Ludden, “is because of how broken Washington really is and how difficult it is to try to … tell our listeners what is going on with their government day to day.”

Her new project is something called DecodeDC. As the website says, it’s an attempt to “decipher Washington’s Byzantine language and procedure, sweeping away what doesn’t matter so you can focus on what does”.

Seabrook was a guest on CBC radio’s daily current affairs program “The Current” this past Friday, as that show looked at media coverage of the U.S. presidential race.

Guest host Jonathan Goldstein (host of CBC’s Wiretap) brought some extra zing to the topic, as he is a dual national, born of an American father and a Canadian mother. (Seabrook is interviewed in the second half of part two “The U.S. and US reporting on the election“. She’s on at 12:41 of the 23:49 segment.)

Seabrook says covering the debt-ceiling debate may have been what pushed her “over the edge” in terms of rejecting conventional reporting. In the interview she says what’s being reported, how it’s reported and even the framework of our choices is askew.

“We have been bamboozled into thinking that things are either blue or red – either Romney or Obama. The universe of ideas and legislation and thoughts and directions we could go in is much bigger than the narratives we are getting from the two campaigns…”

By the end of the interview Seabrook says her goal practically boils down to rescuing truth, justice and the American way!

It’s hard to know what DecodeDC will (or will not) contribute to understanding government and politics in new ways. But Seabrook is saying things that I suspect resonate with many, mixed with a dose of hope. Her new show’s elevator pitch goes like this: “Washington is broken. You are not.”

I bring these threads to the attention of In Box readers because I, too, think the status quo leaves much to be desired. I’m not sure how political dialog and national cohesion can be improved. Or how press coverage needs to change, but I think both stand in need of some re-tooling.

I’d like to think that NPR on the national level and NCPR on the local level both contribute to informing the public in good ways. But – to be totally honest – there’s room for improvement there too.

Do you think the current approach to reporting on politics and elections is adequate? What, if anything, would you like to see in terms of making that better?

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42 Comments on “Reporting as a problem – and a solution?”

  1. Larry says:

    After being inundated by “advocacy journalism” for longer than we realize, it is no wonder someone always thinks the bad guys won and that there’s no civility in any current debate. People of every political and social persuasion are convinced that their truth is the only truth and that anyone who disagrees is evil, an idiot or both. Why advocacy journalism? When the News Dept. becomes an important revenue generator you have to give people “something different” to choose in order to secure their viewership. The remedy, of course, is a return to true objective reporting. Is it possible? I doubt it – the media is dependent on the revenue and will continue to feed people who are so firmly entrenched in their “beliefs” that they don’t realize they are being manipulated for profit.

  2. Kathy says:

    Regarding civility, I wish we all could have been part of the heated discussions the Founders had. Men are wired to go at it very differently than women and I accept that.

    I think we can go to either extreme. I wouldn’t want to see conversation lacking passion with insincere “correctness” and I wouldn’t want to see it so passionate there is a brawl. But it’s passion that drives the human spirit to produce and survive. Wipe the brow and shake hands when you’re done – but may the best man win.

  3. Peter Hahn says:

    Advocacy journalism isn’t so much of a problem. What we lack is an accepted truthful journalism. It used to be network TV and the major newspapers , like the NY times. Now, if conservatives don’t like the news it’s because it’s biased. When I was younger it was the left that claimed the news was biased, but at least then the TV was considered sort of neutral. I consider NPR neutral. I guess the conservatives don’t.

  4. mervel says:

    “We have been bamboozled into thinking that things are either blue or red – either Romney or Obama. The universe of ideas and legislation and thoughts and directions we could go in is much bigger than the narratives we are getting from the two campaigns…”

    I totally agree with this statement.

    This election is not that important in the grand scheme of things, it is one election among many, we will have many more, the fate of the country does NOT hang in the balance, red versus blue is not that meaningful a totally false characterization made up purely by election coverage maps in the past 10 years coded to the electoral college.

    The whole thing is a scam. The sad part is I see it impacting people and how they really feel, people really getting upset watching CNN or MSNBC or Fox and getting all mad about the injustice etc.

  5. Larry says:

    NPR is neutral? That, right there, is about the craziest thing I’ve ever read here. NPR is even further left than the New York Times. Before the cascade of negativity begins, let me point out that I am not making any judgement about truthfulness here, just political orientation.

  6. JDM says:

    What, if anything, would you like to see in terms of making that better?

    If you are talking specifically about NPR, then it shouldn’t be a government sponsored news source.

    There is too much conflict of interest.

    Hey. Maybe Romney will give me my wish!

  7. Walker says:

    “If you are talking specifically about NPR, then it shouldn’t be a government sponsored news source. There is too much conflict of interest.”

    So do you think it was pro-Bush during W’s terms? If not, why not?

  8. mervel says:

    I do think there is a Liberal slant to NPR not doubt about it. But for me as a conservative, so what. The point is the quality programming, they do try, I will give them that and that is good enough for me.

  9. mervel says:

    I kind of think that is one of the points of Lucy’s post. There is something simply called quality programming, and I don’t think even if it has a slant one way or the other it is that big of a deal.

  10. dave says:

    “We have been bamboozled into thinking that things are either blue or red … The universe of ideas and legislation and thoughts and directions we could go in is much bigger”

    Yes, people and ideas are far more complex than a binary blue/red. The country is certainly more “purple” in this regard. But our political system does not recognize purple – indeed, in many ways it punishes and penalizes it (crazy to think Nader2k was 12 years ago!)

  11. Peter Hahn says:

    Larry – I was talking about truthfulness in regards to NY times and NPR. It shouldnt matter what the individual reporters personal politics – it should be about truth. The way things are now, we would have a report that (for example) New study demonstrates that the earth is round. However some people cite studies showing that its flat.

    What we need is journalists to go tell us whether its round or flat, not that some people think its round and others think its flat. We probably know that already.

  12. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    The Earth is ROUND!!! I’m telling you that it is totally round, but with some squashed ends. Trust me on this one, I’ve been on a plane really high up there and you can see that there is some curvature. So I would definItely say the earth is round, no matter what anyone else says.

  13. JDM says:

    Walker: “So do you think it was pro-Bush during W’s terms?”

    Yeah right.

  14. JDM says:

    khl: “The Earth is ROUND!!!”

    We laugh, now. But there was a time when Venice was the capital of trade with the East where it was not politically correct to believe the earth was round. Too much money would be lost in Venice if that truth ever leaked out.

    Columbus was a political outcast. He got funding because the rulers of a second-rate port could afford to take a chance that they were closer to the East than was Venice.

    Even though the scientific proof had been determined long before Columbus, it was him, and men like him, that eventually wore out the political lie.

    Today, it is politically correct to say “The Earth is Warm”. Too much money is invested in this false notion. It will take another political crusader to wear out the political lie. The scientific truth has already been dis-proven.

  15. JDM says:

    Before I get mis-labeled as a denier, the politically correct falsehood that I referred to should be more accurately portrayed as “The Earth is Warm, and we warmed it”.

    I totally agree the Earth’s climate changes. It goes up, it goes down. And man cannot do a thing about it.

  16. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    JDM, I was with you all the way until the you got to the conclusion. All of the money is invested in perpetuating the excessive use of fossil fuels, isn’t it?

    And if you think about the atmosphere and make a few very rough calculations about the weight of coal and oil and wood that is burned it should be pretty obvious that humans can affect the atmosphere. Think about the column of air above your home, really only about 5 miles with any sort of density. In your lifetime alone how much stuff have you burned? Could you fill a string of buckets 5 miles long with the gasoline you’ve burned? If you drive 15000 miles a year in a car that gets 20 miles per gallon that’s 750 gallons per year times say, 40 years of driving that would be 30,000 gallons. Roughly speaking that would be about 5 miles of gallon containers. So if the only air you had to breath was a column of air 1 acre wide by 5 miles high and you burned 1 gallon of gasoline into every single foot of it, would you want to breathe that air? Is it really that inconceivable that your actions cant have an affect on the atmosphere?

  17. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    And it wasnt me to give you the dislike.

  18. Peter Hahn says:

    In Columbus time they knew the earth was round. they also correctly believed it was too large to sail around and get to Asia without running out of food and water. Columbus was lucky there was a continent half way there that nobody in Europe knew about.

    No conspiracy Columbus was lucky which as we know is sometimes better than skill.

  19. PNElba says:

    So Columbus was the “science guy” and the venice merchants were the political guys attempting to keep the idea of a flat Earth alive because it made them money. Sounds familiar.

    Today, it is politically correct to say “The Earth is Warm”. Too much money is invested in this false notion.

    I think that is exactly backwards. There is way more money invested in refuting climate change theory. Let’s keep in mind that many conservatives accepted climate change theory until it became politically useful not to accept it. I think this is one of those “truths” that can be determined with honest investigative reporting of the scientific facts.

    I totally agree the Earth’s climate changes. It goes up, it goes down. And man cannot do a thing about it.

    Sounds a little bit like that guy that said “tide comes in, tide goes out….”. Yeah, it’s pretty hard to continue to deny that our climate is changing and has changed in the past. But past climate changes were due to different natural forcings.

    But if climate is changing due to manmade CO2 emissions (and overwhelming scientific evidence shows this to be the case), then obviously man can do something about it (if it isn’t too late).

  20. Larry says:

    PNElba,
    Your continued harangues about conservatives and Republicans letting political expediency dictate their beliefs about climate change are making you sound as ridiculous as those few who don’t accept that the climate is changing. What is being done in the name of political expediency is that people like you continue to try and have everyone believe that ALL conservatives deny climate change. We don’t and it’s a lie to say we do.

  21. Walker says:

    Larry, where does PNE say that all conservatives deny climate change?

  22. PNElba says:

    Larry -

    I apologize if I offended you. But I don’t see a “continued harangue” nor do I see where I said “ALL conservatives deny climate change”. You often get quite irrate when people put words in your mouth. But go ahead, interpret my post as you will. I don’t mind.

  23. dave says:

    “I totally agree the Earth’s climate changes. It goes up, it goes down. And man cannot do a thing about it.”

    I’ve pointed this out on this site before… but even that sentence, right there, is a pretty epic change in how conservatives approach this topic. For waaaaay too long they were straight up denying climate change. “The climate is not changing” was their argument, and they attacked every bit of evidence that showed the trend was a warming earth.

    This is recent history, you do not have to go too far back to see how they approached this issue.

    However, now that the evidence has become so overwhelming, and it is no longer politically possible to continue to deny it, they have changed their stance from “the climate isn’t changing” to “ok, it is changing, but we have nothing to do with it”.

    This new view still runs counter to the evidence, but at least they are moving in the right direction! That has to be some cause for hope.

    One does have to wonder though, when they continually get proven wrong, and continually have to adjust and tweak and alter their arguments… and then those new arguments also prove wrong… at what point will they begin to think that maybe they should stop denying and fighting and start helping us solve the problem.

  24. mervel says:

    The ironic thing to me is that why do we need something like a change in our climate to provide an incentive to not pollute the air and water? So if the human burning of Carbon is not the cause of climate change, we should continue to throw this waste into the air, its all good?

  25. mervel says:

    We were actually making good progress on air pollution at one point, lowering mercury emissions for one and have seen the positive results of doing this. Instead of the big global issue like climate change a better strategy might be hey this is killing loons and poisoning to death, literally, our once pristine ponds.

  26. mervel says:

    We still have a long way to go, but really who is for increased burning of coal? Coal needs to be a fuel of the past, I am sorry West Virginia, but its time has come. This is where it gets interesting though, the quickest way to make coal a thing of the past is increased natural gas production which is working right now to reduce coal usage as natural gas gets cheaper, largely due to fracking.

  27. Walker says:

    “… who is for increased burning of coal?”

    Well, Romney, for one:

    Mitt Romney’s support of the coal industry during his debate with President Obama sent coal company stocks higher on Thursday, analysts said…

    “By the way, I like coal. I’m going to make sure we can continue to burn clean coal,” said the former head of the private equity firm, Bain Capital. (Reuters)

    Of course, in 2003, while standing outside a coal plant, he said “That plant kills people.” What he really believes, no one knows.

  28. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Dave, let me paraphrase your post to show the other side of the argument-

    For waaaaay too long they were straight up endorsing global warming. “The climate is warming” was their argument, and they attacked every bit of evidence that showed the trend was a cooling earth.

    This is recent history, you do not have to go too far back to see how they approached this issue.

    However, now that the evidence has become so overwhelming, and it is no longer politically possible to continue to deny it, they have changed their stance from “the climate is warming” to “ok, it is cooling now, but it’s still mans fault”

    This new view still runs counter to historical evidence, but at least they are moving in the right direction! That has to be some cause for hope.

    One does have to wonder though, when they continually get proven wrong, and continually have to adjust and tweak and alter their arguments… and then those new arguments also prove wrong… at what point will they begin to think that maybe they should stop crusading and fighting and start helping us solve the problems that we actually can do something about.

  29. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Hey. back to the original discussion, yeah, it would be really nice if the news media would stop the advocacy journalism and return to just presenting the who, what, where, when , how. We don’t need this pre-digested news that’s slanted to support an agenda, we just need the facts.

  30. mervel says:

    I think putting less mercury in the air and thus saving us from acid rain falling on our heads and our ponds and our animals is a good enough reason to oppose all coal plants and work towards reducing all emissions.

    Also the climate change models seem to be kind of working, if nothing else we can measure the rise in the sea level and increase in ocean temps, both of which have occurred.

  31. mervel says:

    If we don’t find a way to help China or force China to stop building a coal plant a week however whatever we do won’t really matter. One way we can do this is become a larger producer of natural gas thus lowering the world price of natural gas and China may start to move away from coal to natural gas for its power plants.

  32. Paul says:

    If you want to slow down climate change you better figure out how to put the carbon back into the ground where it came from. Politicians are never going to agree on this point quickly enough to facilitate a change. Even if the grid was ready for alternative energy sources (which it is decades away from being) we would not have enough time to bring places like China around. Arguing about fossil fuel versus alternative energy is just wasting more time.

  33. Mervel says:

    But maybe that is the issue. Global climate change is just too big for us to get our heads and hands around. But reducing our coal usage in the US or getting rid of almost all of it WILL help our particular environment; our air, our fish our wildlife in particular plus all of the people that can’t breath etc. There are real advantages to reducing emissions beyond impacting global climate change.

  34. Walker says:

    Yes, Paul, arguing about fossil fuel versus alternative energy is just wasting more time.

    But as Mervel says, doing something about it is definitely worthwhile.

    And, Mervel, China may be building a coal plant a week, but they’re also taking the lead in building cheap solar panels.

  35. dave says:

    Rancid, who is saying the climate is cooling?

    I understand what you were trying to do with your comment, but it has no relation to any reality or facts that I am aware of… so the point of it was lost on me. Please elaborate.

  36. The media covers elections far more about the horse race aspect and far less about the issues. Look at how many stories are about poll “analysis”, predictions and such. That inherently lends it to the My Tribe vs the Other Tribe mentality. Focusing on issues diffuses that a bit because no one agrees with any candidate 100% of the time. Journalists talk a lot about civility but they cater to those who read from the Script at the top of their lungs.

  37. Walker says:

    These comparisons of voter preference polls to sports polls are missing something important: voter polls are measuring something that is very directly related to the election outcome. Sports polls, not so much.

  38. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Dave, NASA for one. Start there and use what my nephew refers to as google-fu.

    I don’t know if it’s cooling or warming. I doubt anyone else really does either, but they get a pay check for supporting one side or the other of the argument.

  39. Walker says:

    NASA certainly doesn’t say that the earth is cooling here:

    “To questions about whether this warming is natural or just a fluctuation, the answer has become clear: the world is getting warmer,” Hansen stated. “This fact agrees so well with what we calculate with our global climate model that I am confident we are looking at warming that is mainly due to increasing human-made greenhouse gases.” (earthobservatory.nasa.gov)

  40. mervel says:

    I find it bizarre and sad that the actual science has become political. I think it is a political issue about what to do about climate change, but just saying that the measurements are xy or z or the temperature of the ocean is higher or that sea levels are higher, should not be political. At some level we have to trust our scientists. If we don’t then what do we have? I mean can we just always say well the scientists are liberal liars with an agenda? Ok, then what do we do? I am not a scientist, how do I step in at that point, someone has to do this work, so you would want those who have been educated and trained in the field to do the work.

  41. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Mervel, which scientists do you believe? The ones working for the climate change billionaires or the ones working for the anti-climate change billionaires? The same people that once said that they were voices crying in the wilderness and that their minority view should be heard are the ones now calling anyone arguing with them “deniers” and calling for prison or worse for the people not seeing things their way. Whom do you trust?

  42. Walker says:

    Rancid, we know who the anti-climate change billionaires are; they’re oil, gas and coal interests. Who are the “climate change billionaires” of whom you speak?

    It figures that, to a “Conservative,” all scientists results are for sale to the highest bidder.

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