Civility In A Network
World Gone Wild
As The Line Between News And Reality-Shows Blurs, NCoC Keynote Dialog In Arizona Becomes A Blame Game
Aaron Brown of PBS, formerly of CNN and occasionally of Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, moderated an event on civility and bipartisanship last week.
By John Guzzon
Modern Times Magazine
Sept. 28, 2011 — The National Convention on Citizenship held its first ever national event outside of Washington D.C. in Arizona last week, as a testament to the united America that emerged from World War II.
After the keynote discussion last week, though, the only conclusion is that times have changed — for the worse.
Even worse yet, virtually no one thinks things are going to get better any time soon. In fact, in most ways, the reigning perception is that things suck and they ain’t getting any better.
The keynote discussion was held Thursday at the Arizona State University studios in downtown Phoenix with Aaron Brown of PBS moderating. The panel included former U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah, Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Horizon host Ted Simons, and Sally Rider of the National Institute for Civic Discourse. Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon was scheduled to appear but did not.
The discussion was centered upon “civility and political discourse,” and almost immediately, Brown and the panel conceded that civility and political discourse was at a low point. Except, of course, for Bennett’s recollection that in the early 19th century, politics was often a game where blood was literally drawn — remember the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton?
But the mere fact that the days when dueling was legal can be compared to the modern political environment is an indictment of it.
It is where the discussion went from there that truly missed the point. The panel was busy talking about the bitter, dogmatic battles in Washington that have created scenes like the member of the House of Representatives who screamed at the president as he addressed Congress.
The usual suspects were brought to blame: politicians, journalism, big business and campaign finance. But the lack of civility and bipartisanship in politics today is what it always has been: a reflection of the electorate.
Brown kicked off the discussion with Bennett by relating that politics has never been a gentile sport and why was it such a big deal now and he related that the republican and democratic camps in Washington no longer hang out after hours, drinking martinis and having barbecue. Sounds a lot like what has transpired in the country outside of Washington. Communities are seemingly just as disconnected these days. It is just as rare of an occurrence when the families from the neighborhood just got together anymore. Those days are long-gone.
“So, the problem isn’t that we have broad political differences, it is that we have no personal connections,” Brown said in summing up Bennett’s statements.
But then, a mere three minutes or so into the discussion, Sen. Sinema got to the core of what is going on.
“I want to be clear: I don’t think the America public wants political actors that put aside their differences and agree to agree on everything. That is not what the heart of American politics is. We have a two-party system because the public wants us to have competing ideas and that sometimes we should not compromise those ideals,” Sinema said.
She is right. The American public is becoming more polarized and the “take no prisoners” attitude is growing in politics as it is also growing in the general culture. The “art of no compromise” has become a greater influence on both sides of the political spectrum.
Voters have elected those who will not seek compromise for the good of their dogma.
But then she lost the truth amid a web of blame.
“The problem I think we face is that politicians are no longer rewarded for finding that middle ground. In fact, the rewards — most in the form of media attention— are for those who refuse to find the middle ground,” Sinema said.
Blaming the media is just as silly as blaming the politicians themselves. It always comes down to the people. People elect these politicians and people watch the “news” shows. Without the full backing of the electorate and the viewing public, such attitudes would whither thanks to low Nielsen ratings and losses at the ballot box.
Then, in a moment reminiscent of the movie Network, Aaron Brown channelled Ned Beatty when describing the news media.
“It is called the news business. It is not the news church, or the news non-profit, but the news business,” Brown said. “(People) watch, advertisers pay, station managers, corporations, get rich. That is the business part of it. So the fact that Fox and MSNBC do what it is they do is because they get eyeballs.”
That is right on. The reality of it is that within this republic, when the people speak, society as a whole — politics, news, community — becomes what spawns it. As a general rule, people are more opinionated and less equipped to find their way through the mass of information that barrages them. It is even more difficult because quite often the truth is cloaked in several versions of the truth and by outright lies and myths.
It is not easy for the nation to find consensus when it is so easy to find one hundred points of view — or much more — on one topic.
Twitter, Facebook, a slew of news channels and the birth of the 24 hours news day are all symptoms of greater societal forces. A discussion with politicians and the news media about why it has all become more combative is like asking an arsonist why he sets fires.
When the film Network hit movie screens in the 1970s, the hope of the producers and many of the players was that television news would keep their integrity thanks to their spotlight. The reality of it, though, is that it overtook us even sooner than anyone could have imagined when CNN and its imitators hit the airwaves. With the rise of social media, it is gone to a whole other level, where corporations and singular voices can scream from their windows: “I’m mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore.”
For just as in the film, the biggest hypocrisy of the “I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore,” crowd is that they miss the point of the American republic entirely. This system allows anyone who wants to change the system to just put in the effort. By getting engaged and involved, anyone can bring their viewpoints to their fellow citizens. But, by looking to politicians and television news people to solve it all, nothing gets done. Everyone just stays angry because that is what gets them elected and sells advertising.
Ted Simons of KAET’s Horizon might have put it best.
“The public needs to want to do more critical thinking,” he said. “Right now, if I (as a hypothetical candidate) spends ten times more money than my competitor and say outlandish things, people will believe me.”
With the massive amount of information that barrages us, the new millennium citizen must think critically and accept nothing on face value.
If not, we just might see the fall of democracy and the rise of the idiocracy.
Or has it already happened?
John Guzzon is editor of Modern Times Magazine.
Shooters: Crime, Sports and Sex Episode 19: “Skinny Dipping” — Miranda finally gets her legal troubles behind her but all the guys in the house care about is seeing her in a bikini.
Sleep Eden Is Having Trouble Sleeping And For Some Reason, She Finds Herself Losing Grip On Reality. Mature Audiences Only.