George Stephanopoulos is hosting Good Morning America and Sarah Palin is on Fox. The mayor of New York City owns several media outlets that bear his name and Tom Suozzi is consulting Cablevision regarding, um, high school sports.
The revolving door of transparent allegiances in American media and politics is growing stranger and more ridiculous by the minute. That’s not to say the line between elected officials and the fourth estate hasn’t always been blurred. In fact, it has. Almost every generation since the nation was founded has seen political strangleholds over journalism, and many were poorly kept secrets. The role of politician and newsman was, in the beginning, inexorably linked. Bloomberg joins names such as Hamilton, Franklin and Hearst in recognizing the value of owning a bully pulpit such as a newspaper.
But the glut of information in the new-media age and the difficulty breaking through it to proffer your message to the mass public has changed the way we communicate. It’s about how fast you can get your message across when the host cuts to six heads on a split screen and whether yours is the sound bite that sticks. The seasoned politician-cum-pundit thus has a greater ability to navigate this terrain.
These days, one’s ability to be glib outweighs the capacity to navigate complex situations and explain them to the public.
The inherent problem is that louder wins, ridiculous rules and shocking carries the day in an age where “Chocolate Rain” by Tay Zonday has been viewed nearly 47 million times on YouTube and Good Magazine’s “End of Poverty” interview with Jeffrey Sachs has been viewed less than 10,000. (Full disclosure: I have watched “Chocolate Rain” 17 times and the Sachs interview only once.)
Tuning out these sources takes a muscle that needs to be exercised, because bad information abounds and is easy to absorb. E-mail chains, perhaps the most insidious form of propaganda, should be avoided at all costs. But if you’re on one of those mass e-mail lists frantically forwarded by “that” friend of yours with subject lines like “Important—This one is for real—Revelations proves Obama is the Anti-Christ!!!!!” and you insist on opening them, do yourself a favor and check out www.factcheck.org.
By the time this column is published, the president will have given his State of the Union Address and the blogosphere will be jammed with nonsensical comments and responses to every single line of the speech. Some outlets will characterize him as grave and sincere, back on his game and (my favorite) “presidential.” Others will skewer him for double talk, insincerity and call him (another gem) “unfit” to hold office. The intelligent viewer will watch the address on C-SPAN and make up his or her own mind.
As for the modern political talk show host, let Glenn Beck howl and Keith Olbermann scream. Let Rush Limbaugh make his racist statements and Jon Stewart outsmart them all. And when all is said and said and said, let silence prevail. Silence allows thoughts to come through, and thoughts can be a powerful thing when logically applied to problems, issues and obstacles. And if you insist on listening to the politician turned pundit, make sure you’re listening in stereo, because a mono feed won’t pick up the words coming from both sides of their mouths.