Journalism's Dumbing Down of Public Debate, and What the Right Can Do About It

I never imagined that I would feature the thoughts of David Axelrod in a neutral to positive light, but that's exactly what I'm going to do here. Axelrod spoke about his time at the Chicago Tribune Monday night at The Week magazine's "Sixth Annual Opinion Awards Dinner":

"When I began reporting, the news cycle was 24 hours, not 30 minutes. There was no cable or Internet. The pacing was different, as were the competitive pressures. Reporters were not asked to file five and six times a day; on three or four platforms; to blog and tweet.

"Don't get me wrong: the Internet and the availability of the latest news when you want it has enormous value. But it has also contributed at times to sloppy journalism and a dumbed-down public debate. It's become a carnival where every day is Election Day; where we're consumed with who's up and who's down; where we book people on TV to do nothing more than argue with one another, generating more heat than light; where we allow ourselves to be caught up in the trivial tempest of the moment. And I know my profession is not blameless. Folks in our end of the business often feel compelled to play along, feed the beast, and help contribute to an atmosphere of cynicism."

If journalists are not totally blameless, who else is to blame? Has it consumed leaders, thinkers and wanna-be leaders/thinkers on the Right (as well as the Left)? There's no doubt that the Internet has shortened everybody's attention span. Specifically for the Right, I think journalism's new negative effect on public discourse has hampered the Republican Party's ability to dramatically change for the better.

As Jon Henke points out in the last post, "repackaging the status quo is not how the movement and the GOP will be renewed." One of the reasons why the GOP might be sticking to repackaging the status quo is that often times going the "easy and lazy" route seems like the only option in a "30 minute news cycle." Axelrod provides another thought on this subject:

"That's why, more than ever, we need the true public thinkers. People who take the time to ponder and reflect and examine issues in a usefully provocative way. Serious people, with serious ideas."

Unfortunately for Axelrod, he works for a President who is a pretender, someone who isn't following the advice given above. Obama's version of "bipartisanship" is giving the visual of reaching out to conservatives, and then ignoring them when it comes to substantive matters. And Obama's ideas aren't new and provocative in any way: more government spending, more government involvement in the market, more government involved in energy, education, health care, etc. For now, he has successfully duped much of the public into thinking his ideas are "new" just because he himself is "new."

So unlike Obama, can the Right successfully take Axelrod's thoughts into practice? Can we produce serious people with serious ideas and fight the "dumbing down" of public discourse? Yes ...

  • First, let's look outside of Capitol Hill for serious people with serious ideas. As I mentioned yesterday, a lot of great ideas on government transparency are coming from state legislatures.
  • Second, lawmakers and other leaders on the Right should use the Internet more for promoting ideas than promoting themselves. (I know that this is a long shot.) For a Congressman to get a lot of Facebook friends and Twitter followers is fine. But when will that Congressman start a Facebook group about the need for more nuclear power plants in America to reduce our dependence on foreign oil instead of a Facebook message about how Democrats are bad? When will that Congressman tweet prolifically about immigration and become the go-to-guy/gal on that issue instead of only tweeting his/her office's press releases?
  • Third, the Right should let ideas lead to movement instead of the other way around. Jon also comments on the recent formation of the National Council for a New America as a group that says "let's start an organization, then figure out why later." As he says, this does not inspire confidence. The Tea Parties showed a glimmer of hope for the Right after Rick Santelli rant; I just wished that there was more public discussion on the core substance of Santelli's message: moral hazard.

An overarching theme for a good public debate, as I have mentioned several times before, is the principle of an "equal opportunity society," where it becomes a discussion about whether government's job is to guarantee certain outcomes by picking winners and losers in society or to provide everyone the equal opportunity to determine their own success. Just as liberals want an active government that promotes specific outcomes, we have to be for an active government that promotes choice and freedom instead of just relying on the "less taxes, less government" message.

Your rating: None


well this might be a start

I like this concept

This point may have been a

This point may have been a bit overstated: "Obama's version of "bipartisanship" is giving the visual of reaching out to conservatives, and then ignoring them when it comes to substantive matters. Belford High School

I'm sure they'll rush to do that

I'm sure the GOP's leaders will be rushing to take this post's advice, right after they appear on Hannity.

Meanwhile, in case anyone wants to do something now without waiting for things that might not happen, form local groups to ask politicians tough questions on video.

If regular citizens regularly ask pols better questions than the MSM - and everyone can see that on Youtube - that's going to make the MSM's position even worse. It will also encourage politicians to come up with better ideas, if they know that obviously flawed policies will result in them being embarrassed on video over those flaws.

And, that's something anyone can do now, from starting a local group or even just encouraging others to start local groups.

There's so much here..'s hard to begin, but I'll settle for this:

"...the core substance of Santelli's message: moral hazard."


I would argue the core substance of Santelli's message was selfishness, that it was directed during his rant to the CNBC financial industry people who he belongs to and who were listening to him, and to Conservatives who found real Truth and resonance in his words.

In the immortal words of John Galbraith:

"The modern Conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."

It's the reason why the GOP's message machine hit the bullseye with Conservatives with the bogus argument, taken as GOsPel Truth to this day by the Conservative movement, that the central, overarching reason for the financial crisis was the Community Reinvestment Act, Fannie and Freddie, and irresponsible, thieving minorities aided by Democrats.

It's not the MEDIUM, it's the MESSAGE.  The MEDIUM is fine:  Makes no difference to the pundits or the bloggers here that FOX News has 10 of the top 10 cable news shows in ratings, and every one of them is dead Redstate anti-Obama Conservative 24/7.  They are still convinced America needs to hear more Conservative MESSAGE. 

The MESSAGE is getting out there, it's making an impact.  Conservatives are more united than ever, they have successfully remade the GOP in their image, and are busy casting out that last suspect RINO 10% - Specter, Collins, and Snowe.  Conservative ideas are filling the airwaves with MESSAGE to millions, every day, every hour, every minute.

Trouble is, it's that same 20% of the Electorate listening to Rush and watching O'Reilly and Beck, and applauding Mike Pence and John Cornyn and Jim DeMint.  They LOVE the purity of message they are getting, they are committed, engaged, motivated, and forking over donations big-time.

But Conservatives are still only 20% of the Electorate.  It's millions of people, but it's still only 20%. 

Look, the Teabaggers' Party in Atlanta, by far the biggest of the Tea Parties, had between 10 and 20k teabaggers.  That same April 15 day in Atlanta, 19,204 attended a meaningless, early-season, midweek-day baseball game featuring the Atlanta Braves against the Florida Marlins.

How do you keep the new, Conservative GOP a National Party, and win Elections with 20%?


How About Making an Intelligent Argument?

The problem is the right has become the biggest progenitor of insipid arguments! That is how Bush got elected, by tearing down heroes like John Mccain, then bringing him over to the dark side, or besmirching the character of John Kerry as opposed to actually talking about the issues.

Once upon a time, the right stood upon intelligent argument. Now they trample on it. Barack Obama, using Convergence Marketing, managed to get his message out over the braying of Sarah palin, whose every speech was the exact opposite of intelligent discourse.


It was great watching Obama orate intelligent circles against the stuttering McCain. Obama was like a Four Color Printer Vs. a stone carving.


Obama Owns the Press

The left has always more or less owned the press.   When news cycles are short, the only way to compete for air or ink is to make a story emotional.  And of course, emotionalisms are always the key to Democrat talking points.  Conservatism requires thought. Liberalism only requires one to 'feel.'

Obama has so cowed the current press corps through his constant droning on about the same talking points - always using the term "inherited" or some other cliche that deflects criticism from Him.  At some point, though He will have to take responsibility for the condition of the country.  That is when his poll numbers will tank - right along with the poll numbers of his initiatives.

The Democrat party is for now, built on the personality of the President.  Conservatives must build on ideas.  Fortunately for conservatives, the plans Obama has in place will almost certainly yield double digit unemployment, interest rates, and most importantly - inflation.  Inflation will be Obama's tax on the middle class and should be in full flower for the 2010 elections.  The public will then be emotionally connected to the Demcrat's economic failures.  Conservatives can close the deal with voters by connecting the ideas of limited government, limited spending and restricted borrowing because the Obama plan will be wrecking their lives. (How do we know this?  It all happened before in 1978)

At any rate, key to the entire deal is Obama's control over the press.  The press is completely awestruck and completely embarrassed itself at the last press conference. 

For a bit of a laugh about the presser, you might hit:










Time to check the archives

Another blogger on the right starts complaining about a subject that has been debated (at least on the left) for the past 8+ years.  In this case, it is the simplification of journalism and news, and the failure of journalists to do their jobs.

It is time to check Mr. Moon's archives to see if this complaint was registered when journalists were failing to do their jobs during W's administration.  I believe Stephen Colbert stated it best:

"But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works: the president makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know - fiction!"

Moral Hazard?

Great! Come up with a cramdown that doesn't reward flippers!

See? it's really quite easy...

But precious little attention has been given to the LARGER Moral Hazard, that of corporations who can bribe and bully and blackmail the government into bailing them out. I'd love to see you talk a new solution here -- is it nationalization? How do we remove moral hazard from the terrorists who have the potential to kill the entire world economy?


Also, maybe i'm naive, but I hope we can all get what we want. Have liberal programs that create opportunities for better outcomes, while preserving freedom and choice as much as is practical.

Great action

Great action points--especially number three.  The Teabag demonstrations, for instance, had no clear point other than "we don't like this guy."

This point may have been a bit overstated:  "Obama's version of "bipartisanship" is giving the visual of reaching out to conservatives, and then ignoring them when it comes to substantive matters."

He has a point when he says he won.  We can't expect him to concede a lot of major points (Bush never did).  We can, however, pressure him to make concessions where ever possible.