Imagine you're on the board of directors of a major corporation. There is an important decision before you that will require your vote. Advocates of various points of view with regards to this decision come into your board room and give video presentations to you and your fellow board members. Each presentation provides a different set of facts, requiring you to weigh the costs and benefits of each option.
Finally, the last presenter comes into the room and plays a video of a man speaking at a podium, but there is no sound. You raise your hand and point out to the presenter that you can't hear what is being said. "That's ok", he says, "You should be able to make your mind up based on the images alone."
Does this sound crazy ? Well, Rob Mitchell, former media advisor to Ontario Premier Mike Harris, comments in the Toronto Star today about the appointment of Guy Giorno to head up the office of the Prime Minster of Canada, effectively saying that such a practice is actually praiseworthy. In the column, Giorno is lauded for inventing something called the "hell-of-a-guy" event, wherein a television viewer could be expected to make his or her mind up about a piece of legislation simply by watching a politician on television with the sound turned off.
If you're puzzled by this thinking, perhaps you haven't noticed that ideas long ago took a back seat in political theatre. They're too unweidly, and difficult to get across in a few seconds of television news coverage, after all. And you can't be expected to read a long newspaper article to get the information, can you ?
So, to make your political choices you should simply take two or three seconds to survey a politician's posture, their clothing and the backdrop behind them and you will have all you need. That's how you choose soup isn't it - by the colour of the soup can ? As you can see, the spoonfeeding of the western public continues, to the detriment of all.
Just as the market for healthy snacks appears as a fraction of the overall snack market, the market for wholesome and context rich information appears to be miniscule and shrinking. CBS news, once proud to have the likes of Walter Cronkite deliver the information that made America think, is reportedly in talks to outsource news operations in CNN. Objective information is as unsexy as multivitamins.
These trends in political discourse and information management are disturbing because our democratic institutions depend on continued healthy dialogue in order to work properly. If the public isn't paying attention to facts, then facts won't drive the debate. Instead, we find the debate orbits around personalities, and dramatic pageant of the election campaign.
Even more disturbing than the decline of good fact-based discussion is the fact that the chattering classes do not seem to be concerned enough with things to comment on these trends, except for the usual, cynical throwing up of hands in futility. Or worse, we have the Rob Mitchells of the world celebrating the fact that a politician can be elected based, apparently, on a good shave and haircut.
The big questions in society are not being answered, and they will not be answered until the media either gives the general public the information to consider them, or gets out of the way.
I for one would like to hear candidates give their arguments for and against going to war, for and against a carbon tax, for and against globalization. I can get them some of these things from the web, but I shouldn't have to. It should be given through mainstream media to all of us voters. If 80% of my fellow citizens aren't interested in facts, then let them sit on the sidelines or change the chanel. I ask myself if they will ever vote in anything beyond a phone poll anyway.
If Patrick Henry were alive today, he might say "Give me information or give me death !"
Toronto Star article: