Why should voters choose you over your opponent?
I want to thank the Dallas Morning News for giving us the opportunity to participate in this voter guide. Forums like these allow us to speak directly to the voters on issues of substance. More than speaking directly to the voters, it also affords us the opportunity to address you, the media. If you read my responses below, I talk about structural change, but one institution I leave untouched is the media. But I think it is worth reflecting on what role the media plays in our current civilization and what its future role will be in facilitating public sentiment.
The media has received extensive negative attention this year as the term “Fake News” has entered our zeitgeist. This term undermines your reporting and makes your job more challenging, but it has made us all reflect on how we get our information, filter that information and trust the source of that information. Compounding these challenges, you as traditional media are now facing increased competition; youtube personalities, social media, news aggregators, opinion sites, late night shows, political comedy, just to name a few. This new competition also places you at the heart of a public relations campaign. Just as politicians compete for voters, you are all competing for viewers, readers, listeners. So, similar to my response on my favorite leader, are you leading or following trends? What is the unique relationship that the media must share with those in positions of power, and who leads? If politicians speak of stupid things, is it the media’s duty to report it? If it is, what has that process done to occupy our collective attention span? And have we just socialized stupidity as normal, instead of dismissing it as stupidity? Do the times call for a different path? In other words, if the issues that we face as a society are serious, do these distractions in stupidity place us in a worse position? Not only did we lose time, but have we focused our collective brain power on tangential nothingness? For those with higher levels of education, maybe this is acceptable as minds might be able to refocus, but do we leave other minds behind? In our modern society where information is fast and vast, does the “click bait” headline serve as the entire story?
It pains me to have our press undermined, especially by those who benefit from it being undermined, but I can’t help but feel that an honest assessment is that our free press is becoming less free. Can we be honest and at least admit that given the level of new competition and the need to keep the doors open, our press at times thinks less about substance and more about maintaining respective followers to maintain advertisement dollars? With this as the backdrop, how does media make choices on what to cover and what not to cover; what gets approved versus what gets squashed? Even if we believe that the proper buffers exist between the business development divisions of our media and the news divisions, we are still dealing with the personalities of media. If you think the ego of politicians is high, reporters more than give them a run for their money. Thus, reporters are trying to make a name for themselves, as they need followers, viewers, listeners, readers, and twitter followers. What determines their reporting choices, affects their bias in reporting. Reporters, unlike the politician, aren’t bound by the restriction of having to produce results. Their reporting focus will not face a term limits. Thus, they are free to build their reputations on “viral” stories over stories of substance. Added to all of this, is that they are in a profession where advancement is real, the dollars are real; just take Rachel Maddow’s current $7 million annual salary. Even if we trust the reporting, do we react like a moth to a flame, become addicted to those outlets that confirm our bias, rather than those that challenge it? I am reminded of a line from the 1992 film Sneakers, “you won’t know who to trust.”
I especially worry about the media in an election like this one. This race was already difficult given the lack of a true big name candidate, with 10 candidates rushing to fill the leadership void. But our media, with limited resources, may regress into thinking about politics in a traditional sense, even though the times call for something different. Already, we have seen the media bestow “front runner” status to a candidate that does not wish to discuss policy, and give “lead challenger” status to a son of a former governor, as if our form of government were monarchy and not democracy.
The challenges of the media, however, are my own. As politicians, we will have to make policy relatable again. We will have to fight to make the naked truth of structural thought more worthy of media coverage than the naked politician. What I hope for media and politicians alike, is that we understand in this world of ever increasing complexity and noise, we are here to provide the contextual rhythm and beat that forms the foundation for our discourse.
As a side note, for those that think I avoided the initial question, please consider that all of my responses in this guide, in some way, address the question above.