Ever since the tragic shooting of Republican Congressman Steve Scalise, the typical loop-recording of comments stating that “maybe this will be the incident that will reunite the American people” has been echoing among members of Congress and the cable TV pundits.
We all know that one insane incident unites the American people for only a short time. Even 9-11 and the Sandy Hook tragedies didn’t bridge the divide between Republicans and Democrats, including those sitting in Congress as well as the Joe and Jane Does sitting next to you at the diner.
Different approaches to political problems have always caused a rift between opponents. Usually it was limited to the legislative halls, but not always: our country has been victimized by assassinations and a Civil War.
The sorry state of U.S. politics is the result of three main causes: members of Congress, fanatics of the left and right and the flame-throwing mentality of the media. Discussing political differences in a sane manner has gone the way of the five-cent ice cream cone. Instead, the use of use vitriolic language when discussing political differences has turned a crack into a chasm and our free press shares a large part of the blame.
I’m against censorship. A free press is necessary for the continuation of our democracy. Unfortunately, there have been excesses taken by the media that only they can change.
The most important element in binding the fracture of the political left and right rests with a responsible media that keeps hate mongers from spreading their messages by refusing to give them a platform on which they spread their hate. That’s an easy fix. Report the news as it is without resorting to “he said, she said” guests, which is the backbone of the pathetic journalism practiced by the cable networks.
The latest brouhaha involving responsible journalism was Megyn Kelly providing an NBC platform to conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Kelly’s defenders say the only way to expose someone like Jones is by having journalists confront him in person, which I disagree with and history backs me up.
Students of journalism know that it’s not necessary to provide a platform to a person like Jones in order to discredit someone. On March 9th, 1954, Edward R. Murrow, the renowned and respected CBS journalist — who became famous for his coverage from London during the German’s World War II blitz of the city — used his “See It Now” telecast to highlight the excesses of another conspiracy theorist, Sen. Joe McCarthy. The telecast featured the words, actions and videos of McCarthy and is credited with the Senator’s downfall.
I watched Kelly’s less-than-hard-hitting interview with Jones and found him to be the clear winner. Here’s why: People who disagree with Mr. Jones’ conspiracy theory were already anti-Jones. But viewers who knew nothing about him now do. While the interview will not convince Jones’ followers to flee, it might attract people who believe as Jones does but knew nothing about him before the telecast.
It will take decades — if ever —for the rift between the hard right and hard left to begin healing. But here are a few ways that are certain to help:
• Members of the media should refrain from using incendiary adjectives when talking about politicians they disagree with.
• The president should stop denouncing any story he doesn’t like as “fake news.”
• Political pundits on TV should be eliminated. They only create confusion and are mostly wrong. Remember their assuredness for more than a year that Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in. Only news should be reported; opinions should be labeled “editorials.”
• Cable TV has to stop providing unlimited airtime emphasizing Democrats attacking Republicans, Republicans attacking Democrats, Democrats attacking Democrats and Republicans attacking Republicans, which only adds to the political divide.
• Cable TV should stop playing up the name calling of politicians by proponents of the far right and far left and use the time to discuss the ideological differences between Democrats and Republicans regarding legislation.
• Former flame-throwing elected officials like Newt Gingrich should be treated like former elected officials and not be given an open mike across the cable TV spectrum to spread their vitriolic attacks. Instead current members of Congress who seek to unite, instead of divide, should be given the time allotted to flamethrowers.
• Social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter should block extremist hate speech content on their sites.
None of the above will correct the situation that was largely created by the 24/7 cable news networks, unless they cease sensationalizing news, begin acting like responsible news sources and report factually without the never-ending commentary from so-called analysts.
Cable political TV is similar to going to a theatrical production or a movie without leaving home. Any resemblance to actual reporting is coincidental. The cast plays roles, acting as beat reporters and anchors. The supporting cast plays the roles of pundits. The vitriolic language that is now part of our political discussions will continue forever until the cable TV political shows begin acting responsibly.
Arthur Solomon was a senior VP at Burson-Marsteller. He now is a contributor to public relations and sports business publications, consults on PR projects and was on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.