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How do you get people to watch or read the political news that effects their lives so much, and how do you drive them away from it? The conventional wisdom is that it's the people's fault, that the people just don't watch the news because it doesn't include enough sex-scandals, and images of Britney Spears dancing for the camera. But the conventional wisdom probably disserves us.

Ever notice how unpopular those tabloid magazines are? Sure, there are enough people who read them that supermarkets can sell them at the checkout counters. But even though these magazines are cover-to-cover composed of the stupid fluff all the conventional-wisdom bearing capitalist wisemen keep telling us the people really want from their media & news (often implying, or outright stating, that the reason most people can never give a damn about the news is that they're just so deathly moronic) most people know those tabloid magazines are crap, most people don't read them, and most people probably can't identify more than one or two people they've known who has been a regular reader of them.

Check out this as an example of the stakes of the cost of low interest in the news, first, before we settle for a smarmy answer as to the why. In this Washington Monthly post, the writer excerpted part of a NYT survey showing that most people feel that the media has been easier on John McCain than on Obama and Hillary. Most people who consume a lot of political news (who certainly are not most of all people out there) probably have noticed this, and probably have noticed that the media treats Hillary Clinton worst of all three of them. But then there was this comment on the Washington Monthly post from a reader who followed the link to the NYT survey:

But the poll also shows that most people don't notice a difference in the way the media treats the different candidates. How do you explain that?

The answer, of course, is not that people are so stupid that the same people think they see bias but they don't see bias at the same time and in the same instance. Instead it has to do with a simple problem with reporting on statistics- namely, using the words/phrases "most" and "most people" to discuss statistics gets confusing, if you use it to refer to both pluralities and majorities. Check out how this applies here. First of all, most- as in a majority of poll respondents- probably don't consume enough news to feel they can claim they see a difference. Sure, they may have seen some piece that looked really positive about McCain or about Obama- but that was the last time they watched (or read) more than 1-2 seconds of election news all-at-once in the last 6 months, so how can they feel justified in saying they notice a difference?

But "most people," as in a plurality of those who felt they could call the media biased in favor of one candidate picked John McCain as that candidate. The problem was that the Washington Monthly commenter was equating "most," as in a pluarlity who chose one from among three candidates, with "most," as in a majority of poll respondents- and that made the commenter sound as if he had a point about anomalous responses when he really hadn't.

Another thing that adds to the discrepancy between the pluarilty who can pick one caniddate and the majority who can't (or who can't recognize that favoring one candidate is called "bias") is often the media favoritism is so subtle and psychological, that a lot of media bias is stuff most people would just dismiss. So to give a good answer to the bias question, you really have to watch enough news not only to see the news talking about all three candidates, but also to know the news media's usual way of conducting themselves. If you don't you can't see how they're really scamming us with it- you won't recognize that it's not normal to spend so much time obsessing over Hillary's laugh and that only non-white male war-veteran Republicans are treated to this examination of their personal habits by Christ Matthews and the rest.

So to get back to the original point of my post- why don't people watch enough news to know when and how it's screwing them? I think contrary to the c.w., probably if the coverage really did a good job of explaining and focusing on the issues, more people would tune in, because they'd easier see what's at stake and want to know more about how the election could effect them. But that isn't what they get at all! Instead, they get annoying crap- they tune out because the news presenters and pundits aren't likeable enough for non-news junkies to subject themselves to that (put your four-letter-word of choice here). I certainly wouldn't want to hang out with any news commentators at a bar- what normal person obsesses over a candidate's laugh or some detail of their behavior for the length of an entire televised news piece? People are cynical about the political news for the same kinds of reasons they're cynical about most of politics- the powers that be will never let them get straight, easy answers about what's going on and what's important from the news- instead, they'll just subject them to a sleazy run-around delievered by grown-up versions of the kids you knew in school growing up who were the most cowardly, bird-brained busy-body gossips. Some people may answer "Well why don't they read the NYT?" or some other news source that is at least a little more substantive. But most people in fact aren't exposed to news sources like that (some people may be surprised at just how many people aren't really familiar with the New York Times) and were never really big on reading to begin with.

That doesn't mean that those people don't count or that they're not smart enough to understand the news, it just means that something in their upbringing or education poorly served them, so that they became discouraged or bored with the idea of reading or uninterested in the news. It's very wrong for any of us to treat those people as if there is something wrong with them, when obviously the news they rejected was news that was full of crap and that wouldn't get straight to the point to introduce topics in a clear way and explain why those topics were important. Hell, even a lot of you politicized liberals fail to quickly explain how the Republicans are racists or robbers, when the Republicans never waste any time calling you all traitors. Who are a lot of people going to think has the courage of their convictions, when most of you won't even say what you think is so wrong with the Republicans and make an effort to explain how you know it?  

Originally posted to Swan on Mon May 05, 2008 at 08:32 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I'll say it: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fireflynw

    Who are a lot of people going to think has the courage of their convictions, when most of you won't even say what you think is so wrong witht the Republicans and make an effort to explain how you know it?  

    Republicans are a coalition of myopic flag-waving racist pinheads and cynical self-interested rich bastards.

    Howzat?

    •  ohhh (0+ / 0-)

      may I quote you?
      that just about sums it up!!

      Politics is like driving...if you want to go backwards, choose R. If you want to move forward, choose D.

      by fireflynw on Mon May 05, 2008 at 08:55:42 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I admire your enthusiasm, but (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      obscuresportsquarterly

      I'm not talking about the kind of explanation that amounts to mere name-calling, and that basically asks people to take our word for it. When you use those words to talk to people who aren't convinced, you can make them feel scammed and patronized and drive them away. They'll think "Who are you that I should listen to you when you say this s***?"

      Now, sure, the Republicans say that kind of s***. But they make a long attempt, appealing to people's common experiences, to explain why they're going to say it, first. That's why they get people coming back to them.

      I'm talking more about not letting people forget how important liberal policies are, and how much better off we really are after them, and how important it is to let liberal social-changers finish their work. I'm talking about stuff like reminding people how child labor in factories used to be; of how many people got sick from terrible business practices like pollution, or from products like asbestos, before those things were adequately regulated; about how corrupt cops used to be, and more ready to push people around; about how more full of pain out society was before women were more free, about how more full of pain our society was before black people were more included. When people are appealed to with concerns about how the solutions have made their society worse, we have to tell them that the new problems are detail-problem that have to be learnt how to be dealt with, not reasons to throw out the overall solution- we basically have to keep saying, "Are you or are you not better off after the '60s than you were before them?" If they're not old enough to appreciate that, we have to explain how bad the world was before the things liberals tried to implement got partially implemented (we have to say, "Imagine not having leave, or pay during your leave, when you were pregnant! That took a lot of fighting for, and that's the kind of thing the Republicans want to get rid of, even when they say they don't"). And when the Republicans give an answer to one of these things, like when they claim that the market and not social policies produces the beneficial result, we have to have an answer and give it right then, not just let the argument end there.  

      •  I wrote: (0+ / 0-)

        I'm talking more about not letting people forget how important liberal policies are, and how much better off we really are after them, and how important it is to let liberal social-changers finish their work.

        But you don't necessarily start a talk or a conversation with a sentence like that. It sounds too complicated and can turn people off. Instead, you just start hitting people over the head with the examples of the social policies that have given them a modern life, and that liberals promote, and that conservatives want to get rid of.

        •  Nostalgia (0+ / 0-)

          This may seem odd, but I actually think that what trips progressives up is our under-appreciation of American nostalgia.  People talk about the "Reagan Revolution" as if it was a fully-developed ideological platform.  But I don't remember the "small government" meme being the thing that snagged voters.  I remember the appeal to wipe the sixties off the calendar and return us to the supposedly simpler time of Ozzie and Harriet.  Turn back the clock and get us to mid-century optimism, white normative suburbanism, the American dream.

          American conservatism is a strange beast.  What I think works is appealing less to the idea of change (except where this refers to "regime change") and more to the "always already" of American-ness.  That's why the Philadelphia speech was so brilliant; Obama said what King said before him, that civil rights are good old apple pie American rights.

          Progressives need to understand that change goes down a lot better when it's couched as part of the basic promise of this country -- that the Republicans took us off track from our basic American-ness and we need to get back to it.

  •  People should not be "attracted" to the news... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nicolemm, fireflynw

    like insects to a shiny light.

    That's the whole problem with cable news.  "News" has become opinion and commentary and entertainment.

    The World is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion. --Thomas Paine

    by David Kroning on Mon May 05, 2008 at 08:43:19 AM PDT

    •  If you're criticizing my choice of words (0+ / 0-)

      you're casting your criticism in the wrong direction. I can't account for every bad connotation a person might (unfairly) put on any word I use, when I myself used it in a more neutral sense. People don't watch the news, and they should, therefore they need to be attracted to it. It is as simple as that.

      So your comment is unnecessary- maybe it would be ok if I was actually suggesting using dancing chicks in bikinis to attract people, but I was not, as is clear, talking about the kind of attraction that comes from using gimmicks- I was talking about the kind of attraction that happens when you offer people something more necessary, more worthwhile.

  •  Short answer (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fireflynw

    Time....Long answer trust...

  •  Discontinous bulletin bits vs Insight (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    fireflynw
    The economic lever that financiers have over the newsroom is budget.

    Reporters who stay around long enough to really understand what is going on and therefore are able to deliver more than just a bulletin that is unconnected to anything, are generally more costly.

    Cut the experience level off by capping the salary potential and you are limited to people with less experience or who don't really care about substance.  They see where their bread is buttered and it isn't by hanging around the county courthouse to get a good grounding.

    The next level of news turning into show business is in the Ann Coulter vein: various sorts of ignorant insult or contempt that is sort of clever sounding, subtle or not so subtle that doesn't take any work to develop.  In the end, it is cheaper on many levels.

  •  Generally Speaking The People I Know (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MelloY

    work this way in how they gather information.*

    The younger (maybe around 16-30) people I know get their news via a 24/7 TV station and sites like Yahoo!, Drudge, News My Way, or Google News. Basically sites that aggregated wire services. More scanning of the headlines then actually reading. Stuff like the Washington Post, NYT et al are totally foreign to them unless one of the above mentioned link to them. I should also note that many of these folks, who are liberals, LIKE Fox Noise. They like all the graphics, sound affects, and the tabloid quality of the news.

    Older people I know (40+) tend to have a wider range of media outlets. The local paper, local news station, some talk radio (even the Republicans I know don't listen to Rush), and nation news weeklies (Times, US News, Newsweek). Many tell me they used to watch a 24/7 news channel (CNN being most mentioned) but can't stand them at this point. They'd rather hear you scrap your nails across a black board then hear about Britney Spears or Pan Amderson.

    Now I should say with both groups, blogs as a source of news is totally foreign to them.

    And finally this is just my experience with a couple dozen people. But this is a topic I talk with them about more then just about anything less related to news and/or politics.

    *I should note that most of them think all our media outlets are biased.

    Let us not forget New Orleans. Visit Project Katrina.

    by webranding on Mon May 05, 2008 at 08:47:43 AM PDT

  •  A shorthand way (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    webranding, means are the ends

    to explain why people won't watch the news is that the conservatives were trying to get people to watch the news, while keeping the news favorable enough to the right-wing. First, they tried to do this without making the news appear biased in favor of the right-wing. They did this by producing the usual media-style of objectivity you're familiar with, which put more importance on reporting what the "partisans" from both sides said than on facts underlying their claims or the substantive issues. This style of news is just annoying to people, even if most people aren't educated enough to figure out why. Then, because this style of news wasn't working well enough for them, the conservatives decided to abandon a lot of pretense and just turn our cable news into conervative demagoguery- think Fox News and the more toned-down CNN and MSNBC.

    To get people to really be interested in the news, you'd have to cut out almost all of the fluff, cut right to the heart of the matter in a story, and present the facts. To refute the charge that this was liberal news, you'd have to routinely let partisans comment after the fact-based stories, but the conseratives would look so ridiculous in light of the facts that it would be the eventual death-knell of conservative politics, anyway.    

    •  I should have added that (0+ / 0-)

      part of the "objective" style of reporting has been the focus on the fluff, process, and horse-race questions, which avoids, of course, at-length discussions of substance- instead our substitute for real substance is that we get three or four once-a-week shows that are the minimum amount of covering the issues (6o Minutes, Meet The Press, John McLaughlin, and one or two others). Most of these shows are quickly dissolving into pure-fluff shows, as the few during-the-week shows that aren't out-and-out demagoguery (Hardball, etc.) have mostly become. Keith Olbermann and the Comedy Central shows are poor replacements; they undermine themselves for different reasons (they don't appear serious enough; they often don't draw the line between comedy/fantasy and reality clearly enough; they give implicit legitimacy to conservatives by loading the guest-list with the worst conservative crooks, liars and hacks in government, and then treating them mostly politely).

      Of course, as the media has gotten more partisan, the new partisan stuff has made the segue look smoother by continuing the fluff, process, and horserace stuff, and just using it all more as barbs instead of as a hands-off approach to politics.

      I'm sorry I have to do so many revisions and add-ons in updates and comments, but I have other things to do, and if I was a paid, professional blogger, I would certainly put more work into what I write before I hit "post" or "publish." Anyway, keeping the original post shorter probably makes it more readable.

      •  not sure where the undermining comes from (0+ / 0-)

        as far as Countdown, it's still miles better than the others. Keith has made remarks on the air, not sure how seriously, that he thinks he shouldn't be covering the fluff. Last Thursday's show was a great example of what it could be every night. We still had the WPITW which can be a bit funny depending on the circumstances, but often is not, i.e. Wal-Mart & Shank. Otherwise it was news and analysis for the whole hour, probably due to being the anniversary of Mission Accomplished.

        So this is how you get me to watch- honest in depth coverage of news rather than letting 2 sides yell at each other;  a little humor is OK, but I can do without American I-dull reports.

        -7.75, -6.05 We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home. --Edward R. Murrow

        by nicolemm on Mon May 05, 2008 at 10:06:51 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yeah, Countdown is the example that's (0+ / 0-)

          least bad out of that show, Colbert and the Daily Show, and all those shows succeed very well at being funny, but the point is that there is so much humor in all three of those shows that it makes the problems they talk about seem less serious. It amkes them seem more like stuff you just joke about and do nothing about.

          Thought experiment: Imagine if MLK Jr., instead of providing conclusions in his speeches about action, just made jokes about the white man and all the bad stuff he was doing to black people. Then nobody would have stood behind MLK Jr. and done all the brave stuff it took to win civil rights. Keith Olbermann isn't really giving us a model of how to fight the conservatives (and maybe he doesn't have to, but someone does) by making a little more noise of discontentedness, and so on. He's just giving us a model of sitting there being dissatisified, and then moving on to make some jokes about some stuff. If he alone is the model of how we're all really supposed to be, he really fails.  

        •  If you read the blogs every day (0+ / 0-)

          like I do, it may be harder for you to see the problem, because you get a large dose of people looking at the problems seriously and taking them seriously every day (as I noted, the blogosphere as a whole is probably less serious than it should be, but to a greater extent than with TV programming, a consumer of blogs can steer him or herself away from the silly content, and, while the blogosphere is more serious that Olbermann/Colbert/Stewart, to best-educate and politicize the people who are political-blog-consumers (a more serious-about-politics and discerning audience than TV consumers) the blogosphere should probably be more serious than TV news is in the first place, anyway).

          Imagine someone who only gets better-news from Olbermann, Colbert, or the Daily Show, and doesn't get any of it from blogs at all. The message they get spread on top of all those news stories is always going to be "Ha ha ha! How funny this shit is! Let's laugh at it!" That's not the attitude that gets people involved in local politics, gets them spreading a newsletter around their neighborhood, gets them talking a lot about politics. It's an attitude that gets them sending money once a year and that's it.  

        •  If you watch Colbert or Jon Stewart (0+ / 0-)

          I think the lesson you take away is that the things they report on are things to laugh at and poke fun at and to wait out, and not that they're things that you should act to take your country back because of.

          If all the news I get is Colbert and Jon Stewart, then they do nothing to make me dissatisfied with simply working at my job and having no "involvement" with politics beyond watching their shows and voting.

  •  I can only share my experience (0+ / 0-)

    with  my family..

    My sister in law is getting her masters degree and working full time. My brother works full time, does the housework and cooking while my sister in law studies, takes his boys to track meets and baseball games, and tries to fit in some time to call our mom and take her to do errands.

    I think a lot of people don't listen to the news because they don't have time. I'm not saying that is an excuse, just that it's the way it is. I try to keep him updated with email, but he is on overload most of the time.

    Some people, no doubt, make choices that are shallow, such as choosing Inside Edition instead of News Hour with Jim Leher...but I think there are a lot of overworked and stressed out families who do the best they can do to get through the day.

    Politics is like driving...if you want to go backwards, choose R. If you want to move forward, choose D.

    by fireflynw on Mon May 05, 2008 at 09:01:34 AM PDT

    •  Yeah, I think that's part of the recipe (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      fireflynw

      but I think the stuff I talk about is the stuff that makes the difference. The conversation provided by our mainsteam media outlets is not in the slightest a normal conversation about the issues-- it is a neurotic conversation. If it were normal, it would be advancing people to solve our problems better than this. I think Canada's media or the BBC are probably examples of what media should be more like. I'm not saying everybody would like our news if it was exactly like the BBC, and I'm sure many people agree with me that the film quality of the BBC or the diction of the news presenters on the BBC often appears a little dull. But I'm talking about the content- if we had substantive content that was more like the substantive content of news in other Western nations, coupled with the production quality we already have, I think people would find poltical TV news a lot more engaging.

      •  I totally agree with you (0+ / 0-)

        I get my news from a variety of sources, but MSM ain't one of them!

        I just wonder how many people are out there like my brother, is all..no matter how great the news might be done, they are not watching because of life.

        Politics is like driving...if you want to go backwards, choose R. If you want to move forward, choose D.

        by fireflynw on Mon May 05, 2008 at 01:12:50 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Don't confuse style and substance (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nicolemm

    There's the quality and relevance of the information and then there's aspects of style. Some of our favorites report facts and discuss them intelligently, but don't employ the sobriety and detachment of the stereotypical talking head.

    The MSM offers fluff, but it's Very Serious fluff, a style meant to disguise the fact that it's fluff. FOX news less so, as they work on emotions too and don't obfuscate the fluff and lies as much as the MSM.

    Then you have things like Olbermann and the Daily Show: relevant issues and considered opinion but delivered in ways that are stimulating of their own accord - outrage for Olbermann and mockery for Stewart.

    Then there's the Colbert Report, perhaps more entertainment than news, but it works because 1) everyone's in on the joke and 2) everyone knows the real news that's being toyed with.

    Finally there are the supermarket tabloids: completely false but openly so and read purely for entertainment value. Their pretenses to legitimate reporting and opinion are just that.

    "I must Create a System or be enslav'd to another Man's." - William Blake

    by Visceral on Mon May 05, 2008 at 09:41:29 AM PDT

    •  A lot of the things you seem to be (0+ / 0-)

      defending, I think you defend too much. I think those things deflect people's attention away from focusing on what's important.

      For example, it's good to be able to let off steam- but if you joke too much about things that are really important, the implicit message that gets communicated is that they're really not that important or that there's nothing we can do about them. I think the Colbert Report and the Daily Show, and the left-wing blogosphere as a whole, all joke a little too much. I think Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, at least, are both totally for real, but I think somehow they or the people who write/produce the show get encouraged to be a little too jokey (and unclear about what really happened, and what's just a joke) and I think in the whole American left, there's a little-too-little serious balance to our sense of humor now. We're doing excellent at making jokes, but we're failing a little at communicating how serious our serious points are. Otherwise, wouldn't people be concerned about the energy crisis and the environment?

      That implicit message sent out by, for instance, the Colbert Report and the Daily Show sets lberals into a mode of just sitting back, doing nothing, and hoping to ride out the conservative takeover. And that kind of attitude is an important ingredient of how political takeovers are often accomplished. It's not that there aren't enough people to oppose the takeover, it's that they can't get organized.

      •  and that's why Countdown matters (0+ / 0-)

        it's serious enough to get people off their butts. Because of Keith's reporting on the Shank  case, I wrote to Mal-Wart. Collectively, we got them to budge, and better yet he followed up on it when they started dragging butt on giving the money back.

        Also, the larger point that many of us may have equally evil clauses in  our insurance policies was not forgotten.

        -7.75, -6.05 We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home. --Edward R. Murrow

        by nicolemm on Mon May 05, 2008 at 10:13:14 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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