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This evening I happened to have been inadvertently exposed to NPR’s “Talk of The Nation,” hosted by Neal Conan.  I was listening with about half an ear to a segment called, “Op-Ed: Now's The Time For A Candid Candidate,” with guest Kathleen Hall Jamieson, who is the director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, which runs FactCheck.org.  The gist of the piece seemed to be that if the candidates were held to some standard of truth by the media, they would be more forthcoming about their real policy intentions, which would then foster a more aware electorate and make for a more functional government by virtue of more explicit mandates.  This is from the transcript:

JAMIESON: Well, the campaign discourse and the advertising in '80 is actually exemplary in its accuracy, but also for a second reason. Ronald Reagan in 1980 engaged in longer forms of communication with the electorate. And what I argue in the op-ed piece in The Washington Post is those longer forms are the way in which you bind the electorate to the kind of governance that you're going to offer. And this year, with the tough choices we're facing, it's important that candidates are candid about them and that we don't penalize them for their candor.

In order to be candid with us, they're going to have to have longer forms of communication. We're going to have the substantive debates with a good moderator follow up. We're going to have the fact-checking that continues to be aggressive at the national and state level, particularly in those battleground states, and stations are going to have insist on accuracy of those third-party ads.

You put all those things together, and I think we create a climate in which the candid candidate cannot only win, but by winning that way will be empowered to govern in a different way, a way that doesn't carry the immediate penalty of risk of losing whatever you've gained in the off-year election.

A bit more back-and-forth, then Neal opened up the phone lines:
CONAN: Kathleen Hall Jamieson, "Looking for an Honest Politician." Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Why is it politicians have so much difficulty being candid? Let's begin with Bob, and Bob's on the line with us from Suffern, New York.

BOB: Yes. And the reason politicians have so much difficulty being candid is we do not want to hear the truth. What we want to hear is rhetoric that conforms to our prejudice because no politician gets elected in America by telling the people the truth. And you have organized opposition to the truth in the form of the Republican initiatives against global warming, the Republican initiative about teach the controversy between creationism and evolution. I mean, it's all nonsense, but you got significance segments of a population that sign on to it because they just do not want to hear the truth.

My ears pricked up.  My expectations were suddenly, and unexpectedly, aroused.  How would a nationally known, middle-of-the road, and rather benign radio news personality, doing a piece about the role of the media in holding political candidates to some reasonable standard of truth, deal with essentially being called out for the legitimization and elevation into the public dialog of concepts like creationism and climate-change denial?  Would he break down and admit that creationism was perhaps a bridge too far for a 21st century democracy premised on the Enlightenment?  My brain buzzed.  Would I be disappointed?

CONAN: It might be fair to characterize some of those groups as conservative, Bob, but to say they're Republican...

BOB: No, no. It's not just...

CONAN: To say the Republican is - they're not associated with the Republican Party, but, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, there's one of the fact checks, I guess.

As dodges go, I think this one has to rate among the more embarrassing, implying, as it does, that there is a meaningful conservative movement in this country outside of the Republican Party.  But that’s not even the best part:
CONAN: To be fair to Bob, our caller, he was calling about more values issues. He was talking about, well, Darwinism. We can argue about that, but let's take the issue of gay marriage. There's no numbers you can add up saying, this makes it clear that this is the situation. It's a matter of - for a lot of people, it's a matter of faith. And for a lot of people, it's a matter of belief.
This is where I yell at the radio.

Sorry, Neal.  Neither Darwinism (evolution) nor global warming are “values issues.”  And they actually aren’t things we can argue about - unless we’re discussing the finer points of species differentiation or ocean dynamics.  There actually are numbers you can add up saying, “this makes it clear that this is the situation.”  Evolution has been taught and studied in universities for more than a century and a half.  It’s no more a social issue than quantum physics.  And to make it one is to discredit all of science, which some might argue is the ultimate goal.  Your guest on this segment said, “the public doesn't have to understand all of the ins and outs of how the conclusion was reached. If the public comes to understand that it is an expert consensus, the public does tend to accept it.”

It's really amazing how easily the facade of serious inquiry disappears when the subject matter turns to the medium.  To be fair to Neal, our host, I'd really like to know if his original question, "why is it politicians have so much difficulty being candid?” was intentionally rhetorical.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Neal had to play it that way (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FloridaSNMOM, MKSinSA, lina, Gorette, lmnop

    Neal knows which side of the aisle his bread is buttered on. If he had acknowledged the truth of the caller's remarks and went with that as the tone of the discussion he probably would have been fired. For "bias" or something. Biased, that is, towards reality, which doesn't play any better in our media than in our politics, for all the same reasons the caller mentioned. NPR used to be not half bad, but that was then. Of course the same thing could be said about so much of our media.

    •  I used to love it. Now can't listen. At all. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lmnop

      Because I am......"Biased, that is, towards reality."

      Love that, george..

      "extreme concentration of income is incompatible with real democracy.... the truth is that the whole nature of our society is at stake." Paul Krugman

      by Gorette on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 07:03:55 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I think we get the press we deserve (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      some other george

      I'm not as interested in how Neal had to play it as I am in exposing it.  This was an awkward and embarrassing example of how dysfunctional our national media has become, and I thought it was worth amplifying for the record.

  •  For our craven corporate media, it's a feature, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gorette

    ...not a bug.

    It's so tedious holding politicians (especially Republicans whose every word is a lie) to any standard of accuracy whatsoever. So much easier to let them skate on everything, pretend that 'both sides do it', and cut to commercial.

  •  Incomparable issues (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lmnop

    It often happens that the debate over global warming is compared to the debate over evolution versus creationism, as if they were two instances of a single anti-science element of American politics.  To me, they are worlds apart.

    If global warming exists, and humans cause it, and we can do something about it, fine.  Do the cap-and-trade, promote renewable sources of energy, whatever.  Lots of luck with all that, because whatever my doubts about global warming, they are nothing compared to my doubts about our ability to do something about it.  But don’t let a pessimist like me stop you.  Go ahead and try.

    If global warming does not exist, or humans don’t cause it, or they cause it, but there is nothing we can do about it, fine.  Go ahead and do the cap-and-trade and the renewables anyway.  It may end up being a waste of money for no good purpose, but we already waste a lot of money for no good purpose, so a little more won’t make much difference now.

    But the important thing is that if global warming turns out to be true, I won’t be surprised.  The scientific consensus was right.  And if global warming turns out to be false, I won’t be surprised.  Scientists have been wrong before.

    Evolution, however, is a whole different matter.  I would like to be able to say that my acceptance of evolution is solely based on the facts, but that would be disingenuous.  Being an atheist, the only explanations available to me for the existence of life are evolution and spontaneous generation, the second of which seems most unlikely.  So, I would accept evolution even if the evidence in its favor were inconclusive.  But if, on the contrary, the world was created by God 6,000 years ago, and the Book of Genesis is literally true, then I am so wrong in my understanding of the world that I might just as well quit trying to think at all, except, perhaps, for trying to figure out how I can keep from going to Hell.

    In other words, however the issue over global warming turns out, I will not have to reconsider my overall understanding of the world.  But if evolution turns out to be false, the implications for me are of profound existential significance.

    •  Different but still comparable (0+ / 0-)

      I'm not sure I'm ready to draw the same hard distinctions your are.  Evolution is a more mature science than global warming and so is less susceptible to tectonic shifts resulting from large sets of new data.  And new climate science data is probably more generally available than comparably meaningful new historical evolutionary data.

      I don't think there's any question in the scientific community that the climate is warming.  There are some disagreements as to how much of it is caused by and/or responsive to human triggers, but that doesn't in any way diminish the importance of pursuing the science.  I do think that climate science is a good example of a victim of how we treat science in general, largely due to our public response to ideas like creationism.

      As for the existential implications, what is in the one case profound, may in the other be literal.

  •  People seeking elected office, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gorette

    instead of having their resumes seriously considered, are asked to make prognostications about the future -- i.e. the unknowable and the unknown. It is not possible to speak true or false about the future. Which, of course, is precisely why politicians and reporters focus on it.

    The notion that a person's values somehow predict how s/he will act, or even that s/he will act, is a delusion, but a delusion which satisfies the electorate's interest in personal information and something to gossip about.

    Gossip is good and, when you come right down to it, about the only thing our gab-imbued political candidates have going for them.  For, the fact of the matter is that the modern professional political candidate has no practical skills.  Many of them don't even know how to read and write.  Staff give them talking points, write up press releases and define their positions.  The only thing the modern candidate for public office needs is a pretty face and a pleasing voice, or spokespersons with same. They're front men supported by an army of middle men.

    Willard's forte = "catch 'n' cage"

    People to Wall Street, "let our money go."

    by hannah on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 05:21:40 AM PDT

    •  So true that politicians have limited skillset. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MKSinSA
      For, the fact of the matter is that the modern professional political candidate has no practical skills.  Many of them don't even know how to read and write.  Staff give them talking points, write up press releases and define their positions.  The only thing the modern candidate for public office needs is a pretty face and a pleasing voice, or spokespersons with same. They're front men supported by an army of middle men.
      In 60 Minutes interview with Bob Ney, he admitted he did not read the bills. He did as he was told in order to progress up the ladder in Congress, wanted to be the next Tom Delay. But had to go to jail instead. Other Republicans such as current speaker talk about not having read the ACA. I doubt they read any of them, which is what Ney said, and he can now speak frankly.

      I think most of them just pretend. They are there for the ride.

      "extreme concentration of income is incompatible with real democracy.... the truth is that the whole nature of our society is at stake." Paul Krugman

      by Gorette on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 07:10:41 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Because politics is built on lying. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gorette

    The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men.

    by xxdr zombiexx on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 05:31:46 AM PDT

  •  The real question is (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gorette

    When did fact checkers lost touch with the meaning of the word "fact?" Either a thing is said or it isn't. Either a number in relation to a specified category is accurate or it isn't. The idea of context is noble and necessary in most cases but the problem with most fact checks isn't too much "truth" but, rather, too much irrelevant information wholly unrelated to the matter at hand.

    It would be one thing if they were Public Education bureaus and the intent was to inform but their stated mission is instead to determine factual accuracy of a thing, which they miserably fail in providing.

    •  When the truth became irrelvant. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MKSinSA

      I agree. That guy in the Post drives me insane. If something is absolutely true he still might give it 1 pinocchio.

      "extreme concentration of income is incompatible with real democracy.... the truth is that the whole nature of our society is at stake." Paul Krugman

      by Gorette on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 07:12:23 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Neal Conan's job (0+ / 0-)

    Neal Conan's job at NPR is no different from that of anchor at Fox, or CNN, or MSNBC.  The job is first and foremost to attract as many viewers or listeners as possible to the media.

    The truth is a secondary consideration here.  So shade it, spin it, side-step it, twist it, or kick it on down the road.  

    Indeed, the Fox business model is predicated on the idea that there is a market for distortion and equivocation.  Without the fabricated stories, Fox is just another CNN, and CNN got there first

    I would prefer that NPR be that disinterested public voice.  That show at least allowed us to hear the caller's inconvenient truth.  The trouble is, my donation to my local NPR affiliate does not change the programming that comes from the national producers.

    "The fool doth think he is wise: the wise man knows himself to be a fool" - W. Shakespeare

    by Hugh Jim Bissell on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 07:25:17 AM PDT

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