Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mud Slinging and the Media

Politicians really do say the darndest things these days.  Perhaps Bill Cosby should look into this and entertain us with everything from gaffs to the mud slinging insults that seem to be prevalent.  But are these insults and a general lack of respect a real problem contributing to our nation’s Congressional gridlock?  Probably one of the more famous examples that we are familiar with is Rep. Joe Wilson’s (R-S.C.) famous “You lie” outburst during President Obama’s health care speech to Congress.  But the most recent gem to enter the political discourse, Rep. Allen West’s (R-Fla.) response to a question about a percentage of the American legislature being Marxist, where he believed that “there’s about seventy, eighty, to eighty one members of the Democrat Party that are members of the Communist Party.”
Such comments get people riled up.  They also get airtime and put people in the spotlight, but they do little to advance discussion about proposed legislation or problems facing our country.  What’s worse is that these types of comments circulate in the media for days and clog the news cycle until the next big story hits the airwaves.
Rather than deflect the question, West hopped on the “progressives are communists/socialists” (note: they never really do separate the two) train that many right wing pundits are riding around these days.  Sure, they’ll give him some good press and bash the liberals in the process, but what does this say about our country’s political discourse?  Can we call it entertaining? Absolutely (until about the thousandth iteration or so).  But can we say that it is catalyzing a dialogue on key issues like our debt that plague us? Probably not.


  1. I think the blame for why comments such as West's have become so common falls on the public. There will always be people who are willing to say anything in order to gain publicity so putting the blame on West wouldn't help us find a solution to the problem. The public encourages this type discourse in two ways: 1) by electing members to Congress who say things like Allen West said and 2) being more engaged by news with this type of discourse rather news will productive discourse. The public needs to want more productive discourse for there to be more productive discourse.

  2. I think Walker's comment is spot on. News shows that report on scandals and the drama between members of Congress draw higher ratings than those that report on the nuances and policy implications of budgets. Still, I find it rather impossible for the public to shed their demand to see political blood by themselves. Perhaps the onus should be on the journalists, who adhere to an unwritten code of ethics as the "4th Estate," to inform public curiosity on substantive policy issues by reporting on them. Still, in this era of intense competition for viewers, it's easy to see how the news media behaves as they do.