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Support a Truly Independent Media

Increased distortion of the truth. As the left and right are more radicalized, they increasingly see only their side of any story. The other side is seen to distort the facts, justifying a return distortion of the facts in the other direction. The exaggerations by the Environmental lobby, for example, have led the right to feel justified in exaggerating the other way, even to the extent of funding biased pseudoscience studies. All the advanced science and information we have is offset by the increase in snake oil views on the Internet and the fragmented media sources. A busier than ever public is unable to spend the time to distinguish between the truth and distortions, increasing the potential for manipulation of even very smart people.

Problems with the Media. Consolidation has led to profit motive trumping civic mindedness. In 1945, four out of five American newspapers were independently owned. Today less than 20 percent are independently owned. 80% of the nations daily papers are owned by the big chains. To keep high profits, media focuses on sensationalism, not substance. (see Current Problems in the Media) The reporting on national affairs by the major newsmagazines has declined by 25 percent, while the number of entertainment and celebrity stories has doubled, according to "The State of the News Media in 2004 " report by the non-partisan Project for Excellence in Journalism. The 2008 report contains a description of current problems.

An Edge article argues that the current soft news and sensationalism is turning off readers, and turning off voters. It is hopeful the media will self correct when it figures out the voters really want hard news. On sensationalism, it notes that crime dominates TV news even though it has declined in the last few years (written in 2003). Of those crime stories, 20% are stories of murder. In the real world, only 0.1% are murder. It notes the media is failing to provide information to allow voters to make informed choices. "Without such information, a culture of ignorance will pervade the United States, and it will cease to function as a working democracy." (p. 7). Some may say we are already there.

Even in the narrow area of medical science, sensationalism of medical studies lead to both false hopes and unwarranted fears.

Possible Solutions

Independent fact checkers. A few exist already, and at least appear to be bipartisan:

Politifact.com - The St. Petersburg Times of Florida and Congressional Quarterly of Washington, D.C. have created the site to help voters separate fact from falsehood in the 2008 presidential campaign.

Factcheck.org - The Annenberg Political Fact Check is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. The APPC says it accepts NO funding from business corporations, labor unions, political parties, lobbying organizations or individuals. It is funded primarily by the Annenberg Foundation.

Snopes.com - Tells the truth about urban legends, including those circulating by email about presidential candidates.

Support independent media.

One attempt to have an independent media is DailySource.org. They do this in three ways: (1) They are a non-profit, (2) they provide balance by drawing stories from all over the Internet and (3) they focus on substance, not sensationalism and celebrity stories. The one limitation appears to be that they rely on stories written by others - and those other sources devote declining resources to researching the issues.

Another would be to provide an Associated Press type service to the for profit media, giving them content that is not only balanced and informative, but entertaining. To be entertaining without using sensationalism, celebrities, sex or crime requires hard work and time. Envision a public or non-profit funded organization that narrowly focuses on the most important issues of the day and spends the time to create well-researched and entertaining videos and print for free or an AP type price to for-profit media (which already has the eyeballs that need to be reached).

What is not a solution.

Fairness Doctrine. This doctrine was enacted in 1949, but ruled unconstitutional in 1984 (in effect, it can lead to censorship). It required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. There have been recent misguided efforts to revive it to shut up the likes of Rush Limbaugh. This is sometimes confused with the Equal Time Rule. This is a rule that has been in effect for some time. Simply put, a station which sells or gives one minute to Candidate A must sell or give the same amount of time with the same audience potential to all other candidates for the particular office.

 

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