I recently had lunch with a friend and eventually our conversation turned to the national political chaos we all are enduring. The friend casually noted how House of Cards, a political drama starring Kevin Spacey, is becoming too close to reality. If you’ve never seen the show, I highly recommend it as it delves into the behind-the-scenes debauchery that has come to define our political class. Shows like House, and it comical counterpart Veep, shine a light on a harsh reality — that the average American voter has no true voice in the political direction of the country.
For some, that realization leads to anger or despair, for others it strengthens their resolve to chip away at the injustice.
Regardless how one responds, though, one thing is certain, with our ever-shifting reality, truth is under attack.
Inside The Mind Of The Twitter-In-Chief
As is the case with all of us, a level of predictability exists, even in the apparent chaos. Many on Twitter have taken the time to dissect what T-Money obsesses over (hint: it’s not governing), while other find very humorous ways to mock the insanity (often getting blocked by the thin-skinned reality TV president), but one professor took the time to boil down the Tweets into their four basic categories — and once you see the system 45* uses the Tweets are easier to understand in a broader context.
It’s also easy to see that Trump’s fan base loves his attacks on the press.
In Defense Of Local News
One of the reason a Trump can rise up from the under current of American society is because people are consuming more tainted, and less local, news. As stated numerous times, Trump won the Electoral College vote by winning at the county level. Many of the counties are small enough that local, in-depth news coverage often wanes. In my county, the size and depth of the news coverage from the 1970s is much different than today. This is not a reflection on the individuals doing the work — it’s an indication of organizations downsizing to the point that the handful of reporters remaining cannot begin to cover news at the depth required.
There are simply not enough hours.
Take, for example, this small stat from my county. In 2006, the Eaton City Police handled 28 trespassing cases. A decade later, despite (or maybe because of) the city’s stagnant population growth, the EPD handled 109 trespassing cases. This is up sharply from 2014 (30) and 2015 (50). The stat can be interpreted numerous ways. For example, a few interpretations could be:
- The EPD is taking a more aggressive approach to policing the crime
- Businesses are requesting more people to be trespassed off their property (for example, Walmart)
- More citizens are trespassing
One could also ask — is it 109 different people or are some people multiple offenders. Are certain locations prone to trespassing?
Or take another stat, the number of manufactured homes being introduced into the county (10 were recently delivered in the southern part of Preble County). How does that reflect the county’s income level? Are these homes having an impact on overall property values since the county is currently averaging about 20-30 new home constructions annually.
Or, how about the question posed last fall by a local farmer. Why is his property tax bill escalating — and is it — or is he mistaken?
Each of these stats create a perception and without strong reporting the story behind the numbers is left to hearsay.
But all of these ‘small’ news stories require manpower and, in some cases, database building skills, to flesh them out. This costs money, money that smaller news organizations cannot, or will not, spend.
Montgomery County — Epicenter Of Opioid Crisis?
But local news can deliver in-depth, accurate and important information for citizens. An example of the value of local media can be seen in a recent article by the Dayton Daily News.
The national media reported that Montgomery County was the worst county in the country for heroin-related overdose deaths. When I first heard the national story it did not seem accurate (no, I don’t consider it fake or fraudulent) because I had recently attended a seminar conducted by two retired Columbus, Ohio police officers. The officers had spent decades investigating drug-related crimes. In their presentation they referenced a map of the U.S. which demonstrated the heroin crisis began in the area that some historians refer to as the Greater Appalachian region (Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia). And, the map showed (I’m relying on memory, so these are estimates) that Ohio had about 30 heroin-related deaths per 100,000 compared to 45 per 100,000 in West Virginia.
So as the national media ‘swooped in’ and told the Montgomery County story from a surface level, the local paper put considerable effort, time and manpower into digging out the local stats which suggest they may not be the worst (although still very high up on the list).
The paper also took the time to explain the difficulty in getting up-to-the minutes numbers on heroin or opioid deaths (something the Columbus officers also said in their presentation — they used Center for Disease Control stats which were a couple years old) which further demonstrated that the national news story may have rushed in its judgement of the county’s rank.
So, at the end of the day, readers of local news were given a thorough and in-depth understanding of the Dayton-area heroin problem.
The Media Is Not The Enemy
When the 2016 election was in battle mode last fall, the GOP leadership in my county posted (on Facebook) an image of a sign saying MSM (Mainstream Media) was the problem. InfoWars.com bumper stickers can also be seen here — highlighting the information source for some locals.
When I see the attack on the media, I do wonder if former president Ronald Reagan had any clue what he unleashed when he vetoed the Fairness Doctrine. That veto ushered in the era of cable news, talk radio, alternative and fringe news organizations. Maybe Reagan thought Americans were smart enough to figure out the truth.
On some things that may be true, but, as the saying goes, politics is war by other means.
American politics is convoluted and intentionally complicated. It has been reduced to tag lines, sound bites, 140-character rants and tainted advertising sponsored by Super PACs. Without a strong press to dive into the myriad of documents, to attend countless meetings, and reporters to educate themselves on the various issues of the day, Americans must rely on talking heads or worse — social media.
In my county, if a citizen were inclined to, for example, understand what their commissioners did, they would need to know where to get an audio of the meeting (Commissioner’s Office/$1.75). Then they would need to wade through three to five hours of weekly conversation while, at the same time, educating themselves on the various programs, procedures and protocol of local government.
Americans I know, though, would rather watch paint dry (or a sporting event) instead of becoming knowledgeable enough to understand the political process to that level.
Which is why we need a strong, devoted and unencumbered media.
These men and women actually enjoy readings the documents and attending the meetings. No, they are not perfect, but having worked in the industry, by and large, most journalists are very dedicated and honest. (They could not be dishonest if they wanted to be — because the industry and/or their sources would weed them out.)
Without a strong media — especially one that includes strong local coverage — politics gets dumbed down to a spectator sports mentality where voters are rooting for their team, oblivious to the rules of the political game.
In the noise of Twitter and social media, far too many Americans vote on how they identify with a candidate, without understanding the candidate’s policy position (except maybe a handful of hot button issues like abortion). Too many vote like the Preble County man I quoted in the headline. He said,
“Truth is I think Trump sold us out,” adding “I voted for him because I liked him better than Hillary.”
But, as the local man is learning, likeability and $1.50 will buy a nice cold drink — just not a political voice.