Thursday, May 24, 2012

Breaking up is hard to do

I have been a Fox News viewer for years. You can ask my son, who had become somewhat annoyed at my tendency to watch nothing but Fox News for hours on end, I would have been considered quite the Fox News junkie.  I even had the opportunity this past year to participate as a Nielsen ratings viewer, and after filling out my TV diaries was a bit surprised to see that about 80% of my TV viewing included Fox News programming. No doubt that my diaries helped contribute to Fox News' huge ratings. But, all that changed, in a big way, during this 2012 election process. I no longer watch Fox News, but instead rely on my own independent research and analysis to gather my daily news from dozens of different news sources. It has been quite the journey, and it isn't over. But, I must say, I've learned quite a bit about what drives news organizations and news coverage.  Breaking the habit of daily Fox News viewing wasn't particularly easy. Here are some things I've learned about news during this break-up with Fox News.

Every news agency has an agenda.  If you are watching any news programming on television or reading a newspaper, odds are great that your thinking is being directed by those who are writing the news stories. I used to think that bias in news reporting was the sole property of news organizations like CBS and MSNBC and of newspapers like the New York Times, but really, every news outlet has a point of view. In the past, the agendas of particular news writers were held in check by standards of journalism that required those reporting the news to have verifiable sources for their news reports, and it was standard practice to present both sides of an argument on any controversial issue. In the past, on news programs designed specifically to debate the issues (like the McLaughlin Group), you would see an evenly split panel of pundits on the left and the right arguing their positions. These journalistic practices have died out over the past decade with the rise of Fox News and the movement to the far left by cable networks like MSNBC. It is no longer a given that the news you are receiving represents both sides of an argument. It is now your job to figure out what is really news and what is opinion. The lines have definitely blurred.

You have to read news stories from a variety of sources to find out what is really going on.  It has been quite eye-opening to read the news coverage during the 2012 election. I have a long, long list of sites I visit daily to see what is being written/said about the days events, and the differences in the news from one to the next can be stark. I have also learned to appreciate that you really need to hear the opinions on both sides of a news story, because just hearing one side doesn't give you a full picture. Even if I don't agree with the agendas of liberal news organizations, I must say that I would be a lot less informed if I never read their news. 

Conservative news isn't always reported by conservative news outlets. There are lots of news stories that would be of interest to a conservative audience that are not covered. One example that comes to mind are the tea-party rallies of 2012. If you recall, there was a surplus of news reporting done on the tax-day tea-party rallies in 2010, but it is likely you heard little (if any) coverage of these rallies in 2012.  Perhaps this was because the novelty had worn off?  Or, perhaps the numbers participating the rallies had diminished? From my own independent news gathering of these events, I am not convinced either of those is to blame. Participation in tea-party rallies was quite high in some cities, and this will be the first presidential election where the tea-party has been a driving force, so that, of course, should be newsworthy. A more likely reason for the lack of coverage? ..the tax-day tea-party rallies did not serve to advance the agenda of those writing the news this year. Fox News' Sean Hannity was scheduled to speak at a Tea-Party rally in Cincinnati earlier this year, but was pulled by his boss, Rupert Murdoch.  Apparently Fox News no longer supports the aims of the Tea party.

C-SPAN is probably the best source for unbiased news coverage. If you want to hear political speech directly from the mouths of the politicians, you will get much more of it on C-SPAN. Coverage of political events on TV news channels is diminished to small sound-bites that really don't fairly represent what is being said. C-SPAN offers live coverage of campaign events where you can hear full-length speeches of candidates and town-hall events. Tuning into C-SPAN instead of network news during this presidential election has been really educational. It may not be as flashy or entertaining, but if you are seeking information, there really isn't a better alternative. Another site where you can find every campaign speech and ad for the presidential candidates is ElectAd - full length speeches and a peek at the commercials that you may not get to see in your local market.

Twitter is one of the fastest ways to hear about breaking news. If you want to know what is happening at this very moment, the best way to find out is to follow all the various new organizations on Twitter. The story of Whitney Houston's death broke on Twitter a full 27 minutes before it was broadcast on the cable news networks. News for other national and world events regularly is tweeted before it appears on the news. But, with the fast paced release of news on Twitter comes the inevitable false alarms.. reports that Joe Paterno had died came 12 hours prematurely on Twitter. Similarly, there were reports the Gabriel Giffords had been killed in the Arizona shooting incident. So, faster is not always better when it comes to news; it is a good practice is to seek out original news sources before believing any breaking news story on Twitter.

I have had to do a bit of re-arranging of my daily routine since I quit watching Fox News. I do tune in occasionally just to see what they are reporting these days, but today I haven't even turned on my television. I can go weeks without watching any television news at all and often rely solely on online news sources. I have noticed the coverage of the presidential race on CNN this year has been much better than I would have expected. I hear much less open critique of candidates and far more coverage of actual events and data. For election night returns coverage, I think the team at CNN has done a stellar job. I've never been a fan of CNN, so I was a bit surprised to discover I actually preferred their coverage of election news. There are times I miss the days when I actually enjoyed watching Fox News around the clock, but I think I am far better off and more informed now that I've pulled the plug. This election is a big one, and I think any responsible citizen owes it to themselves and this country to find out all they can about the candidates in the 2012 race. To do that, we can no longer rely on television news to learn what is necessary. We must seek out the news in new and different ways.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Battle for the Soul of the GOP

The fight for the GOP nomination appears to be winding down as journalists in the mainstream media turn their attention to the battle between presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama. Even though Romney has amassed only 727 bound delegates (short of the 1144 needed to seal the nomination), he has moved on to the next phase in his campaign; which, if history is any predictor, will be a shifting of strategy and position to appeal to moderate voters in the general election. Much was made of the Etch-a-Sketch slip by Romney campaign spokesperson Eric Fehrnstrom. I guess the theory that Mitt Romney is a shape-shifter may now be put to the test.

Meanwhile, a large number of passionate backers of Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum are hard at work attempting to stop the nomination of Mitt Romney. In spite of  the withdrawal from the race by Santorum and then Gingrich, and in spite of loud calls from those within the Romney camp and the Republican Party leadership to get behind the presumptive nominee, these grassroots activists are not slowing down; In fact, they may actually be showing increased intensity and determination as they battle to deny Romney the nomination, which comes down to a mere 417 remaining delegates.

What drives these people?  Why keep fighting? What is at stake that fuels their drive to deny Romney? I think the answer is simple: A future with a Barack Obama or Mitt Romney presidency does not bode well for their survival as a viable voice in American politics or in American government. This race for the GOP nomination boils down to a conflict in vision by those in the GOP party leadership and the grassroots activists that breathe life into GOP politics. What is this difference?

GOP Party Leadership Vision
  • Recruit, nominate and elect moderate candidates who appeal to independents in the general election
  • Tap down the influence of tea-party activists who disrupt the nomination process
  • Keep conservatives in the fold by promising whatever is necessary and delivering as little as possible with respect to socially conservative GOP platform planks.
Grassroots GOP Activists' Vision
  • Recruit, nominate and elect conservative candidates who will challenge the status-quo; reduce the size and scope of government, and cut spending
  • Increase the voice of grassroots activists (including the tea-party) within the GOP at all levels of government
  • Galvanize the conservative base to battle against the GOP establishment, restore respect for the culturally conservative GOP platform planks, and demand that GOP nominees enthusiastically embrace conservative positions.

What the GOP establishment failed to realize is that their dirty little secret has been uncovered by many conservative activists. Grassroots conservatives in the GOP have begun to realize that the conservative GOP party platform was just a clever ruse and was never intended to be a guiding principle or a framework for governing. The GOP platform, drafted primarily during Reagan's ascendancy, was merely a tactic by GOP leadership to draw in large numbers of conservative voters for the GOP. There were some candidates, of course, who adopted and faithfully followed the planks in the GOP platform during the past few decades, but a larger number of GOP candidates have essentially ignored the GOP planks that didn't suit them, particularly those dealing with life, guns and marriage. 

How does this bear on the 2012 race? What this means is that many in the conservative base have suddenly come to the realization that the party they have called home since Ronald Reagan was president, never really wanted them at all. Conservatives have simply been used as a tool by those in GOP leadership to get the numbers of votes necessary to defeat Democrats; there never was an interest or actual pursuit by those in GOP party leadership (except for Gingrich in the '94 GOP revolution) to reduce the size/scope of government or to pass legislation to deal with culturally conservative issues. These grassroots activists are leaving the GOP in large numbers and finding new homes in smaller parties including the American Conservative Party, the Constitutional Party, and the Libertarian Party. Some of these grassroots conservatives have decided to hold their nose and vote for Mitt Romney if he eventually seals the GOP nomination, but others have decided they'd rather take their chances with another four years of Barack Obama, or they will pin their hopes on a 3rd party contender (like Gary Johnson, Libertarian). This explains why many GOP grassroots activists haven't backed down in the fight to stop Mitt Romney; because, at this point, they feel they have little to lose. They feel that neither Democrats nor Republicans have a real  interest in the core conservative principles they steadfastly support; that both major parties are defenders of the status-quo, both are guilty of massive over-spending, and both have failed to make any meaningful attempt to address the cultural ills that plague us related to abortion and marriage.

The next few primaries could prove interesting. What will be the reaction if votes continue to come in for Santorum, Gingrich, and Paul in the remaining primaries?  Will the mainstream media ignore the uprising? Will the GOP leadership pretend these people don't exist? Will the grassroots conservatives rally the base enough to hold back Mitt Romney from the elusive 1144 delegates? ..and, if they succeed, what will the convention in Tampa look like?

This election could be the most predictable, boring cycle to date..  or it could be the most dramatic, consequential election in my lifetime. I am looking forward to seeing how the conservative base responds in the next few weeks. Stay tuned as the battle for the soul of the GOP continues...