Media is defined, according to the American Heritage Dictionary as "an intervening substance through which something is transmitted or carried on." It seems that this definition leaves out the "spin factor," in the case of political argument and campaign journalism. A more succinct definition is an intervening substance through which something is transformed to meet the current needs of the disseminator. According to Crouse's book, The Boys on the Bus, information gathered by the media is more product than reality.
This is a scary thought. If the facts upon which one bases one's decisions are hollow and unsubstantiated then the burden of discovery becomes one's own. Most people do not have the time or the resources to research the veracity of information they read or hear. If one cannot trust the media then they must seek out primary sources for their information. Crouse, when referring to the Agnew campaign, quotes one reporter, writing, "I don't think that we put in nearly as much thought to covering a campaign as they put in to how we're going to cover a campaign "(Crouse 300). So much for primary sources.
Let us address the argument that information gathered by the media is more product than reality. An original story, one that the writer perceives from the events and recorded as fact, would likely contain the same bits of information as any other account of the event - depending, of course, upon the writer's vantage point. But if the writers are "trapped on the same bus or plane" and "compared notes with the same bunch of colleagues week after week then their story, true or embellished, would be the same (Crouse 7). They synthesize the facts into an acceptable format and dispense them like aspirin. "The larger the audience, the more inoffensive and inconclusive the article must be" (Crouse 20). They check their impressions as they check facts. The media is culling, refining and polishing in accordance to the wishes of the campaign manager. Without him, they might not make it onto the right bus. If "a campaign reporter's career is linked to the fortunes of his candidate" (Crouse 59), what reporter will take the chance of revealing a harsh fact about his candidate? Not only will he harm his candidate's chances, but his own advancement as well.
As media sources evolve the herd mentality of the 1960's is falling to the television media event of the 1970's and the news personality of the 1980's. Now the networks would have to create news when there was none. NBC was accused by CBS of "editorializing' by making the demonstration look more exciting than it actually was "(Crouse 180).
Crouse contrasts this with the cable reporters who actually produced documentaries that "reflected no particular ideology" (Crouse 180). These reporters were not on the bus. They did not receive the script and, as a result, actually recorded history. CNN had not yet taken control of the media with their on the spot sensationalism, and the networks found identical news from the AP reporters as most relevant. Apparently "the networks were gradually trying to develop less obtrusive equipment so that their news teams would not change the nature of the events they were covering" (Crouse 184) in an effort to relay less event and more truth. This new approach could mean more in-depth reporting, but the White House put a halt to that. According to Crouse, a call came in to CBS from Charles Colson, special council to President Nixon, which resulted in the story being edited. "In the wake of the cutting of the Watergate report, many of the younger people at CBS worried that the news department was abandoning its new approach "(187).The spin factor becomes strong during the Nixon years as journalists are kept at bay by limited access to the President. "Every President from Washington on came to recognize the press as a natural enemy and eventually tried to manipulate it and muzzle it" (Crouse 191). Is it the intention of the media to report the facts of a story, or get a story in without errors, even if that means omitting pertinent facts? Further, has the media lost cite of its purpose in view of the calculating manipulation of the story for the story's sake?
In his book, Poison Politics, Victor Kamber writes, "Too many political campaigns are endless barrages of bizarre accusations, silly name-calling, ridiculous charges, even more ridiculous countercharges, scandal, sleaze, smears and outright lies" (Kamber 1).
The voters have no place to turn. The current media focuses on every detail, every fact, whether pertinent or not. What politician "faced with questions about his personal life, battered by speculation about his physical condition, exposed as the manipulative and often tyrannical politician" (Kamber 1) would risk running for political office?
It seems that the evolution of journalism and media tactics has taken us deeper into a pit of senseless accusation. Do we learn anything when we witness a debate between nine Democratic candidates? Yes, we do. We see what they look like, how they appear on television, and how smooth their image is. If it fits our image of a President, we make our decision. What part did John Kennedy's charisma play in his election? He was better looking than Richard Nixon was. The press adored him and his beautiful young wife. They never wrote about their pal in a harmful way. His currently revealed womanizing never hit the front page. "If there was eve a gung-ho Winner's Bus, it was Kennedy's in 1960" (Crouse 194). Just eight years later Crouse writes, "Nixon crawled out of his manhole and dusted himself off" (194). It appears that even Crouse is not beyond spin. Can Joseph Lieberman ever win against these odds?
Crouse quotes Hunter Thompson during the McGovern campaign as saying, "Jesus! Where will it all end? How low do you have to stoop in this country to be President?" (336). This is the question and the danger of political argument as it stands today. The media spins headlong into history, revealing facts that have no relevance and repeating empty promises about the future. Our candidates aspire to white bread, never saying anything politically incorrect so as not to alienate a potential voter. Kamber writes," In a democracy, politics is a dialogue. The way we talk to each other determines the way in which we are governed" (2). According to Crouse, "the other reporters envied Thompson's freedom, they also resented him for not having to play by the rules" (336).
That is the crux of the issue. Kamber writes, "Television can be a positive or a negative force, depending on how it is used. Unfortunately, the great promise of television remains unfulfilled, and what could be a powerful engine for democratic deliberation has become increasingly trivial and sleazy" (5). The rules create the spin and the message is lost in the translation - if there ever was a message.
How then, do we fix the problem? When Stout prepared his overview of the McGovern campaign Crouse writes, "It struck him that "really, there wasn't very much there"(379). When he then wrote a piece that wreaked of the truth, " everyone assumed that he was simply exercising his bizarre sense of humor" (Crouse 380). Others wrote equally touching accounts that would never hit the news because they were deemed "fairy tales" (Crouse 385). Kamber writes, "If we can't discuss issues of substance we can't resolve the problems facing us. If we can't use rhetoric to unite and inspire us, we will remain divided and dispirited" (p2).
The answer has to be with the media and its journalists. "The political market, if not guided by higher principles, will cause irreparable harm. If campaigns are ruled by no other standards…