“Sound-Bite” Politics And Death Of Journalism

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All of these manufactured distractions, intentional distortions, conveniently omitted facts and for what reason? Americans should expect and demand more from their reporters, commentators and journalists. Sound bite politics are now being used by reporters, commentators, and journalists to further their own agendas, careers and the agendas of their corporate bosses at the expense of conveying real information and substantive analysis.

[Elections 2008: The Media Insanity]


This 2008 presidential election process is one of the most historic in American history.

For the first time in the history of this country a major political party is poised to nominate for president either an African American man or a woman. Senator Barack Obama’s lead in the primary race with wins in Colorado, Utah, Iowa and other states are a clear indication that American’s are making progress in being able to see beyond race and focus on real issues.

The fact that Senator Hillary Clinton is close to Senator Obama in delegates is an indication that American’s are also looking past sexism and focusing on real issues.

However, there are deep issues with this process and the manner in which mainstream media outlets are using distortions to distract the American electorate. These distractions are causing real problems for Senator Obama. Television networks ABC, NBC, CNN, and others, as well as newspaper sources such as the Washington Post and New York Times are deliberately distracting Americans with sound-bites and shallow analysis.

When you compare Michelle Obama’s comments regarding her pride in America, Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright’s sermons, Senator Obama’s “bitter” comment regarding economically oppressed individuals and their focus on religion and guns, and his not wearing a lapel pin, with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, home foreclosures, job loss, and affordable health care you have to ask what’s really important in this election?

The use of sound bites in and of themselves is not a problem. They are effective tools that have been used for years by the media as well as candidates to convey messages and slogans in a short concise manner.

Over time, sound bits have become shorter and shorter. In the late 1960’s the average campaign sound bite lasted approximately forty-two seconds. Since 1988, that number has been reduced to less than ten seconds. It is difficult, if not impossible, to convey complex concepts in an eight second sound bite.

Sound bites that are not properly framed within the context that they are made can become very dangerous and inflammatory. When these unframed statements are compounded by shallow analysis, the electorate’s perceptions can be irreversibly impacted. Nobody understands this better than campaign strategists and media specialists. This is what has been done and continues to be done to Senator Obama.

On February 18, 2008 Michelle Obama said, “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country … not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change … I have been desperate to see our country moving in that direction and just not feeling so alone in my frustration and disappointment.”

From this statement Michelle Obama found herself having to answer questions about her patriotism and if she meant to say that was the first time she’d been proud of her country. Even Senator McCain’s wife Cindy McCain jumped in the fray by saying, “I am proud of my country … I don’t know if you heard those words earlier … but I am very proud of my country.”

First of all, she said “really proud,” not “proud” or “finally proud.” She did not state that she had never been proud before. Her pride has been enhanced by the events she is experiencing. Secondly, Michelle Obama was born in 1964 and became an adult in 1982, the beginning of the Reagan Revolution.

During her adult lifetime she has witnessed what so many African Americans witnessed during that era, the intentional reversal of many of the gains that had been made during the Civil Rights era. As an African American man, it was so clear to me what this African American woman was expressing.

However, the media has mostly ignored the perceptions of many African Americans during that era, choosing instead to rewrite history by glorifying the Reagan era. Mainstream media just did not get it, or chose to ignore the experience and realities of many African Americans.

Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright’s comments have been written about ad nauseam. Very little analysis of his statements has been allowed. Most of the coverage and dialogue has involved individuals of like mind. Even those who have tried to provide some clarity or perspective have been reluctant to defend the validity of Rev. Dr. Wright’s comments and his right to say them.

As Rev. Dr. Wright appeared on Bill Moyer’s program and spoke at the National Press Club, he was criticized. People asked; why doesn’t he just go away? They spoke about his ego and self-serving nature.

It is important to remember that Rev. Dr. Wright did not seek the spotlight. He did not go to CNN or ABC and say, “I’m Senator Obama’s pastor, please pay attention to me.” His sermons were hijacked, his perspective compromised, and his good name and good works ignored. This was done for one reason and one reason only; to inject race front-and-center into Senator Obama’s deracialized campaign.

In order to accomplish this, the media has presented to America the image of an angry and radical Black man in the form of Rev. Wright and has tied Senator Obama to that image. It is fear by association.

Sound bite politics were used during the Pennsylvania democratic primary to distract voters from the real issues. On April 12, 2008 during a fundraiser in San Francisco, Senator Obama said the following: “You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not… And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

Senator Clinton and Senator McCain with the help of a lot of pundits and commentators have made this out to be a ridiculous statement by an “elitist” politician.

All of those who have criticized Senator Obama for this statement have ignored the fact that it is true. Thomas Frank’s great book, What’s The Matter With Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Hearts of America,” chronicles how hard-time conservative politics has been used to convince many voters in one of the most economically depressed parts of American, to vote against their interests.

This has been achieved by creating a political climate based on wedge issues of gays, guns, and God; I would also add xenophobia or the fear of others as the illegal immigration issue has been used.

Finally, the flag pin issue. Senator Obama has been under attack for not wearing an American Flag pin in his lapel.

As I watched Senator Obama’s interview with Chris Wallace and this issue came up, I noticed that Wallace was not wearing one either. Has this one pin become the standard of measure for one’s patriotism?

President Bush 43 wears a flag pin in his lapel. Yet, his attacks on American’s civil liberties and civil rights, coupled with his ability to ignore the Constitution when it becomes a frivolous obstacle to his objectives, makes me question his patriotism.

All of these manufactured distractions, intentional distortions, conveniently omitted facts and for what reason? Americans should expect and demand more from their reporters, commentators and journalists. Sound bite politics are now being used by reporters, commentators, and journalists to further their own agendas, careers and the agendas of their corporate bosses at the expense of conveying real information and substantive analysis.

Information is power. It is what you do with information that makes you powerful.

Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III is the Producer/ Host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program “On With Leon” on XM Satellite Radio Channel 169, and a Teaching Associate in the Department of Political Science at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Go to

www.wilmerleon.com or email: wjl3us@yahoo.com.

© 2008 InfoWave Communications, LLC.



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