Saturday, September 10, 2005

Blogs aren't enough 

John at Powerline is writing about the latest AP/Ipsos poll numbers, which show President Bush getting hammered on just about every issue, from the response to Katrina, through Iraq and war on terror, to the economy. However problematic its methodology, the poll is hardly an anomaly, perhaps exaggerating, but not inventing the trends.

Contrary to the media coverage, American economy is doing quite well at the moment. The war on terror is also going well. In both cases though, the coverage has been quite sporadic, making one wonder just exactly on what information - or perhaps the lack of information - is the public basing its opinions on. Iraq and Katrina, on the other hand, present an information overload. Sadly though, because of the strong institutional (and no doubt to some extent political) bias for the negative, as well as a chronic inability or unwillingness by the media to provide the news consumers with a broader context against which to judge the war efforts in Iraq and the aid efforts in New Orleans, people are getting a skewed and unbalanced picture of the situation on the ground. Little wonder so many are so negative.

(Not to get the news consumers totally off the hook here. Despite the life-long media conditioning, most people should have enough life experience and common sense to be able to keep things in perspective and not get too caught up in perpetual crisis mentality.)

Blogs have been doing a fantastic job in trying to fill in the information gaps and correct the bias, both on the Tigris and on the Mississippi, but blogs can only go so far. Let's be honest about it - not many people read blogs. We are talking about the daily readerships in thousands, or tens of thousands; even less when you count unique visitors. Even adding up the cumulative numbers for the whole of the blogosphere the results would be less then they appear, since there are so many people out there who visit a large number of sites every day.

There is little doubt that for all the talk about the new media, the old one still rules the roost. Newspaper circulations and TV ratings might be falling, but tens of millions of people still get their information from the larger dailies and a half a dozen major channels, often supplemented by their local print and electronic media.

This will perhaps change in the future, but not anytime soon. In the meantime, we are facing the well entrenched adversarial media who will fail to put a dent only in those meta-stories that are too inherently positive to be spun away in short-term, such as the immediate response after September 11, or the liberation of Iraq in early 2003. Anything else - events that are less clear-cut and more ambiguous, or processes that can be slowly chipped away at - never mind the actual stumbles that can be infinitely magnified - will be used against you in the court of the public opinion, ruthlessly and consistently.

What's the solution? If I had all the good answers I would probably be a rich man - or certainly a lot wiser one.

As we are working from a position of a major advantage, our side of politics needs to work twice as hard at putting forward our message. Powerline's John thinks that on this account, at least, the Bush Administration has failed:
The "turn the other cheek" approach that the administration has followed for years--don't respond to attacks, no matter how unfair, just try to ride out the news cycle and move on--has resulted in one needless wound after another, and cumulatively they have now damaged President Bush's standing with the public, likely beyond repair.
The media, just like Mother Nature, shows that dripping water will over time erode a mountain. But two can play that game, even if one side starts with a major handicap and has to suffer perpetual frustration in doing so.

Secondly, Fox is not enough. We need a bigger media presence on TV, and even more so in print. That, again, will not be easy. The money, I believe could be found, but the bigger problem is the overwhelmingly left-liberal political culture of journalism. This is a pretty sad state of affairs, because we are not looking for propaganda mouthpieces, but simply enough forums that will give equal time and consideration to both sides of the story.


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