Voter ignorance makes the media cover elections as entertainment

By Michael P. Riccards

We have spent a small fortune on examining whether the Russian government in 2016 has tried to influence the presidential election. Of course they did, and the U.S. government has tried to influence abroad since World War II. The real question is:

Are you and I intelligent enough to weigh the issues that are important to the nation as a whole? 

Frankly, a poll conducted by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation indicates we don’t even have a sixth grade knowledge of our government. Who are our elected officials? What is the current immigration policy? Who benefits from the tax cut? Can we offer Medicare for all, or as Senator Warren wants, child care for all?

We don’t even have a basic understanding of our federal government. How many years are senators elected for? How many senators does each state have? By the way, how many states are there now? These are basic questions; I am not asking you to define national emergency.

Because of our ignorance, the media deals with elections as contests of entertainment. How do the candidates on television appear? Are they masters of sound bites or can they intelligently talk about NATO or disarmament? You and I don’t have to be experts on weaponry, but we must elect people who can surround themselves with such experts.

We like to criticize the advocacy nature of modern media, but this goes back to the severe attacks on George Washington. It is not just that the old gazettes have been replaced by Fox, CSPAN, or MSNBC. It is that the citizen is overwhelmed by 24/7 coverage that does not process facts.

If the Woodrow Wilson study is correct (and its sample is large), the dangers to this nation are not Putin or a parade of clueless blond commentators, but you and I. We just don’t want to spend enough time on public affairs. The decline of newspapers is a real blow to our understanding of local news.  The ignorance in the schoolhouse is reflected by ignorance at the dinner table.

It may be trite but true. Jefferson indicated that a people cannot be both ignorant and free. We have come to celebrate our ignorance, and the media is of course a money-making machine, and it cares little about the issues that should drive a free republic.

To start off, members of this website should identify four issues and then spend a half hour a day watching a TV show whose political opinions are very different from their own.  Forget about Wheel of Fortune.

Michael P. Riccards is president of the American Public Policy Institute and the author of 30 books including his two-volume history of the presidency, The Ferocious Engine of Democracy, and the forthcoming “Woodrow Wilson as Commander-in-Chief.”

One comment

  1. The article was good until the conclusion. A big part of our political ignorance is that the media just gives us opinions and not facts. If one spends 30 minutes listening to Fox, MSNBC, or CNN then they are just wasting 30 minutes of their lives.

    Like

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