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Jewish World Review July 13, 2000 /10 Tamuz, 5760

Thomas Sowell

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The media and the issues -- ABOUT a hundred and fifty years ago, during the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Abraham Lincoln said something that today's media people need to ponder: "I charge you to drop every paltry and insignificant thought for any man's success. It is nothing; I am nothing; Judge Douglas is nothing."

In other words, the fate of particular politicians is not the issue. Yet many in the media see virtually every issue in terms of how it affects this candidate's chances or that candidate's "base" or the success or failure of one political party or the other at the polls.

What about how it affects the people of the United States of America and their posterity? Issue after issue is discussed in the media with little or no regard for that.

The issue about Social Security is not whether it is the "third rail" that political candidates don't want to touch. The question is: What are its problems and what can be done to deal with those problems? Are media people too ignorant or too apathetic to discuss that?

Gun control is not about the National Rifle Association or the Million Moms March. It is about whether more Americans will die if we follow one policy rather than another.

Have the media pundits bothered to become familiar with the factual data available on this subject -- much of which contradicts political hysteria and propaganda -- or is this just another contest where their focus is on the "paltry and insignificant" question of who wins and who loses politically?

Education goes to the heart of our country's future. Yet how many media people have even the most elementary knowledge of the facts and the factors that have left our schools in such a mess and our students doing worse on international tests than students in countries that literally do not spend half as much per student as we do?

Instead, the pundits talk about how the polls show whether the public trusts the Democrats or the Republicans on this issue. To the media, education itself seems to be important only as a political football. Meanwhile, massive special-interest propaganda by the National Educational Association and others goes largely unexamined by the media. Despite the media mantra about "the public's right to know," that seems to mean only the public's right to know about the way Beltway politicians will be affected by the issues of the day.

Perhaps it is just as well that the media have not gotten into substance very much. Where they have, it has usually been on the most superficial level and with incredible bias.

On the issue of abortion that has kept the country in turmoil for more than a quarter of a century, much of the mainstream media seems determined that the public will never learn what a "partial-birth abortion" is. The issue should not be whether media pundits are for or against it, but whether "the public's right to know" means that they should be informed about what a partial birth abortion is, so that citizens can make up their own minds about it.

You can listen to thousands of hours of news and public affairs programs on ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN without getting the slightest clue as to what specifically is a "partial birth abortion." On CNN, you may never hear the very words, since the politically correct thing to say is "late-term abortion," which shifts attention completely away from what is done to when it is done. Do we need media spin to add to politicians' spin?

Fox News Network has adopted the slogan, "We report, you decide." It is a sign of our times that such a policy sets one network apart from the rest.

Nowhere have the media pundits been more shallow and biased than on issues of income and wealth differences. You can hear "the rich" and "the poor" talked about incessantly without the slightest specific knowledge of how much money it takes to be called "rich" -- as in "tax cuts for the rich."

Nor will you hear whether most of those who are called "the rich" and "the poor" are different classes of people or just the the very same people making very different amounts of money at different stages of their lives.

The amount of money it takes to be called "rich" by liberals will never enable you to buy a mansion or a yacht, and it may not even enable you to send your child to an Ivy League college. But that is mere substance. What captures media interest are precisely those things that Lincoln called "paltry and insignificant."

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author, most recently, of The Quest for Cosmic Justice.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate