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News Media Share Blame for Voters' Ignorance

A couple of interesting items on today show how hopelessly ill-informed the electorate is.

One is a Gallup Poll that says 37 percent of Americans believe Congress has accomplished less this year than in previous years, while 23 percent believe it has accomplished more.  The poll notes that, in fact,   "the current Democratically controlled Congress has passed a series of high-profile legislative bills, including the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and others."

The second is a Bloomberg national poll that finds by 2-1, likely voters Tuesday believe "taxes have gone up, the economy has shrunk, and the billions lent to banks as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program won't be recovered. "

The truth, notes. "The Obama administration cut taxes for middle-class Americans, has overseen an economy that has grown for the past four quarters and expects to make a profit on the hundreds of billions of dollars spent to rescue Wall Street banks."

In the Bloomberg article, its pollster blames the electorate's ignorance on Democrats.

“The public view of the economy is at odds with the facts, and the blame has to go to the Democrats,” said J. Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co., a Des Moines, Iowa-based firm that conducted the nationwide survey. “It does not matter much if you make change, if you do not communicate change.”

I beg to differ. I believe much of the blame lies with traditional news outlets, which have consistently split the difference between party perspectives as the Republican propaganda machine pummeled any and all Democratic accomplishments.  In my mind this is neither balanced journalism nor good journalism. The media's job is to place the news -- including political attacks -- in context. Overall, I don't believe the media has done much to point out the sustained attack politics of Republicans or the way in which they skew the verifiable facts contained as provisions of some of these laws.  Nor are other news outlets willing to take on Fox News, which, at a national political level, is little more than a propaganda outlet for the Republican Party.

Yes, Democrats deserve part of the blame. They need to communicate better. But if the president devoted all his time to traveling around the country, a lot less would get done. As for the news media, they should spend a whole lot less time predicting the outcome of elections and a whole lot more looking at the substance of what's behind the elections.

Jerry Lanson

Jerry Lanson is an associate professor of journalism at Emerson College in Boston.  His third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves: Telling Stories in an Age of Blogging" will be published by Rowman & Littlefield this fall. His blog can be found at

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