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How the Media Promotes Ignorance and Stifles Debate

Friday night, my eyes were glued to to the news, as I awaited any and all emerging details about the possible government shutdown. As outlets began reporting that republicans and democrats had finally reached a deal, I immediately felt a sense of relief.  Thank goodness, I thought, so much unnecessary suffering averted.  But the relief didn’t last long, because in the pit of my stomach was fear for the many millions of people who will be affected by the $38 billion in budget cuts passed by congress. Unfortunately, the media feels differently, preferring to discuss ad-nausium the budget cut’s political ramifications for the two parties.

The same thing happened when the GOP was determined to shutdown the government if democrats did not sign on to defunding Planned Parenthood.  Again, the media’s focus was not on the health of the 3 million people the organization treats every year, by providing cancer screenings, HIV and STI checks, and contraceptives.  They focused on how this painted republicans as partisan ideologues, or the democrats as supporters for women’s rights, which party was to blame for the almost-shutdown, and most notably, the consequences this would have on their popularity.

Almost all of the reporting by the establishment media centers around how X will affect the democrats favorability numbers, or how Y will affect the republicans chances in 2012.  Whether I was watching MSNBC or CNN, the sole concern was always on the political implications of the budget cuts, rather than the real life consequences for the many millions of Americans already suffering from unemployment, foreclosures, and sky-rocketing medical costs.

And therein lies the problem with our media establishment: Every major policy issue is strangled by the established “right vs left” consensus.  Whether it’s civil liberties, our endless wars, healthcare reform, or the economy, all are presented through the prism of democrat and republican disagreement.  Not only does this ignore the tribulation of people around the country, but most importantly the media omits discussion of issues that receive bipartisan support, which has increasingly become the case, issue after issue.

There is very little that republicans and democrats in office disagree on.  They both support the wars, the private insurance industry, tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation, budget cuts during an economic recession, and the list goes on.  Perhaps this is because both parties are corporately owned by the same interests.  The only real difference today remains their position on social issues.  Republicans are still against women’s reproductive rights and marriage equality, while democrats remain pro-choice and advocates for ending institutionalized discrimination against homosexuals (although they don’t do a very good job at consistently standing up for these rights).  While these issues are of great importance, they are not the only problems afflicting the nation.

Look no further than the lack of coverage on economic suffering for proof.  Republicans want to cut all social spending, while democrats prefer to cut a fraction of social services that benefit the public at large.  So rather than discussing alternatives to austerity aimed at the working class and poor, the media solely focuses on how much austerity is enough.  Poll after poll shows that Americans overwhelmingly support increasing taxes on the wealthy to reduce the deficit.  In addition, major cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, or Social Security to balance the budget are wildly unpopular.  But the mainstream narrative does not even challenge whether budget cuts are necessary, or if other alternatives for deficit reduction exist, let alone the public’s opinion.

The media also refuses to bring up defense spending, which costs upwards of $1 trillion annually.  Probably because both parties agree that the national security and warfare state are untouchable.  Which is interesting, given that the public prefers cutting defense spending rather than social spending to reduce the deficit.  Then again public support for the Afghanistan war is at an all-time low, but the bipartisan Washington consensus in support of the war remains unmoved.  The fact that war spending is draining our treasury should be a significant story for the media, particularly since the government just launched another war in Libya, while ironically calling for fiscal responsibility.

If they aren’t even capable of exposing the cost of war, it is no surprise that the casualties of war, both the injured and dead, soldiers and civilians, are completely omitted from discussion.  Again, this makes sense, given the bipartisan support for war, with tactical nuances making up the few points of contention.  This was most apparent in the lead up to the Iraq war, which enjoyed strong bipartisan support, with the media following suit by forcing a pro-war narrative and firing those who loudly dissented.

The same is true for healthcare reform.  Americans overwhelmingly support a single payer, medicare-for-all system, but since democrats and republicans are both in the pockets of the private insurance industry, single-payer is not a viable topic for debate on the airwaves.  Even climate change has become a forgotten issue.  Now that President Obama and his fellow democrats have adopted the Bush approach — i.e. refusing to cut greenhouse gas emissions, regulate resource exploiting industries, or invest in alternative energy — climate change and it’s very real, disastrous effects, are almost never examined.

It is no wonder so many Americans are turned off by politics.  Many don’t realize how political decisions effect their everyday lives, from the quality of the water and air that they breath, to the seat-belts they wear and sick days they receive.  If not for independent media outlets like Democracy Now! and independent journalists like Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, and Marcy Wheeler, to name a few, I would be an apathetic liberal uninterested in “silly political debate”.

If the goal of the establishment media class is to portray significant political decisions as boring ideological nonsense, then they have succeeded.  One doesn’t need to attend journalism school to understand that the mainstream media has failed at its job of informing the public and holding those in power accountable.  Instead they have successfully promoted ignorance and stifled debate, to the detriment of truth and social justice.

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Rania Khalek

Rania Khalek is an independent journalist reporting on the underclass and marginalized. Her work has appeared at Common Dreams, Salon, The Nation, In These Times, Citizen Radio and more. To see more of Rania’s work visit her blog Dispatches from the Underclass and follow her on twitter @RaniaKhalek.

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