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The People Are the Story–and Corporate Media Are Missing It

A poll out this week found that while the 2016 election has captured the public's interest, "only 37 percent are feeling hopeful about the campaign, 23 percent are excited, and just 13 percent say the presidential election make them feel proud." (Photo: Michael Swan/cc/flickr)

At FAIR, we always say the primary measure of media in an election is not how fair they are to this or that candidate, but how fair they are to the people—all of the people who are affected by the outcome of this particular process, such as it is, and need to see how it functions in relation to them and their needs and concerns. The people are the story—and how well they are represented by a process that’s ostensibly intended to do that.

That corporate media don’t see things that way is indicated by the resounding uninterest with which they greeted a poll from the Associated Press–NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The mid-May survey of more than a thousand registered voters found fully 90 percent lack confidence in the country’s political system. Forty percent describe it as “seriously broken.” Seventy percent—equal proportions of Democrats and Republicans—say they are “frustrated” by the 2016 election; 55 percent describe themselves as “helpless.” Only 17 percent think the Democratic Party is open to new ideas, while 10 percent say that of Republicans. Seven in 10 think primaries and caucuses ought to be open. And 1 in 4 say they have hardly any confidence their vote will be counted! I want to underscore that these are registered voters—in other words, the ones who haven’t become totally disaffected.

Published by AP, the survey could hardly have been made more easily available to the press, but what pick-up occurred was in your Crystal Lake, Illinois, Northwest Heralds and your Davenport, Iowa Quad-City Timeses—not that there’s anything wrong with them, but the Denver Post (5/31/16) and the Christian Science Monitor (5/31/16) seemed to be the only “big” outlets interested in a pretty darn newsworthy set of findings.

Media’s pretense is that they’re reflecting the political pulse of the US public while they’re focused overwhelmingly on elections that majorities are unhappy with. It’s like looking for your keys under the lamppost—not because that’s where you lost them, but because the light’s better there.


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And, by the way, while the most popular word people used to describe their feelings about the 2016 election was “frustrated,” the second most popular was “interested.” It’s that combination of frustration and interest that’s been drawing people together—at events like Breaking Through Power, the multi-day conference hosted recently by Ralph Nader, aimed at mobilizing civic organizations. Media crickets.

Last month, hundreds of people marched from the Liberty Bell to Capitol Hill in a protest called Democracy Spring, aimed at ending big money’s power over politics and ensuring voting rights. That, too, fell into a corporate media abyss.

And, of course, Black Lives Matter activists continue calling for real redress on life-and-death issues of state violence that are the key “political” fact of their lives—while most media have lost interest, flummoxed by the movement’s refusal to channel its concerns into the mechanisms of electoral politics that 90 percent of voters say are inadequate.

It’s hard not to figure that elite media prefer to just talk among themselves about what the public thinks and wants and deserves from the political process—without having to actually listen to them.

Janine Jackson

Janine Jackson

Janine Jackson is FAIR's program director and and producer/co-host of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. She contributes frequently to FAIR's magazine, Extra! and co-edited The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s (Westview Press).

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