Reposted from Mashable
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Well, last Tuesday’s elections went almost as predicted by Big Media. I say “almost,” in that even though the Democrats got creamed in the House races, they managed to barely hold onto the Senate. All year, Big Media were pretty much salivating over seeing a repeat of 1994, wherein the Democrats lost both the House and the Senate to the Republicans, a blowout many attributed to so-called liberal “overreach” on the part of then-President Clinton’s administration.
Aside from the Republicans, the corporate media were big winners in this year’s turbulent mid-terms. This election was the most expensive non-presidential election in history, with $4 billion spent by candidates. Thanks to the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United, independent groups were able to anonymously bankroll an onslaught of political advertising on behalf of mostly Republican candidates.
And Big Media was there to cash in. Hundreds of millions of dollars from political spots went right into the coffers of television and radio stations and cable outlets across the country. It’s no wonder that political pundits paid little attention to the corrosive effect all this advertising – much of it deceptive – had on the outcomes of the electoral races. The media barons would no doubt be the biggest obstacles to an effort to require all political advertising be free.
The corporate media is primarily interested in boosting ratings by pumping up the horse race between the Democrats and the Republicans. They are less interested in providing voters with accurate information about issues and candidates that the electorate needs to make sound decisions. Worse, we have radio and television outlets spewing propaganda 24-7, with no accountability demanded by advertisers or federal regulators. So what you end up with is a confused electorate, whose voting patterns give an unclear and distorted picture of what it is they exactly want from their representatives.
The profit motive, the quest for ratings, and false equivalency are killing the credibility and independence of the Fourth Estate in this country. They’re also killing our democracy. The mainstream media are largely to blame for a public that is increasingly ignorant and ill-equipped to make rational decisions about public policy.
The wall between news and entertainment must be restored. Journalists must stop giving fanatics, lunatics and shysters equal weight with academics, scientists and other experts in various fields. It’s time for all reporters, editors, producers and publishers to stop the “he said, she said” stories, and start informing their audiences as to who is telling the truth and who is lying. Exposing lies is not “biased,” because the truth cannot be biased. The news must become a public service again. The survival of our democracy depends on it.
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Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money in candidate elections presents a sea change in American politics and is a direct threat to our democracy. According to the court, money is speech, corporations are people. We can now imagine a world where Big Business can spend billions of dollars in advertising against candidates and legislation that threaten their bottom line. Legislators who take all this new corporate cash literally become wholly owned subsidiaries. Those legislators who want to do the right thing in favor of the public may be too afraid now to do so. However, the backlash has already started. Immediately after the 5-4 ruling, called Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, the Obama administration and Democratic leaders in Congress announced plans for legislation to mitigate the damage.
Opponents of the court’s decision are pushing for a constitutional amendment to ban corporate personhood – a tall hurdle to leap. But in the meantime, there are legislative remedies being proposed, such as allowing shareholders a say in any political spending, and renewing the push for voluntary public financing of campaigns. Laudable goals, but I have some concerns about the effectiveness of these. At least one congressperson says shareholders already have the right to veto political spending. As for public financing, taxpayers could never hope to match the billions a corporate-financed candidate could generate.
The major problem is the amount of money campaigns pay to media outlets to get their messages out. Advertising is one of the biggest – if not the biggest – expense in a campaign’s budget. Spend gobs of money on deceptive commercials against your opponent, and you can drown them out if they don’t have enough money to fight back. And everyone knows that many voters – overworked and uninformed – tend to make decisions based on political ads. But what if Congress and the President require that broadcast television and radio outlets offer spots for political ads for free? This would immediately level the playing field somewhat. After all, television and radio should be operating in the public interest because the airwaves belong to the public.
The details would have to be worked out, but I envision that candidates wanting the free airtime would have to show some base of support (via signatures or whatever), and each candidate – people backed and corporate backed – would get an equal amount of time. Candidates would no longer have to worry about opponents drowning them out with a bombardment of issue ads. Average working people can get the same shot at running for office as rich people. Voters can finally decide between candidates based on their merits. Call it The Fair Elections Doctrine.
I can already hear howling from the four or five companies that own our media outlets. Free airtime for political candidates means a lot less money for them. But I really don’t care. Preserving democracy is far more important than the mainstream media’s profits. Besides, free airtime may have the beneficial effect of creating shorter campaign seasons, like they have in Europe. Media companies certainly won’t like to have to give away so much airtime over the 1-2 years it currently takes to run most federal campaigns, when they can fill that time with paid commercials. Congress can set, say, a three month bloc of time before the election for the free ads. If Big Business thinks even that is unfairly regulating their speech, then let them access more airtime. But it must be free, and equal airtime must be offered to all opponents in response. Giving everyone free, equal airtime might also discourage much longer ads, specifically the anti-Hillary Clinton documentary at the center of the Supreme Court case. I haven’t yet read the entire 183-page court ruling, but I wonder if corporations can also now spend unlimited amounts of money on other campaign expenses, like volunteers and staff, signs, T-shirts, buttons, flyers, mailers, bumper stickers, posters, robocalls and candidate events. Anyway, the free media time would go a long way toward evening the playing field, and the rest of a candidate’s expenses could then be made up for with public financing.
Finally, with the Fair Elections Doctrine, nobody’s free speech rights would be trampled because everyone will be given the same chance at the same time to present their message to the voters at the same price – zero. After all, what good is free speech if it isn’t free?
Please save the date for an engaging forum on “The State of Elections: Recounts, Reforms, and Revolutionizing Democracy” featuring Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie as the keynote.
Who is Ritchie? As Secretary of State for Minnesota, he has a championed a number of election reforms that have transformed voter participation. More recently, Ritchie has been in the news as he skillfully managed the contentious recounts of the highly contested Senate race between the now Senator Al Franken and challenger Norm Coleman. Ritchie will share a behind-the-scenes look at that important election and the innovative election reforms that he has implemented.
As they say on the Home Shopping Network… “but that’s not all!” Secretary Ritchie will be joined in a conversation about the balancing twin goals of expanding voter participation and ensuring voter security by Kafi Blumenfield (President of Liberty Hill Foundation), Dean Logan (Los Angeles County Registrar), Tom Saenz (MALDEF’s new President), Tracy Westen (CEO of Center for Governmental Studies).
What can we learn from Minnesota? Is Los Angeles, the largest voting jurisdiction in the country, ready to handle a closely watched recount like the Franken/Coleman race? Is Los Angeles, the most diverse county in the country, equipped to serve all our voters?
Space is VERY limited so please be sure to RSVP here or call (213) 252-4552.
We hope to see you there!
Date: Wednesday October 21, 2009
Time: 6pm Reception / 6:30pm Welcome / 7pm Panel Discussion