We have a crisis in the United States that the broadcast media do not want us to know about. It doesn't have to do with terrorism, failing schools or even gay marriage. The crisis is that Americans are politically cynical, and a large contributing factor is the broadcast media.
During a campaign season, Americans are four times more likely to get information about candidates from political ads than from the nightly news. And when broadcasters do take the time to cover the candidates, the coverage is skewed toward the sensational or the horse race - who's up, who's down?
One story a couple of years ago focused on the price John Kerry paid for a haircut and what this meant regarding his presidential aspirations. This coverage requires us to think cynically about the candidates, rather than to focus on what the candidates might do regarding the big issues that affect us all.
The Democrats held their national convention in Boston last week, and the Republicans will hold theirs in New York later this month. Before the start of either convention, each of the major networks in the United States, which have a lock on the free use of the public airwaves, made a decision not to cover the conventions in any great detail because there was no "audience interest."
Instead, the networks pushed any detailed coverage of the conventions to their cable sister stations or to the Internet, all of which require a citizen to pay for information - in essence hitting our wallets twice for something that should be required as part of the "public interest" component that comes with the broadcast license.
But you want to know the truth? The audience share seeking coverage of the Democratic National Convention contradicts what the networks have told us. All stations that carried extensive coverage reported a significant increase in audience share over their 2000 coverage.
But you won't hear this on the nightly news. Instead, you will hear about car crashes, violent crimes and celebrity stories. Those are cheaper to produce and require very little effort in reporting.
So our broadcast media get richer while our democracy gets poorer. They are our airwaves, and we deserve better.
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Christopher S. Kelley teaches in the Department of Political Science at Miami University in Oxford.
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