George Graham

“News” Shows Don’t Help Voters Understand the Issues

I guess they think they’re being “fair and balanced,” but in a mindless attempt to give equal time to the presidential candidates and their surrogates, American television stations shed little or no light on the vital issues facing voters. Most shows are simply confusing. They have a representative of one side and a representative of the other side and ask them bland questions that prompt party-line speeches.

How does that help anyone? We know the McCain representative is going to recite a set piece from McCain’s campaign, and we know the Obama representative is going to counter with a set piece from the Obama campaign. So what have we learned? We could find the same information – probably more clearly explained – on the candidates’ web sites.

We seldom hear anything on these TV shows that we haven’t heard before, and we are left feeling pretty much as we did before the program – except angrier. That’s right, by sitting there like a department store dummy and letting political hacks spout propaganda that most of us know to be distorted or even downright false, the host of the show attracts only resentment and contempt.

Occasionally, some zealous reporter like Campbell Brown steps over the line and points out that a guest hasn’t answered a question – or has stretched the truth. When that happens, the response from the guest’s supporters is brutal. I bet Brown’s ears are still ringing from the McCain campaign’s shrieks of outrage because she tried several times to get his flack to give a straight answer to a simple question. But most of the time, you know exactly what to expect from the various shows.

Fox News, of course, is predictably biased – not so much in McCain’s (and Palin’s) favor as against Obama. There’s an announcer named Hannity on Fox who has sacrificed any shred of credibility he might once have had to the most venomous and lying attacks against the Democratic candidate. As foils, he has a Milquetoast of a guy named Colmes and sometimes Hillary Clinton’s former flack Harold Wolfson. But Hannity usually ends up browbeating them.

This has won him tremendous support among the 20 or 30 percent of extremist voters who support the Republican Party under any circumstances but it has turned off everybody else. So what good does Hannity do? None of his viewers need to be persuaded. Their vote was sewed up long ago anyway.

I have to put Keith Olbermann in the same category. He is MSNBC’s token “liberal,” and he is allowed to rant against President Bush and the Republicans (and Bill O’Reilly) as much as he likes – as long as he does it in such an eccentric manner that no sane person would take him seriously. I could go on and on about the other television “news” programs but I am sure you know what I’m talking about.

So when one of the few shows that had relevance sinks to the pervasive level of craven dishonesty, American voters should protest. I am talking about NBC-TV’s “Meet the Press.” Under the late Tim Russert, this was a terrific show. You got the straight goods from Russert, and his guests were not allowed to slip-slide away from the truth. Now, what have we got? Tom Brokaw (photo below).

brokawI am bemused by Brokaw’s inflated reputation as a journalist. He reminds me of a saying I read somewhere that “the world is run by solemn asses.” He’s got gravitas, all right. But little else. You might think that gravitas and integrity go together but, in his case, you could be wrong.

On last Sunday’s “Meet The Press,” Tom Brokaw used out-of-date poll numbers to squelch Obama’s campaign manager David Axelrod. Here’s what Brokaw said on “Meet the Press” after Axelrod had outlined Obama’s position on Iraq:

In fairness to everybody here, I’m just going to end on one note, and that is that we continue to poll on who’s best equipped to be commander in chief, and John McCain continues to lead in that category despite the criticism from Barack Obama by a factor of 53 to 42 percent in our latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

An organization called researched Brokaw’s claim, and found the polling numbers he cited weren’t in any recent poll conducted by NBC/WSJ. Those 53-42 numbers were from a poll taken September 6-8. In recent head-to-head matchups, voters tend to prefer Obama. Why did Brokaw stoop to such underhanded tactics? Probably because the McCain campaign has been “working the ref” – as is their wont.

Brokaw has been trying to reassure the McCain campaign that he is no Olbermann and can be relied on to give McCain a fair shake as moderator of one of the three presidential debates. So in Brokaw’s mission to persuade the McCain camp that he is “fair and balanced,” the truth became expendable in the Axelrod interview.

Why do we watch these shows at this stage of the campaign, anyway? I know how I am going to vote. Don’t you?

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for