To the Editor:

Elizabeth Edwards, an admirable public figure and veteran political campaigner, joins an enduring list of critics who blame American mass media for the decrepit state of our political dialogue. For years, media critics and academic scholars have railed against the tendency of popular media to obsess over the horse-race element of campaigns, to the detriment of serious discussions of issues.

It is a legitimate criticism, magnified by today’s proliferation of competitive news outlets scrambling to hold onto increasingly fragmented audiences and advertisers.

On the other hand, we should not delude ourselves by thinking that if only those media sources were more responsible, our political dialogue would be magically uplifted. That is because political candidates and their handlers typically prefer the slick, shallow and safe sound bite over extended, in-depth conversations. And because they also understand that really telling the truth (or revealing too many uncomfortable specifics) about an issue might be political suicide.

Another sad reality is that, despite more in-depth coverage of political issues by leading national newspapers, weekly newsmagazines, public issue periodicals and public broadcasting (all of which are experiencing losses, not gains), most Americans seem to prefer the speeded-up, less reflective headline version found on commercial TV, cable and the Internet.

Younger Americans, particularly, look to the Internet and satirical news features like “The Daily Show” for a quick political fix.

Yes, there is a problem threatening our political dialogue. But it goes deeper than just pointing a finger at our most visible media messengers.

Carl R. Ramey
Pinehurst, N.C., April 28, 2008
The writer is a retired communications lawyer and the author of “Mass Media Unleashed: How Washington Policymakers Shortchanged the American Public.”

Note from KBJ: Here is a paragraph from Elizabeth Edwards’s op-ed column:

What’s more, the news media cut candidates like Joe Biden out of the process even before they got started. Just to be clear: I’m not talking about my husband. I’m referring to other worthy Democratic contenders. Few people even had the chance to find out about Joe Biden’s health care plan before he was literally forced from the race by the news blackout that depressed his poll numbers, which in turn depressed his fund-raising.

Hint: She’s talking about her husband. She can’t bear the thought that voters knew all they needed to know about him and rejected him.