The Alienated American Voter: Are the News Media to Blame?
Harwood, Richard, Brookings Review
The attention of the American public is not riveted on government. As we are constantly reminded by polls and academic studies, millions of our people can't name their city council members, their representatives in state government, or their representatives in Congress. Ten times more people can identify Judge Ito or Judge Wapner of TV's people's court than can identify the Chief Justice of the United States. Half our people don't vote in presidential elections. Some 80-90 percent don't vote in many local elections. The Pew Research Center for People and the Press never lets us forget that people pay little attention to the latest happenings in Washington or in Bosnia and China. Most of us are pretty much oblivious to something called the "Contract with America" and other hot button issues of the day in Washington. One of the endearing anecdotes from my days as a political reporter in Kentucky involved a congressional candidate who was asked to state his position on the Taft-Hartley Bill. He did not equivocate: "By God, if we owe it we ought to pay it!"
The Man in the Back Row
Seventy years ago, in "The Phantom Public," Walter Lippmann gave us a sketch of the democratic condition. "The private citizen," he wrote, "has come to feel rather like a deaf spectator in the back row, who ought to keep his mind on the mystery off there, but cannot quite manage to stay awake. He knows he is somehow affected by what is going on. Rules and regulations continually, taxes annually, and wars occasionally remind him that he is being swept along by great drifts of circumstance.
"Yet these public affairs are in no convincing way his affairs. They are for the most part invisible. They are managed, if they are managed at all, in distant centers, from behind the scenes by unnamed powers. As a private person he does not know for certain what is going on, or who is doing it, or where he is being carried. No newspaper reports his environment so that he can grasp it; no school has taught him how to imagine it; his ideals, often, do not fit with it; listening to speeches, uttering opinions, and voting do not, he finds, enable him to govern it. He lives in a world in which he cannot see, does not understand, and is unable to direct.
"In the cold light of experience, he knows that his sovereignty is a fiction. He reigns in theory, but in fact he does not govern. Contemplating himself and his actual accomplishments in public affairs, contrasting the influence he exerts with the influence he is supposed according to democratic theory to exert, he must say of …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: The Alienated American Voter: Are the News Media to Blame?. Contributors: Harwood, Richard - Author. Magazine title: Brookings Review. Volume: 14. Issue: 4 Publication date: Fall 1996. Page number: 32+. © 1999 Brookings Institution. COPYRIGHT 1996 Gale Group.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.