Some of the people who turned out at the
polls last week to do their civic duty are now asking: What’s
the point in voting?

Jordan Schrader

Not me. I’m asking: What’s the point in writing?

A more daring journalist might leave the rest of his column
blank after asking that question, but let me instead give an
example explaining my disillusionment.

An LSA sophomore recently shared with the Daily a view that must
be common to millions across this country when she explained her
faith in President Bush:

“We as students need to realize that the government always
knows more than we do, because we hear things from indirect sources
and the media misconstrues things. We need to put faith in our
government and intelligence agencies to make informed and proper
decisions.”

Those words summed up for me why the election had left me
questioning the value of the career I had chosen to pursue.
Journalism, with its mission of “comforting the afflicted and
afflicting the comfortable,” holds the promise of exposing
wrongdoing and empowering readers. But what if the newspaper shines
a light and readers shut their eyes?

What if the media shout and no one hears?

A partial list of things that the media have reported, and
apparently “misconstrued,” over the past four years
would include:

The sudden and overwhelming interest in a dictator the United
States had disarmed and emasculated with years of sanctions;

The tenuous connection between that dictator and the terrorists
who attacked us on Sept. 11;

The fruitless search for the weapons the dictator was supposed
to have at his command based on the prognostications of those
vaunted intelligence agencies;

The torture chambers where U.S. soldiers brutalized their
prisoners, encouraged by official policy aimed at subverting the
usual rules of war;

The profits made from war by a company whose former chief
executive helped run the war.

Each of these is a scandal that the mainstream media have
— sometimes inaccurately, often belatedly, usually timidly
— exposed. Take whatever positions you want on them, it
shouldn’t be denied that the debate on each issue was both
relevant to the election and waged in the media.

But voters overlooked all those things last week, preferring to
focus on the candidates’ moral values and toughness. They
weighed what seemed to be an alcoholic turned born-again Christian
crusader against what seemed to be a veteran and protester turned
flip-flopper. In the end, the electorate fell back on the same
party identities that determined its votes in 2000.

Perhaps voters believed that personalities, impressions and
partisan loyalties were all they could consider, because the media
had misconstrued all the real issues.

So why should any of us go into journalism, if all the words in
the world can’t make a difference?

It gets scarier. The media hear their readers and viewers. They
listen to them and give them what they want. So you can expect less
investigation — which no one trusts anyway — and more
of what we already have seen taking over political coverage.

More personality assessments. Dean’s screams mean
he’s a man on the edge. Bush’s mangled speech means
he’s stupid. Kerry’s drone means he’s
condescending.

More wedge issues. Gays and abortions make great headlines.

Above all, more about the process. Who has more money? What do
the polls say? Who’s winning over the coveted Hispanic Nascar
uncles?

It’s a world I enter with a heavy heart and a profound
uncertainty, trying to come to grips with a nation that may have
more faith in its government than in its journalists.

 

Schrader can be reached at
“mailto:jtschrad@umich.edu”>jtschrad@umich.edu.

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