Who Watches the Watchdog?

The U.S. political system is increasingly inaccessible to most Americans, both participating in it as a candidate for public office, in addition to the process itself. Media is at the center of this problem, as a democracy depends on the media for the people to obtain information about candidates running for office. Recently the New York Times reported that the Obama campaign has spent over $400 million on the campaign since it began. Much of the funds have gone towards advertising–about $86 million in total. In the New York Times article, Nicholas Confessore and Jo Craven McGinty spend most of the article outlining what this means for the Obama campaign in terms of strategy and future fundraising. They spend no time bringing in independent voices or even introducing the idea that perhaps such expensive campaigns might actually be a problem not just for the Obama campaign, but for American democracy as well.

The Times article is unfortunately reminiscent of the much of the mainstream corporate media. Let’s take a moment to break this down further. How about we start with a (rhetorical) question: who benefits from the advertising dollars coming from political campaigns? Indeed, the media! Seeing that the supposed watchdog, the fabled Fourth Estate, the great Bambino of information dissemination benefits from such a corrupt form of government, looks like the American public is in a pretty dire situation, no? How can the media be critical on a grand scale (sure, we may  see articles somewhat critical of the U.S. media system in the elite press, but they are few and far between and are more prone to nip instead of bite)?

Enter the need for media reform. One good piece of news to come out about the same time as the newest reports on campaign expenditure is that broadcasters are now obligated to provide information online about who buys ads on their stations and how much they spend. Thankfully this information has been available for a while now, but broadcasters have fought to keep them available exclusively on paper and at the broadcaster’s office. Free Press, a media reform organization, outlined in a post about the victory, “While the ruling is a crucial win for media transparency, let’s be real here: It’s still the very first step in a long and extensive process. There are over 2,200 broadcast TV stations in the country. This rule requires only 200 of them to put their political files online as of Aug. 2. And the rule doesn’t require stations to upload all of their old files retroactively — it applies only to ads purchased from today forward.” Perhaps a step in the right direction, but many miles to go.

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