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The political media are determined to transform all of us into knuckleheads. If you’re thinking “knucklehead” is too strong a word, I encourage you to think again. Due to the truly stupendous amount of money involved, lots and LOTS of really smart people have become excellent – and are constantly getting even better at – framing political news for quick and easy consumption by both actual knuckleheads and all the crazy-busy, intelligent people who only have time to give the news knucklehead-level attention.
While it’s difficult to determine just how huge the political media industry is, a few snippets of data provide ample evidence to prove that calling it “massive” is not an exaggeration. According to Statista, over $2.8 Billion dollars a year gets spent on political social media advertising alone! That’s not even the news. It’s politicians working hard to get attention by appearing to make news.
Then there’s TV. Tucker Carlson makes $35 million a year. That’s a minute fraction of what Fox News rakes in for its political coverage. Rachel Madow makes $30 million a year. That’s a minute fraction of what MSNBC rakes in for its political coverage. There are literally thousands of additional wanna-be superstars in TV, podcasting, blogs, etc., etc., striving mightily for their own 7-figure income. (Check out what the top tier makes!) Additional thousands are lucratively employed in the production, promotion, administration and management of all this stuff.
Without beating the point to death, you get the idea. Political media is a gigantic money machine!
Let’s get back to political media’s knucklehead nurturing quest, and its use of creative framing of the issues it covers. Not surprisingly, the media takes its lead from the politicians themselves. After all, supporting the positions of politicians is why the big money sources throw big money at the media outlets in the first place!
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For a politician, it’s all about attention. It’s all about cutting through the cacophony. It’s all about getting all the spotlights focused on me, me, me as often as possible for as long as possible. Given that intense, well-funded competition in any domain generates excellence, what have politicians and the media learned from their extraordinarily well-funded, stupendously competitive work efforts? They’ve learned the three rules for cutting through the cacophony and grabbing our attention. Here are those three rules:
- Simplify and polarize
- Simplify and polarize
- Simplify and polarize
Randomly choose a politician and/or political pundit and/or political media outlet and invest 5 minutes to experience these rules in action. Doesn’t matter what the issue is. Doesn’t matter what day you choose to invest that 5 minutes. Every single issue gets framed as a simple binary choice. It’s yes or it’s no. It’s agree or it’s disagree. If it’s abortion, you’re either pro-life or pro-choice. If it’s guns, you’re either a radical gun-grabber or a nut-case supporter of the National Rifle Association. For any social issue, you’re either a bigoted, ignorant, anti-woman, anti-LGBTQ+ racist or part of the intersectional, whacko woke.
Please… Nothing in life – nothing – is that simple.
Combine the false binary choices force-fed to us by the media with our 2-party political system, and out pops a polarization-generating juggernaut. It all works out so nicely. Since the answer to every question is a binary choice, its incredibly easy to assign one option to the Republicans and the other to the Democrats. There’s a Red Team answer and a Blue Team answer and they are diametrically opposed.
It’s a perfect setup for controversy! It’s a one-on-one battle. Fights! Melees! Attacks! Shouting Matches! Angry Accusations of Ill Intent, Lies and Malfeasance! Throw more money at it… More Fights! More Melees! More Attacks! More Shouting Matches! More Angry More Accusations of Ill Intent, Lies and Malfeasance!
Which is a more effective, easier and quicker way to gin up human emotion? A thorough examination of all the deeply complex concepts that affect each aspect of an issue? Or a quick and dirty, highly memorable cheap shot? Obviously the latter. That’s why our ultra-highly compensated media pundits are so amazingly adept at delivering extraordinarily simple, highly memorable cheap shots.
Here’s the vital point… “Simplify and polarize” is far and away the best strategy to make a ton of money in the media business. In other words, treat all media consumers as if they are knuckleheads. Again, said consumers are either actual knuckleheads or are too busy to give the news anything more than knucklehead-level attention.
So now what? What should we do?
- Reject the polarization myth
- Find the common ground
Let’s all be aware that we are constantly bombarded with the message that we are extremely politically polarized, and are becoming more and more polarized every day. That is false. We are only extremely polarized regarding the grossly simplified, knucklehead versions of the controversies of the day.
Need empirical data before you’re willing to believe it? Fine! Check out Civic Genius, an organization dedicated to bolstering American civic culture by doing battle with the polarization myth via everyday opportunities to learn and engage. Through them, you can learn more about the 172 policy proposals on which majorities of both Democrats and Republicans agree. (The details.)
You heard me right… There are 172 policy proposals on which majorities of both Democrats and Republicans agree.
And these are not the easy policy proposals. They address the difficult, hot-button issues of our time. Immigration, Energy & the Environment, Criminal Justice, Healthcare, Federal Spending, Nuclear Weapons and on and on. They prove over and over again and again that THE POLARIZATION MESSAGE IS NONSENSE.
What’s the Civic Genius “secret sauce?” It’s their process of bringing people from all over the political spectrum together, then running them through an extraordinary process of education, discussion and debate that examines as many angles on an issue as possible. Pro and con positions for each of those angles are presented and scrutinized. There are no knee-jerk, quick, knucklehead-level conclusions involved. Folks from all over the political spectrum learn, discuss and think as a team to identify their common ground and map out intelligent ways to address tough issues.
I’m your Intentionally Vicarious host Todd Youngblood – Sick and tired of the stupidly simplified choices shoveled at us by the political media who – good for them – are in it for the money and do so by appealing to our inner knucklehead. Sick and tired of hearing the myth about how American polarization is driving our country into the ditch. Energized and enthusiastic about organizations like Civic Genius that provide a roadmap for navigating the complex, nuanced details of the challenges we face and guiding us toward the common ground where solutions to our problems are found. Lucky for me, all that enables me to continue my quest to have more fun than anyone else I know.