Sigmund: Hold the Media Accountable

020808 press web Sigmund: Hold the Media AccountableSteve Sigmund, the former Democratic campaign operative who now teaches political communications and media relations at Columbia University, has an analysis of the media’s problematic campaign coverage with a novel conclusion: It’s the public’s fault for enabling the press.

Here’s part of his e-mail:

Politicians are held accountable for flip-flopping by the voters. Over-zealous prosecutors are held accountable by the courts. So where should people look to hold the press accountable? The mirror. Because until the public votes with its eyes and its wallets by turning away from pack mentality horse-race coverage of politics, it will get more of the same.

While this rush to collective judgment reporting hasn’t done anything to stem the tide of viewers from television and print news, it is clear that the people pay attention to the 24-hour news cycle — whether they like it or not. Studies estimate that the average American experiences some 3,000 media impressions every single day via television, radio, newspapers, and the Internet.

The public gets its news in bits and, increasingly, bytes, and these snippets form strong impressions. In a sense, everyone is a spin-doctor these days, but they are spinning collective and often-wrong information fed to them by a press primarily concerned with speed and the other guy’s story.

We should stop accepting this spin as fact. If tabloids fills page after page declaring one candidate’s campaign over when it’s not, don’t read that tabloid (remember when Rudy Giuliani was going to be President? When John McCain was ready to drop out? When Barack Obama shouldn’t have even run?) If a national newspaper tells you there are Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq and there aren’t, don’t parrot the paper’s reporting in your own conversations with friends. If 24 hour cable channels keep giving you exit poll data designed to fit a pre-determined notion of the outcome, wait to watch what happened until the polls close and there is a representative sample of real returns.

For a public that appears to hunger for change this election season to see any meaningful change in the way this election is covered, it has to start holding the media accountable for getting the story wrong.