Dumbing down the debates: the media's role as gatekeepers against understanding


almost every Democrat tried to explain to Blitzer that to understand their position on this issue you had to understand their position on the larger question of immigration policy. Blitzer clearly regarded these efforts as a shameful dodge. Explaining that he wanted “to make sure the viewers and those of us who are here fully understand all of your positions on this” he then demanded a reductive answer to the question: “barring, avoiding, assuring there isn’t going to be comprehensive immigration reform, do you support or oppose driver’s licences for illegal immigrants?” This, however, is the reverse of helping viewers fully understand the candidates’ positions on the topic. By refusing to let them discuss their complete take on the immigration issue, Blitzer was ensuring that the audience would walk away with a partial and distorted view of where the contenders stand.

And he was doing it, of course, by design. As with the abortion question, the narrow framing of the immigration issue around driving licences forced the Democrats to choose between saying something that will piss off Latino groups (no licences) and something that polls badly with voters (licences for illegals). That the Democrats might have an answer that makes both groups happy - comprehensive reform - isn’t something the media is interested in, even if the voters might be.

The pattern is consistent. Spencer wasn’t quite right, for example, to say that the candidates never get asked about education policy. Earlier in the evening, for example, Blitzer asked a preposterously loaded question: “What is wrong with rewarding a teacher who excels at the job that they’re doing by paying them more than an average teacher would make?” This has little to do with the federal government’s role in education policy and reflects a pretty question-begging approach to the issue, since it simply assumes the existence of a solid metric of teacher performance. It does, however, set up a squeeze play between teacher’s unions and what the press thinks the general public wants to hear, and that’s good enough for Blitzer.


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