An odd couple of journalists and media critics from both sides of the political spectrum debated on the media’s role in the upcoming presidential election last Wednesday evening in the Grand Salon.
Norman Solomon, co-founder of the Institute for Public Accuracy, and Cliff Kincaid writer and editor of Accuracy in the Media, both presented their opposing views during ‘The Great Election Debate: How the media can sway votes and win elections.’ The event was organized by the Union Program Council and moderated by Eric P. Garcia, an Oviatt senior assistant librarian.
Solomon and Kincaid argued that TV news channels, newspapers and even radio stations have a predisposed agenda that favor one presidential candidate over the other.
‘I’ve never seen one-sided media coverage like today,’ proclaimed Kincaid, who is a noted conservative.’ He said the media have a ‘salivating devotion’ to the Democratic candidate, Sen. Barack Obama.’ ‘The people in the press are in love with Obama.’
Solomon, on the other hand, claimed that the coverage of Sen. John McCain is also biased. ‘You would think (McCain’s) first name is war hero, and he is lionized as a so-called maverick.’
Both men discussed the packaging and selling of the potential president, a tactic that has been seen and discussed for decades.
‘(They) are packaged, market tested and focused grouped for us to decide who we would buy,’ said Solomon, who is a self-proclaimed liberal.
Kincaid surmised that voting for a candidate based on his positive coverage and appeal can be dangerous.
‘I fear for the future because we are on the verge of putting somebody in the White House simply because he looks and sounds good,’ he said, referring to Obama’s popularity. Although the two speakers let their ideologies be known, each denied the existence of a media slant that matched their own.
‘Where did people get the idea that there’s a liberal bias?’ Solomon asked.’ ‘The conservatives have Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly. Who do we have to counter balance them? Larry King? My answer is thanks, but no thanks.’
Kincaid stated that if Obama is elected president, there will be even further roll back of conservative voices on the airwaves. He also claimed that the reason why Obama has lead a successful campaign is because of who is on his team.
‘Obama is surrounded by former journalists who understand market and spin,’ he said.
Among the subjects Solomon and Kincaid agreed on was the lack of objectivity in the mainstream media, but that accuracy and fairness can be achieved by covering a vast array of issues and topics, not just the ones that are preselected by editors and producers.
‘Just because the candidates don’t bring up the issue, maybe it needs to be brought up anyway,’ Solomon said.’ ‘We need to encourage discourse and a free flow of information. It’s the first amendment, not the first half amendment.’
Despite the supposed lack of a subjective media, both panelists agreed that it is up to the audience to decide what they believe in.
‘The burden is on you to sort out the bias and find reliable sources,’ Kincaid told the audience. ‘It’s tough, but in order to be informed, it’s up to you to decide whether you will be herded to vote for a candidate.’
Solomon encouraged seeking out alternative and opposing views than the ones we are used to hearing, listening and watching.
The journalists ended their discussion with a half-hour question and answer period, during which members of the audience asked about Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s candidacy and traditional media ideals.
‘I was surprised by the engagement of the audience,’ said Garcia, moderator of the debate. ‘The questions were really direct, and the guests did a good job of answering them.’
‘Since this is an election year, we wanted to have some sort of debate where students could engage in a discussion,’ said UPC organizer and junior child development major Patricia Landrito.’
Vicki Allen, assistant director at the Matador Involvement Center, who also teaches at Pierce College, invited her students to attend the debate.
Tom Fafard, a Pierce College student enrolled in Allen’s speech class, said he enjoyed the debate and the diverse sides of the two speakers, although he had his own view of the topic at hand.
‘Both (speakers) were qualified to be debating this important issue, and I am glad they were from opposite political persuasions,’ said Fafard, who asked a question about how the news media have evolved since the Vietnam War. ‘The media do play an important role in swaying viewers, but I haven’t been swayed by them.’