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Sunday Talk Shows Are Boring

UPDATE (09.17.14): Trust in Mass Media Returns to All-Time Low

Have you ever given any thought about why do you read, listen, or watch the news? Entertainment? Information? Maybe it’s a little of both.

Family and friends who live more than 200 miles from the Washington, DC metro area are in shock when they learn that I rarely, if ever, watch the Sunday public affairs talk shows. The same holds for most television broadcast news or political talk shows during the week. I make exceptions for certain radio show hosts, but, by and large, I tune it all out.

“How do you stay informed,” they ask? That’s easy, I look for what I need. Inside the beltway folks usually chime in with, “but you’ll miss something.” Doubt it.

Through the past few years I unwittingly created my own news gathering techniques and information sources. There are a lot of tools out there to make the most of what’s on the web and sort through what you need to remain informed about news that matters to you or, simply, news that matters.

If you’ve worked any appreciable amount of time in the public policy or political arenas, you understand that an overwhelming majority of public affairs programming is fluff, rarely do they report news. It’s become pure entertainment that fails to inform. It was not always that way, but that’s what it has become.

I’d rather pick and read items of interest from reputable news gathering organizations, rather than be told by folks what they think I should mentally ingest and process. If I wanted peanut gallery commentary, I’ll talk to my family, friends, and even strangers. And if you are not in the political business, take this to the bank: all of these shows have agendas or people behind them who do. That’s ok. As my younger friends like to say, it is what it is.

Gather and analyze facts. Report your findings. Inform and educate. Repeat. And, to the best of your ability, keep your biases at bay. What’s so hard about that?

Dana Milbank at the Washington Post penned this week that “[t]he role of political journalists is to ask tough questions of the powerful, to expose to Americans why their government isn’t working.” I rarely, if ever, agree with this fellow but he tends to be blunt and, appears to, say what he means. And, in this case, he is spot on. Well, maybe a half spot.

If you can ignore or look beyond his “we all need Washington” bias, Milbank’s piece is a good overview why folks like me – long-time political junkies – tune them all out. They want to be the story, and if the ratings hold, most Americans are not interested.

Milbank offers sound advice to Meet the Press’s new host, Chuck Todd. Todd should listen. You’re not there to tell us common folks what you think is the news. You have crack reporters up there. Hit the pavement. Go to Capitol Hill. Work the phones. Talk with leadership. Talk with the rank file. What’s the White House up to? The agencies?

Stop looking for agendas to shape or political party talking points to regurgitate. Todd’s a pollster. Remember polling is an art, not a science. And for every election a pollster calls right, there’s a whole stack they do not. Drop the Washington is broken bit.

This city is not complicated. It’s as simple as School House Rock. If you have a problem how Members of Congress vote, then you have a problem with the American people who sent Mr and Mrs Smith to Washington. As far as the Washington, DC is broken mantra, it’s old and, in my book, not true.

Read the Federalist Papers. The United States, and any free society, must have political debate. Disagreement is good. Politics is a contact sport. We use words to reach consensus; in other nations, guns. I’ll take a war of words any day.

The past few decades, especially since the Bill Clinton years, the rules have changed as far as what is fair game, but overall, political discourse and disagreement is good. You elect people who are supposed to duke it out in the Congress and the White House. If you have the votes, you move product. If you don’t, at least lately, you watch and/or appear on the Sunday talk shows.

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