How well is the traditional media doing its job?

A fellow named Perry Bacon of the WaPo answered a whole series of reader questions. Bacon felt that, yes, "...most Americans can follow Tiger, the Salahis, health care and Afghanistan..." without skimping on comprehension or losing track of any particular subject. Is that true? Wel-l-l-l, the "public option" is, to progressives, an absolute necessity for the health care plan that's been debated for the last several months to truly succeed. The WaPo's own Ezra Klein pointed out that, despite the fact that the "public option" concept is, "fairly simple, and undeniably prominent," most Americans (66%) don't feel they could confidently describe what the phrase actually means.

My own memory of discussing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (The "stimulus bill") in the online comment sections of my local paper was that my fellow citizens didn't have a very clear idea as to what constituted a true economic stimulus. A frequent complaint was that the bill, passed in early February, constituted "spending" and not "stimulus." Note: spending IS stimulus and even the WaPo columnist David Broder concluded that the stimulus bill was successfully doing exactly what it was supposed to do.

While I don't think anyone could argue that America's supermarket tabloids and various TV channels devoted to gossip and Hollywood news do not do a perfectly adequate job of covering subjects like the romantic difficulties of Tiger Woods and the party-crashers the Salahis, I find it very highly questionable that America's traditional media sources are doing even a barely adequate job of covering their primary beat, serious stories like health care and Afghanistan.

The challenge has been put forward:

I dare the Post to conduct a scientific poll of its readers, asking them a basic question about health care reform: According to the Congressional Budget Office, would health care reform that includes a government-run public insurance option increase the deficit or reduce it?

Obviously, if the readers of the WaPo were as well-informed as the paper claims they are, such a question would a simple no-brainer. Readers would be able to answer it without even thinking twice. Remember, progressives consider the public option to be a necessary component to a successful nationwide health care plan, so this crucial bit of data should be something that citizens have at their fingertips.

In FAIR's November issue (This crucial media watchdog group is running a fundraising drive right now, so if one clicks on the link, one will get a fundraising message above the analysis piece), FAIR looks at how well America's news consumers are being served by their for-profit, free-enterprise media. The answer? Not very. FAIR cites a study that found that having a college education made a significant difference in the US and Britain in terms of citizens being conversant with their issues of the day, but in Denmark and Finland, both of which spend heavily on public media, the gap between those that are highly educated and those with knowledge of the issues disappears.

Citizens in Denmark and Finland with just a high-school education are just as well-informed on the issues as are those with a college education. FAIR recognizes that a straightforward government-funded media would not be a practical alternative to our current free-enterprise model, so that piece and others explore different methods in which our media might be made more responsive to the information needs of US citizens. The need for a change is urgent. Traditional media in the US is fast becoming irrelevant to serious, real-life problems.

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