Saturday, December 08, 2007

Destroying Democracy

Democracy in America is slowly being destroyed. The attack has been insidious, and our desire for a government of the people, by the people, for the people is being eroded every day. And the worst part is that all of us have invited the attackers into our homes freely and willingly. Some of us even venture outside our homes to personally make sure some of the attackers have safe passage to our living rooms. We don't think of them as attackers of Democracy, but rather our friends and allies in the struggle against those who would take our Democracy away by force. They are supposed to be the ones protecting our Democracy without guns and bullets. They are supposed to be our trusted advisor, giving us the information we need to ensure our Democracy remains strong. They are the ones who are supposed to be our source of truth, the ones we can call upon to validate the facts we use to make informed decision about whom we would choose to govern us according to the way we want to be governed. They are The Media (the newspapers, television and cable networks, and radio stations, both land and satellite, and all the sources of information that purport to be following the standards of Journalism.)

The Media is destroying Democracy. They destroy it by what they say, and they destroy it by what they don't say. When they talk about the various elections, they mislead us constantly, always steering us away from thinking differently than they tell us the rest of the country is thinking. They do this because it's easier than actually doing the work of reporting, of asking questions and verifying the facts behind the things being told them. And they do it when they fail to tell us about all of the candidates running for high office. They will claim that time constraints on live TV require that they limit how many candidates they can cover, but who says that we want them to tell us about just the "front-runners" in the first place? It turns out that they do.

When The Media speak of "the inevitability of Hillary", they begin to speak of how voters are picking the candidate who they think "has the best chance of winning the presidency." This is wrong. This is not what Democracy is supposed to be about. Democracy functions best when the people casting the votes are informed. When they understand all of the issues upon which they are voting, they are then able to decide what would be the best way to vote (which ballot measures to approve, which candidates to select.) But the way the Media presents the issues is not full, in-depth coverage, but scaled-down, limited scrutiny on issues they tell us we want to know more about. Who knows how much of the country really wants Hillary Clinton to be president? Who knows how much of the country really wants Dennis Kucinich or Ron Paul to be president? I live in New York State, and I do not believe that I know a single person who wants Hillary Clinton to be president. If she's the nominee and the Republicans have put up one of the major front-runners we hear so much about (as opposed to one of the other candidates of whom we hear next to nothing), they would likely support her, but only because the Republican alternative would be unbearable (for different reasons). And yet the Media has been telling us practically since 2000 that Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee for president in 2008. How do they know this? They don't. They're creating it out of thin air and their own deceptions to the public.

And what makes them say that we voters select a candidate based on how we perceive their chances of winning that particular race? Where does the candidate's "chances of winning" enter into this? They should be encouraging voters to pick the candidate who best represents their views on how the country should be run. Instead of encouraging people to dream, to have hopes and aspirations for what this great country is capable of doing (and, for the record, despite what anybody thinks of Liberals, I believe that this is still a great country), to teach children to want to value public service enough to want to be a part of it, in any kind of positive way, they instead send the message that the object is simply to win. Nothing more. Without winning, nothing else matters. This is wrong.

Our representation in Washington has degraded to the point where Right and Wrong mean nothing, only winning counts. And we got that way because we elected people with that mentality. And we elected people with that mentality because the media has told us who is viable and who is not. And the media has told us who is viable and who is not based on what they think the public wants from the government. And what they think the public wants from the government is based on polls. And polls are based on a statistical analysis of how about a thousand people picked at random answer a pollster's questions. And this is the flaw in their logic. This is the tool with which they are destroying Democracy.

I have always been suspicious of polls, and after doing some research (I never studied the subject in school), I have come to believe that when it comes to public opinion polls, especially about politicians and candidate selection, polls are being misused and misreported. One of the key culprits is the "margin of error". (It's the misinterpretation and misunderstanding of this concept that is at the heart of how the Media is destroying Democracy.) I have learned a little about statistical analysis from a website set up by Robert Niles, who writes to help journalists understand how to use statistics.

It starts with the sample size. According to statistical theory, the researcher needs to be concerned that the sample chosen is not representative of the event(s) being studied. One thing the Media doesn't tell you is that there is a huge difference between analyzing statistics on car accidents or heart attacks, and analyzing public responses to pollster questions. The former involves actual facts and true events of things that, more or less, are the same across the whole spectrum of events provided you have properly defined what it is you are measuring, and how you are collecting the data. The data collected must be sufficient to ensure that a sample chosen at random will have a certain degree of probability of being representative of the whole, assuming that such a concept exists! When you speak of public opinion polls, you are often discussing responses to questions about which the respondent is not qualified to give an intelligent answer. "Should the U.S. impose sanctions on country x?" Come on! Does the average American have a sufficient grasp of all of the variables involved in determining whether or not to issue economic sanctions against another sovereign nation? Of course not! One could argue that neither do the people in government making those decisions, but they aren't the ones answering the poll trying to gauge public opinion. So how could the results have any meaning in the first place? Yet the Media will report results of this poll as if it represents the feelings of the nation as a whole. It clearly can't possibly do that, so what gives the Media the right to say it does?

So they tell you that the poll result has a margin of error, and they tell you that this margin of error means that the result of any response (whether it's a yes/no or agree/somewhat agree/somewhat disagree/disagree-type poll) could be that many points up or down. This is flat out wrong. In statistics, it is assumed that what you are measuring (is measurable, first of all, which may be debatable) will fit into a graph in the shape of a bell curve (high in the middle and then flattening out to he sides). I do not believe that public opinion on any subject (ballot measure or candidate) will graph out to such a curve, if it can be graphed at all. I do not believe it true that the majority of the country feels the same way about things, and that only a small percentage fall out to either margin. Statistical analysis of poll results assumes this, so the results are flawed for that reason, too. The Margin of Error of any statistical result is the probability that the sample you've chosen is not representative of the whole subject under study. If you have only ten things to sample, a formula used in statistics will tell you that there is about a 30% chance that this sample does not represent the event you want to study. If you increase the sample size to 100, the margin of error goes down, because you are now more likely to be picking samples more broadly representative of all events (of that type). Another omission by the Media is the fact that for a statistical analysis of factual events that did or did not happen, it makes no difference how big the pool is from which the samples are drawn. (On the theory that they are more or less the same for the parameter you've defined.) The higher your sample size, the less likely it is that your samples are a bunch of exceptions to the rule. But this assumes that there is a rule to which they might be an exception! It has nothing to do with the validity of the answers given, only the probability (not 100%) that your sample isn't an aberration. Have you ever heard an estimate of how many poll questions are answered falsely? I haven't. If you feel like searching for one, be my guest. I'd love to see the answer.

Now, consider that the fact that a great deal of Americans are ill-informed on the major issues. When Presidents Bush and Cheney launched a series of lies which lead to our illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, a majority of Fox News Channel viewers believed one of three things they were told that were not true. (Iraq had WMD, Saddam worked with bin Laden and al Qaeda, Iraq was involved in 9/11.) A significant percentage believed all three! Yet no poll that I've seen mentions that a significant percentage of their polling sample are morons who wouldn't know a fact if it bit them on the ass. What's more, I know for a fact that the poll results do not include the views of people like me, because people like me don't answer the phone when pollsters call! So how can they say that their poll results reflect my views? Don't think that I'm complaining because my views are not represented in all the polls you hear spouted on TV, because I don't believe those polls have any worth. The pollsters keep their algorithms a closely guarded secret, so how does anyone know if the numbers they publicly release are the ones their formula came up with or just made up? Hardly any of them accurately predict the election results, yet they claim that you should believe them. And the media (which often sponsor these polls, or participate in the collection of data) wants you to believe that what they say about what the country thinks is reliable, and in no way done just to direct you to think a certain way about subjects.

If a candidate for office doesn't have the money to pay for the media to follow him around, then the media does not report very much on what that candidate says or does, unless he does it in a place where the media normally goes. When do you see people like Dennis Kucinich or Ron Paul on TV? When they speak out on a controversial subject from the floor of the House. (Poor Mike Gravel, no longer in public office, has no such forum from which to be heard.) Do you see every stop they make in Iowa or New Hampshire? No, because the media only reports on who they tell you the front-runners are. How do you know that these people are the favorites among voters? Because the media tells you they are. How do they know which candidate people like me like? They can't, because I've never told them. If they tell you that they surveyed 1,200 people chosen at random, how do they know how a nation of 300,000,000 will vote, almost a year from now in an election that hasn't taken place yet, when they don't know what a big slice of the public thinks? Because they don't want you thinking. They want you to feel as though to believe something they say is unpopular makes you too different to have the right to have your say. They want to make themselves look good by telling you what you think. You want to support one of these "third tier candidates"? (Who gave them that name, by the way?) Well, then you might be a little crazy because the polls tell us everyone loves Hillary, and a lot of people love Obama (including Oprah!), so maybe you the voter aren’t so smart after all. And since your candidate can't win (they tell you), you're better off throwing your support behind someone who can. Why back a loser, especially one we decided is a loser?

So, instead of encouraging you to cast your vote for the person you would like to see win, they tell you to limit your choices to an annointed few. They say that in politics, perception is reality. The Media are the ones who have created the perception that certain candidates just aren't worth your support, because the Media has decided that they cannot win. And if they limit the number of candidates they have to cover, they don't have to spend the time and money covering the candidates with the best ideas. Instead, they talk about whether or not their favorite front-runners can convince people to want something else, something the favored candidate wants instead. If you want to believe polls? Then explain this: According to the polls, a majority of the country is opposed to the war in Iraq. A majority also dislikes the job that George W. Bush is doing. According to Rudy Giuliani's campaign statements, he has said that if you like Bush, then you'll like him. And he has been saying this for a while. So how can Giuliani be doing so well in the polls (overall) if he stands for everything the country is against? Yet The Media would have you believe that he may very well be the likely Republican nominee, based on the polls they report or conduct. Want further evidence? Listen closely when polls start deviating from the pre-determined results. Suddenly, voters are "surprising the pundits" by not favoring the candidate the Media thinks they should be favoring. It never seems to occur to them that the data they've been using is flawed from the outset, that the methodology they've been employing can't possibly be accurate.

Don't believe the polls. Support the candidate that YOU like, not the ones the Media like. After all, they aren't casting your vote, you are. Vote for the candidate that you feel best represents your view. If you're reading this, then you probably have access to the internets. Use it, the candidates do. Learn about the candidates yourself and make your own decision. And whatever you do, don't help the Media mislead the country by answering polling questions. You're only helping them to perpetuate a lie.

1 comment:

casemngmnt said...

Down with the media!