Jun 10th, 2007 - 17:13:45
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|Sadler's Sense: Narrowcasting to Different Worlds
... this permanent fragmentation of mass market media is on display during every “debate” held by the presidential candidates of the two major parties. Not only are the audiences much smaller, the candidates appear to come from two different worlds.
By Russell Sadler
Posted on Jun 10, 2007
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We are living through an historic transition in our state and federal politics.
The early onset of a presidential race that will not be decided until November 2008 reflects a fervent desire to move past the Bush regime and its mounting baggage of blunders.
The large number of candidates in each party -- with front runners like Hillary Clinton challenged by a younger generation and veterans like John McCain fading -- creates a fluid situation that has some voters nostalgic for successful politicians of the recent past.
Some Oregonians say they long for the next Tom McCall. Nationally, some Republicans long for the next Ronald Reagan.
That is unlikely to happen. McCall and Reagan were men of their own time and that time has passed. McCall and Reagan were creatures of a mass media culture created largely by three television networks that replaced mass circulation magazines by the 1960s.
Both men were successful because they knew how to appeal to the mass audience television created. It is not a coincidence that both McCall and Reagan began their careers as broadcasters.
In the last few decades, however, the advent of cable and satellite transmission of news and the Internet has reduced broadcasting to narrowcasting, with smaller audiences and content deliberately designed to attract a specific, narrow demographic audience to be sold to very specific advertisers -- just the opposite of the mass market audience that McCall and Reagan appealed to with such skill.
The effect of this permanent fragmentation of mass market media is on display during every “debate” held by the presidential candidates of the two major parties. Not only are the audiences much smaller, the candidates appear to come from two different worlds.
The Democrats debate ways to end the war in Iraq and how to finance domestic policy like universal health care, while the Republicans debate the use of torture and ways to be “successful” in Iraq. Democrats want to create a “path to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants encouraged to enter this country illegally by a deliberate policy of not enforcing immigration laws over the past 20 years. Republican candidates want to frog-march the “illegals” to the border regardless of the economic or social consequences of such mass expulsion.
These candidates are trying to appeal to voters in at least two distinct political worlds while the crossover voters look in on the debate like voyeurs.
How did this happen?
Narrowcasting has created a climate in which anyone can find a “news” program that tells him what he wants to hear without listening to anything that contradicts his preconceived notions. That is Roger Ailes’ model for Rupert Murdock’s Fox “News” Channel. It is the model of talk show “hosts” from Rush Limbaugh to Lars Larson.
The late sociologist and U.S. Senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, famously said, “Every man is entitled to his own opinions. He is not entitled to his own facts.”
Narrowcasting allows commercial outlets to create their own reality -- their own facts -- for their true believers. This is not news, of course. It is sheer propaganda designed by publicists masquerading as newscasters who have learned to divide the nation in order to conquer public opinion.
I first wrote a column on the fragmentation of the mass media and the consequences of narrowcasting in the late 1990s.
Former congressman Les AuCoin read it and asked me, “So how are we going to govern the country if everyone is operating on different facts?”
I responded, “I don’t know.” A decade later, one answer is obvious. We are not governing the country. We have two sets of leaders from at least two different worlds. They talk past one another. They appear incapable of communicating with each other and exhibit little respect for those who differ. It is more acute among Republicans than Democrats. Nonaffiliated voters are usually ignored.
Hillary Clinton and John McCain are practicing mass media politics in a world of narrowcasting. McCain is fading. If Clinton is nominated, she might become our last mass media president.
Barrack Obama may have something to offer. He is appealing to a diverse group -- younger and broader politically -- that seems to defy the deliberately circumscribed demographic categories of narrowcasting. We’ll see.
Of one thing I am sure. We will not see another Tom McCall or Ronald Reagan. The conditions that allowed these men to communicate so successfully with the voters no longer exist.
Copyright ©2007 by Russell Sadler
Russell Sadler is a journalist and a lecturer at Southern Oregon University when he isn't sailing. You may write him c/o publisher at westbynorthwest.org. Visit Sadler's Sense columns at West By Northwest.org:
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