What is wrong with US media? And how range voting would affect that

We who officially value freedom of speech above life itself seem to have nothing to talk about but the weather. — Barbara Ehrenreich

Q.[From an alternative-media guy]   I think the real problem in our "democracy" is not the voting system, but the mainstream media. If people have no idea what is actually happening, then no voting system can fix it. As of a few months ago [this was written in May 2006], a very large proportion of voters still thought that WMD had been found in Iraq. And that there were real ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

No voting system can give good results in the presence of voter ignorance and misconceptions.

This is why the focus of my work has been on promoting non-mainstream media whereever possible.


A. That is all true. However, look deeper. Why do you think the media has failed in this respect? Why do you think the voters are ignorant? Why are the US media to a considerable extent becoming the lapdogs of our political leadership?

(a) First of all, communications are technically better and cheaper now than ever and the info re WMD and Al Qaeda etc was widely available. So, no, sorry, I do not blame the media per se for that problem. That is the fault of something besides the media. And I think there is a reason for voter apathy in the USA, and it has a lot to do with lack of competitiveness and lack of debate. (Proof: Compare other countries, QED.) That in turn is caused by the voting system which is less democratic in the USA than almost anyplace.

(b) But I do blame the media for not covering important issues and points of view basically at all. For example, oil is going to reach production peak in 2010-2020 causing a worldwide economic crisis. (See also Simmons' book.) The world is massively overpopulated and subsisting on nonrenewable fuel and water. Antibiotics are put by the ton into animal feeds risking a massive drug resistant plague. Range voting is an extremely important issue again not covered by the media at all. All of these issues are so important they literally could cause something close to the end of the world. They get almost zero media coverage. For another example, the whole reason why the WTO is a bad idea and is not working well, is basically not discussed in the mainstream media, although you can find out more by reading Palast's book.

OK. Now there is a reason for (b), and it is in large part again due to forces external to the media – specifically, the media covers what is "news", which means "what the main political decision makers are doing" – and they are not working on these issues. And then the lack of media coverage causes them to continue not working on them, which reinforces the vicious cycle.

Now, if we had range voting, then we would have other viewpoints which would then be important and news. The USA's third parties are talking about many of the just-mentioned issues, but nobody covers them. The reason nobody covers them is because those parties have no chance. The reason they have no chance is our voting system and hence our media!

Q.E.D: fix the voting system, and the media problem (b) will to a very considerable degree, automatically fix itself!! Get it? The world is a dynamical system and you have to identify the lever that is light enough to actually be pulled, which can alter the dynamics.

Do not fix the voting system? The media problem to a very considerable degree will automatically reassert itself and defeat efforts by people like you to make alternative media. Why do you think "alternative media" is not the same thing as mainstream media, if it is so much better? There are reasons for that. Your alternative media simply cannot get big enough to be mainstream media, unless it strongly responds to market forces. Those market forces say we care about news, which means what the top two parties are discussing. End of story. You cannot overcome this. 100s of years of history prove that the vast statistical forces that force these things are successful. If range voting, then dynamics change.

(c) Why are the USA media such compliant lapdogs? (Compare the media in other countries if you don't believe me. Heck just listen to press interviewers grilling politicians in other countries like the UK. There is no comparison to the way they usually act here in the USA.) I believe a large part of the reason is ultimately traceable to the voting system and the USA's massive consequent 2-party domination. Follow the logic:

  1. Market forces say media needs to cover "news," i.e. what politicians from the top 2 parties are doing.
  2. White House can and does threaten to cut off White House press privileges, stop leaks, refuse to deliver info, etc if media lapdogs do not behave.
  3. Media is intensely vulnerable to that pressure since they have nowhere else to go for their news (to some approximation). That is especially true in the current 2006 climate with one-party domination of all branches (Executive, Senate, House, and Supreme Court) of US government.
Now consider the new situation under range voting. Then: More than two parties can make news. More issues are at play and relevant to more candidacies which are more credible. More parties need to cooperate more often leading to less one-party control and monopoly. That all adds up to less pressure on and less monopoly control over the press, and a more interesting and important role for the press, under range voting. Moral: get range voting and the "media lapdog" problem will largely solve itself.

See the excellent book by Amy & David Goodman: Exception to the rulers, Hyperion 2004, for more (viewed from the inside) about lapdog media and the techniques used by political and corporate leaders to keep them in line. Another excellent book is Stephen J. Farnsworth & S. Robert Lichter: The nightly news nightmare, Rowman & Littlefield 2007.


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