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The Media- Ignore Us And We'll Go Away

Column by Matthew H. Hersch
Chairman

Imagine my surprise when I heard yesterday that Bobby Ray Innman, President Clinton's new nominee for Defense Secretary had Perot'ed himself out of the running. Imagine my horror when I learned that the reason why he bailed was that he had he received harsh treatment from newspapermen, and that for once, I was not one of them.

Innman's no clown, and a lot of well-heeled individuals expected him to fly right through the Senate confirmation hearings. His dropping out, as a result, came as a real shock.

It used to be that it took at least a heart condition or threats of a disrupted wedding or even a good crowbar on the knee to keep someone away from a prize this important. Ambition is strong stuff, and in the olden days people needed a good reason to keep the door closed when opportunity knocked. Now it seems, not even the toughest Washington insiders can stand a little bad press, viewing the slighted negative column as proof that their credibility has been undermined.

Sure, the media needs a lot of improvement. Newspapers are losing their objective take on reality, newsmagazines are turning into Life, and local television news is rapidly becoming a cesspool of three alarm fires and colorful stabbings. But if any politician seriously thinks that American public gives a hoot and a half about my columns, or about anybody else's for that matter, than they're sadly in need of an education.

The only people who read newspapers or watch CNN obsessively are journalists, political scientists, and politicians. The rest are content with a good daily skim, if that much. Far too concerned with real life to get political, most Americans are more interested in the big issues -- whether there is a war, whether they have a job, whether they are in the process of being mugged, to care if William Safire thinks that Bobby Ray Innman has some flaws (which he does). Voters care little even about morality and political cleanliness; they are far more impressed by politicans who can deliver, or, at the very least, will leave them alone.

But like every other business in America, the media needs to sell a product, and in the case of news, boring doesn't sell. Intrigue, failure, disgrace, however, are big winners with every demographic. Americans like excitement, and thanks to the free market society, they get just about as good a news picture as they deserve.

Most of the time, much to my countrymen's credit, they choose to ignore it. The average American television viewer is smart enough to recognize the news for what it really is -- entertainment. Politicans, though, have yet to make that leap of faith. If elected officials and their appointees could recognize it, thicken their skins, ignore the hecklers and get back to running the country, they would be a lot better off.

It is tempting to blame the media for every failed policy and broken heart. All to often a pathetic blob infecting our minds with gibberish, the media deserves to be treated with the same skepticism it extends to politics. But to blame journalists for politics makes little sense. It's hard to believe that after 200 years of a free press, the American media has finally grown so mean that the public sector is cowering at its feet. When it comes down to it, journalists don't really matter as much as anyone would like to think they do.

Matthew H. Hersch, a senior in the Department of Political Science, should find better ways to spend his time.