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Dave Helfert

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Using One Frame of Film to Review the Whole Movie

Posted: 12/18/2013 6:19 pm

Depending on their political gland, a lot of folks are either highly agitated or highly elated over the performance of the Obama administration, especially if their opinions are formed or reinforced by day-to-day political news coverage and punditry. But the frustration or elation might be a tad premature because the news media do not operate on the same time-space continuum as the White House.

Media reporters and experts cover, weigh and analyze each day's events, and that's appropriate. But many of them use the day's events to issue pronouncements about the future, picking winners and losers in an off-year election eleven months away or deciding who's ahead in a presidential race three years from now. It's like a movie critic reviewing an entire two-hour film after looking at one frame.

Some of this is intrinsic to modern journalism. News is what's happening right now, or just happened, or is about to happen. Anything that occurred before today's news cycle is history. This feeds a national attention deficit that leads us to careen from crisis to crisis like a drunk in a Ferrari. Little thought or reflection are given to what might have precipitated a situation or to the longer term impact of various actions. We want it resolved now. We want action now. Then it's on to something else.

Journalists feed this, but they don't cause it. The fact is we live in a media-marinated society in which no problem is too large, too complex or too nuanced to be completely resolved in 60 minutes, including commercial breaks. A disconnect frequently occurs because the larger world doesn't generally operate on our "do it now!" time frame. And neither does any White House, particularly this one.

As an astute political analyst noted, the Obama administration tends to play the "long game" on policy issues. The president has demonstrated a willingness to carefully assess a situation before jumping in, and then work -- quietly sometimes -- to achieve a goal, even if it takes a while. Such a thoughtful approach may pay off in navigating a world filled with potential traps and pitfalls, but it tends to drive news reporters, producers, analysts, commentators and a lot of the public bat-crap crazy.

This isn't to suggest that slow and deliberate action is always best. For those actually engaged in assessing, proposing and carrying out solutions to domestic and international challenges, the world is plenty challenging on any time frame. And a lot of issues are simply too deep-rooted, complex and frequently too delicate to worry about trying to resolve in one news cycle. However, it is possible to dither; to get caught up in waiting for one more piece of information or trying to craft the perfect solution when what's more important is decisive action; paralysis by analysis.

Additionally, a slow-measured approach to crises doesn't do much to inspire catchy political slogans. And it provides political opponents with plenty of opportunities to scurry around shrieking about scandals and cover-ups and calling for full investigations while the situation is still unfolding.

Sadly, this has become the new normal. It wasn't always so hysterically parochial. There have actually been times in our history when the opposition supported the actions of a president during an international crisis, or was willing to work with the administration to find solutions to domestic issues. We don't live there anymore.

As a result, many in the media have already written off the second Obama term, which still has a full three years. And they're pointing at the president's low public approval numbers today as a sure sign that Congressional Democrats will get hosed in the election 11 months from now -- completely forgetting that less than 90 days ago, during the government shutdown, Obama's approval numbers were soaring.

And they've forgotten all the hot issues likely to emerge in the next few months: debt limit/budget agreements, immigration legislation, farm bills, unemployment benefits, presidential appointments, etc., etc., etc. It's ironic that as much as the news media suffers from attention deficit, they still lose sight of how often, how dramatically and how quickly things change.

If our focus remains only on what's moving at this very minute, our world becomes a blur of the present. A very shallow blur.

 
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