09/14/2010 11:24 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Disturbing, Changing Role of the Media

It seems that the more dire our economic situation becomes the more politicians lose touch with the needs of the electorate and the less people trust the press and the media.

I remember a time when the press played a very vital role in holding our political leaders accountable for their actions and their promises. I remember when the press represented the little guy and was respected and lauded for it. I remember when two newspaper reporters exposed and brought down a corrupt President (as shown in All the President's Men) during the Watergate scandal.

I remember when candidates held press conferences and were vilified if they ran away or ignored the media. Not today. Tea party backed GOP nominees Sharron Angle and Rand Paul are notorious for avoiding reporters. I remember when political figures held televised debates that actually made a difference for voters when deciding on whom to vote for. Not today. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer gave what everyone considered a disastrous debate performance last week and yet she holds a huge lead over her Democratic opponent, Terry Goddard. A few years ago she would have been done in by her brain freeze. I miss the old days.

Huffington Post recently published an article about candidates for this upcoming mid-term election that are avoiding debates. To me, this is a shame. The American voters are the ones losing out as they will not have an opportunity to hear and see the nominees up close and personal. This means money and attack ads will play an even greater role in the campaigns.

And then there are politicians like Sarah Palin who delight in demonizing the "lamestream media." She and fellow conservatives accuse the press of being liberally biased, perhaps in an attempt to have an advantage when any unfavorable reports on them may surface.

I remember when the news was only reported as news, not presented to promote a political viewpoint or agenda. Not today. I miss Walter Cronkite.

What has happened to our modern media and why? I believe the internet, YouTube, talk radio, and 24/7 cable programs have changed how and why we view the news. We only had three basic TV channels growing up. Now there are networks such as CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and others, each spinning the day's events to fit their political outlook. Fair and balanced? I think not, unless you channel surf to get all the views which is what I do. But this can become confusing for many who don't know who or what to believe.

Don't get me wrong. I believe in freedom of the press and I am a political junkie who enjoys watching commentary cable shows with hosts such as Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann, Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity. I love to hear diverse viewpoints and how each network covers various stories and issues in different ways. I like to make my own decisions and conclusions based on as many facts as I can find.

But I realize that most Americans may not share my passion for politics and they may not have the time to delve into issues or channel surf. So they watch the station and host they agree with who tells them what they want to hear and the candidate or party that they should endorse without checking the facts or background of these politicians.

Often in this age of internet reporting, things go viral before the real truth becomes known. This was the case when conservative blogger, Andrew Breitbart accused Shirley Sherrod, Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the US Department of Agriculture and an African American, of racism against white farmers (taken out of context because later in her speech she explains she had a change of heart.) Ms. Sherrod was forced to resign by the administration but was later offered another position, which she refused. In this unfortunate fiasco all involved are guilty of spreading lies and innuendo for political purposes: Breitbart for falsely reporting it, Fox News for running with it, and the administration for over-reacting before researching the facts. All of this took place over the span of three days.

The thing people forget is the political environment that preceded this event. The NAACP had accused the Tea Party of racism and Sherrod's out of context words were spoken at an NAACP event. Breitbart and Fox News were attempting to discredit both Sherrod and the NAACP to defend the Tea Party.

This incident shows how the nature of the media has changed over the years. In the 60's, 70's, and even 80's the press would never run any stories without careful examination of the facts. Back then, there were consequences to be paid for false reporting. The networks valued their reputations.

Today, it seems no one is held accountable for irresponsible journalism. Sure, the White House offered her a new job and Shirley Sherrod is suing Andrew Breitbart, but except for Bill O'Reilly, I don't recall any Fox News commentators apologizing. No one is losing their job over this.

I also remember a time when nut cases were never covered or given a platform on prime time. Not today. The case of Reverend Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Church (ironic title) in Gainsville, Florida announcing he will burn Qurans (the Islamic Holy book) on 9/11 would not have been a story if not for the controversy of the Islamic Mosque being built near Ground Zero. It is my belief that the attention given this Mosque issue (plans had been proceeding to build this community center since last December) is politically motivated, being largely driven by one cable network (Fox) and timed for the upcoming midterm elections.

A recent hate attack on a Muslim cab driver in NYC (covered mostly by MSNBC) would probably have gone unnoticed if not for this Mosque issue. And then this unknown, hate-filled Reverend, held the nation and world hostage by his pronounced intentions to burn Qurans on 9/11/10, setting off a political firestorm. It was feared that it would provoke violence against American troops and tourists throughout the Muslim world. The silver lining is that this incident has brought agreement from all sides of the Washington DC spectrum in condemning the proposed action (a rare occurrence in this toxic political environment).

However, many are blaming the media for blowing this out of proportion and bringing too much attention to the event, but I disagree. They are merely reporting on the issues of the day. The problem is that the attention seekers and the politicians and their special interest supporters are creating these issues for their own purposes and the media is being used by them, and today's 24/7 nature of speedy news without fact checking adds to the frenzy.

What is the American public to do? We can let the media know what we are interested in hearing and not hearing. Another thing we can do is become more informed. In this age of the communication revolution where google is at our fingertips there is no excuse to not know what is going on in the world.

We can broaden our horizons and look at the issues from all viewpoints and make well thought out decisions. We can hold our elected officials and the press accountable for their actions. We can demand the candidates debate and hold town hall meetings. We can have rallies and protests to show our views and we can vote. We must never forget the power we have at the ballot box. We hire our government officials, pay their salaries, and we can fire them. Power to the people!