Media Coverage, Political Debate and Civility

The deeper I venture into the world of politics, the more confusing a lot of it gets. No matter what side you’re on, each party is divided. No one wants to listen. We are fighting to see who can be loudest. All this arguing with one another can often lead to exhaustion and, eventually, disinterest.

But one group I find interesting within the disarray is a remote few calling for civility. This group believes that nothing can get done because the other side is too unruly. If they were to calm down, then things can be reasonably discussed. If we can initiate a dialogue, we can solve more problems through the exchange of ideas. However, these seem like dreams for a perfect society. Simply put, that’s not how our political system works, because that’s not the way our media coverage works.

The media’s coverage of politics is like coverage for a sporting event. We can’t get along because we treat the Capitol like the Staples Center. On most cable news networks, you can find political equivalents of commentators, pre-game and post-game shows, and high-spirited debates going nowhere. I wouldn’t be surprised if C-Span added instant replay. If you’re going to cover politics like sports, don’t be surprised when pundits argue like sports commentators. This form of media coverage is what drew my interest in politics.

The difference is politics is not a game. My friends and I love basketball season. We talk smack about each other’s favorite teams, give our predictions about the Finals and talk about player trades and signings. However, we realize that at the end of every season, everything resets. However, with politics, there’s no reset after an election. Lawmakers continue to vote on bills and pass policy. So the political season continues, and the pundits continue to get restless. It’s like the longest basketball game. Each team wants more and more points, but the clock doesn’t run out. The game is never over.

Fans get more and more excited because the game isn’t over. When you bring the energy of MetLife Stadium into the White House, you end up with fans caring about their team, not constituents caring about their country. This is extremely dangerous because these political issues aren’t games. These issues aren’t affecting fantasy brackets or bragging rights around the office, but are influencing the livelihood of people across the nation, and even people across the planet. Issues like climate change, tax policy, and abortion aren’t points on a political scoreboard. These are real issues with serious ramifications if not handled carefully.

Incivility and political polarization are reflexive when the media presents these issues like competitions. It can make it easier to attack the other party when your side wants to win. But that’s the problem. Lawmakers shouldn’t fight to win for their side. They should work so the entire country can solve these issues together. For a working-class family with children to send to college, tax policy and college tuition are critical issues. Healthcare isn’t just a talking point for a family member with pre-existing conditions. Gun control is a serious topic for a child suffering from trauma after a school shooting.

That’s the problem with how we cover politics. We have removed the people from the story. Without people, issues become impersonal and incivility can run wild. I think that the media should lose the crazy motion graphics and the theatrics, and talk to the people. Give the audience the facts and let them know how it affects them. Journalists inform, not entertain. And, as citizens, it’s our job to start a meaningful dialogue, understand each other’s point of view and work together to create effective solutions to whatever issue faces us.

There are many other reasons why civility is impossible to find in the current political sphere, however, I have a few quick comments. The definition of civility is formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech. Therefore, we can be civil and disagree. However, a call to political civility is not a call to conformity. Being civil should never mean endorsing unpleasant solutions. It should foster an environment of educated and respectful debate, and lead to productive measures for resolving the issue. This isn’t the only issue plaguing our political system. Greed, racism, and corruption still influence policy. So even with perfect media coverage, we still have a long way to go.

Also, I believe that when it comes to denying the humanity of others, incivility is not only fair game, but recommended. Let me perfectly clear. It’s one thing to argue about tax reform. But, to me, it’s an entirely different thing when the rights of human beings are being denied, because of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, sexual identity or any other non-ideological characteristic. Debating ideas merits an atmosphere of civility, but debating humanness does not.

As you can probably tell, I am very optimistic about the future of America, its potential and the nature of people. Anyone on either side can agree that the nation is going through some growing pains. However, I also understand that some people out there don’t want dialogue and don’t care about the wellbeing of others. That’s life, people can be assholes. But I feel like, as a whole, we all want what is best for the country and for each other. I’ve always believed in the good nature of people (probably naively), so, to those who care and are willing, let’s talk. Perhaps we can resolve some of these issues. Maybe we’ll agree to disagree. But, I guarantee, we’ll learn more about each other and expand our viewpoints beyond our political affiliations and connect more with each other as people.

**Inspired by Carlos Maza from Vox’s video on Media Coverage.