“No Comment.”That is everyone’s favorite phrase when dealing with the media today.
Although it’s frustrating for those at newspapers and those who want updates on a subject, the desire to withhold information is not unreasonable. We live in a society that is built on the flow of information.
One wrong word could open the floodgate of public opinion and crush the one who dared utter such a statement.
It seems horrible to think a few sentences could destroy one’s hopes, but when applied properly, this information economy can be used to find truth in any issue and ensure an informed electorate – the most crucial piece of a democracy.
Whether it is a mundane subject, such as how much more money was spent on energy this year or something more complex, such as whether the war in Iraq was justified, the best thing for all involved parties is to get their opinion out and defend it.
So crippling is the need to control information, however, that no politician, coach, company representative or spokesperson will ever give anything other than prepared and vetted talking points.
During the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice nominee Samuel Alito, Democratic politicians could have started an open debate with their Republican counterparts over the ideological issues at stake in appointing a new justice. They could have forced Alito to answer questions to better understand his positions on important constitutional issues.
But politicians don’t probe, they pontificate.
On a recent episode of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with John Stewart,” the host took a jab at the insatiable need for politicians to ramble through their prepared remarks – he timed how long each senator spoke before asking Alito a question.
One senator took nine minutes.
The Bush administration has been blasted for how secretive they can be over issues of no consequence, not to mention the more important topics. The administration has become the worst example of this prepared-remarks phenomenon.
Having a town hall meeting where citizens can ask those in power important questions is a great idea. A conference call between the commander in chief and a few soldiers on the ground broadcast on national television seems like a great way to deal with the adequacy of troop deployment and armament. When those questions must be submitted and approved before entry and the speaker must be deemed loyal to the administration, the meetings cease to be a tool of accountability and become an insidious propaganda tool.
This need to control information is not new. In some ways, our society and government are more open than any in history. Rather than improving though, the battleground over control has merely shifted away from pure censorship to a defensive game of “I didn’t say that.”
The media are to blame for this shift, not through any fault of their own, but because of the nature of new media technologies in the world. We are so fixed on the quote and the sound byte that those in power have lost their ability to defend, as the general populace would.
If a friend made an accusation about you and began spreading this information, you wouldn’t sit back and remain silent. You would go on the offensive, making sure anyone who would listen heard your side of the story.
Like the politicians, you may have a few statements you repeat to anyone who will listen. Unlike the politicians, however, you must answer the ensuing line of question which will follow.
To remedy this political state of affairs and truly improve the situation, the media must start looking for the truth from those who may not be in the limelight.
Further, politicians must be held accountable. Perhaps if they weren’t concerned with being re-elected, they would be more truthful. The solution: Institute a one-term limit and continuously bring new voices to government.
Above all, however, all people must learn to value different opinions. We are doing better – we no longer burn people at the stake for being different – but at some point, everyone must move into a state of pure open-mindedness, where they can hold their own beliefs and accept that the views of others are equally valid.
Managing editor Brian Chatman is a senior news-editorial major from Fort Worth.