What if the media could make a person say anything? What if a talk show host could make a senator fully contradict himself so the host could paint him in a bad light. If this were the case, we would have no reason to trust the media. We wouldn’t have any way of getting straight facts. Without any way to be certain about the truth, our political system would be at the hands of whoever controlled the news networks. As a nation, we would lose our independent free-will. Unfortunately, in today’s news world, anyone can twist, crop, and thrust out of context the words of our leaders, and use those distorted words to mislead the American public. Such is the reality of sound byte politics.
The current political climate is overcome by shouting heads, elected officials being herded by their big business donors, right and left wing echo chambers, and us, the confused citizens who are being systematically lied to and confused by contradictory ideas being sold as indubitable fact. Modern media has discovered how to use video clips from C-SPAN and presidential speeches wildly out of context to “prove” a point. Far worse, many talk shows, newspapers and leaflets use quotations, lacking even the discerning factor of tone of voice, often to argue a point opposite to that intended. Some journalists will go so far as to begin their clip/quote directly following a negating word such as not or never. And yet, we, the blind unquestioning public, trust the people who tell us what we want to hear, assuming that because we would like something to be true, it is.
One glaring example of this sort of deception occurred back in august, during the most feverous month of the health care debate. A lobbying group working to promote the “Death Panel” claim, used a quotation by Obama about cutting back on wasteful medical procedures to suggest an intent to euthanize the elderly, writing, “maybe you’re better off not having the surgery, but taking the painkiller.” By perverting and misrepresenting the words of influential voices, the truth can be obstructed from the view of the public.
There is a fable of disputed origins about five blind men who are trying to figure out what an elephant is. They determine that because they cannot see the elephant, they will feel it and decide. The first man grabs onto the elephant’s tail, and decides an elephant is a rope. the second feels the elephant’s side and determines an elephant is an unusually soft wall. The third finds the ear, and figures an elephant is a type of fan. the fourth grasps the tusk, and establishes that an elephant is a foreign weapon, and the fifth discovers the trunk, and determines the elephant is a furry snake. None is able to see the whole picture, and discover the elephant for what it really is. In the same way, the politics of sound bytes and misused quotations is showing us only a tiny piece of the whole message, and causing the intentions of our leaders to elude us. Sound byte politics has made us blind before turning us loose on the elephant.