Well-informed electorate is key

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Well-informed electorate is key


In an auditorium at Northwestern University, a political panel discussion session for the students was held. On the stage were notable political commentators and experts. One student asked them to name two things that made the United States the greatest nation in the world. One responded, “diversity and opportunity.” Another said, “Liberty and liberty.” Lastly, it was celebrity cable news anchor Will McAvoy’s turn, and he said that America wasn’t great anymore. The auditorium went silent.

I stayed overnight and watched the entire first season of the U.S. television series “Newsroom.” The HBO series was created by Aaron Sorkin of “West Wing” fame. It has been praised for dramatic and realistic depictions of the discords between the news production staff and management over the role and limits of the media.

In the show, McAvoy said the United States used to be a great country because journalists were respected by citizens and voters were provided with accurate, objective information about political candidates and their positions.

But that is no longer the case, he said. Each media company selectively chooses information it likes and distorts it as needed, and American society is the most divided it has been since the Civil War. McAvoy believes a “well-informed electorate” is the most important element in democracy and attempts a “news revolution” with his colleagues in the newsroom.

With the U.S. presidential election in two weeks, incumbent Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are running neck and neck. The Democratic Party, which advocates big government, and the Republican Party, which pursues small government, are pitted against each other.

In U.S. politics, the virtues of compromise and concession have long been lost. They are engaging in fierce “all-or-nothing” showdowns. In “Newsroom,” Sorkin seems to be asking whether the media is primarily responsible for the polarization of American society.

In fact, American voters are better off than Korean voters since the two parties have clearly distinctive policy directions and they can vote for what they believe in. Here, the election for the next president is to be held in two months, but the candidates are fighting over images instead of contesting over policies.

Candidates are willing to say anything that will get votes, so it is hard to differentiate them by their policies. Are Korean media organizations helping voters make wise decisions by providing accurate and objective information? Perhaps they are swayed by minor and irrelevant issues and missing the fundamentals.

“The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one,” McAvoy said in the show. Therefore, he claims that American should start by recognizing it is “not the greatest country in the world anymore.” But if television producers can still make such an insightful show as “Newsroom,” there might still be hope.

* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok

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