Election season brings out the worst in society, media outlets and politics

We are poised on the cusp of another election cycle, in which honesty is a rare and precious commodity, hyperbole rules airwaves and newspaper pages, and most folks seem to prefer a fascinating lie to a mundane truth.

Social media — where libel, slander, and blatantly inaccurate reporting have, in recent years, added immeasurably to the calumny from sometimes well-meaning people, but more often those with  axes in need of grinding — provide a platform for both the learned and the ignorant to spew unfounded accusations, tasteless cartoons, and recycled sensational reports that were proven false years ago.

And people believe it!

One has only to read the comment threads beneath any political post on Facebook, Twitter, or Linked-In to discover how polarized our society has become. If you’re easily offended by words more commonly heard in athletic team locker rooms or army barracks, you might want to pass on reading this uncensored and unrestrained commentary — another symptom of our increasing inability to engage in civilized debate.

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I remember when tabloid publications that passed themselves off as news sources were vilified by truly “inquiring” minds as either sensationalism or pure nonsense. In recent years, established news outlets seem to pay little more attention to fact than the supermarket checkout line excuses-for-journalism. Bias is common, on both the left and the right.

Balanced reporting may be an endangered species, to mix a metaphor.

Everyone gets into the act: Politicians, of course, lead the charge away from reasoned debate, dismissing all but their party’s own dogma. Associations, lobbyists, agencies, and citizens to the left and right of center, all engage in blatant exaggeration and outright falsehood. Rumor earns more credence than fact, and mudslinging replaces intelligent discourse.

Years ago, when  the  television phenomenon known as Saturday Night Live was in its heyday, their fake newscast and point/counterpoint faux debate pitted co-anchors against each other, we laughed at the absurdity of the arguments and howled (though with a modicum of guilt) at the barely-acceptable-for-television name-calling by the debaters. The humor came from the implausibility of such a “debate,” and the knowledge that respected journalists, seekers of office, and our next-door neighbors would never engage in such rude behavior. Now they do, and it’s neither rare nor, apparently, particularly unsettling.

Perhaps I’m becoming cynical in my old age, but I’m finding it hard to believe almost anything that comes out of a politician’s mouth. I see ordinary citizens willing to believe and re-post almost anything they read on social media. I have Snopes saved as a favorite web link. If you haven’t used Snopes, it’s a website that examines potentially false reports and offers an assessment of the article’s credibility. (I don’t completely trust them either, by the way.)

Politics, I suppose, has always been a brutal game, filled with ego and an insatiable lust for power. But journalism should be better than that. Society should demand better from elected officials and professional journalists.

I’m not sure there is much we can do about social media except to understand that while it provides a valuable opportunity to inform and enlighten, it also offers a soapbox to all and sundry.

A grain of salt is recommended.

 

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