Darrell Berkheimer: A major media failure is a plague on our political system | TheUnion.com
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Darrell Berkheimer: A major media failure is a plague on our political system

The same nonsense occurs during every presidential election campaign, and our national news media are to blame for much of it.

The presidential candidates make wild claims about what they will do if elected, and the national news media fail to challenge those claims, turning the campaign into a nonsensical horse-race.

Both the candidates and news media know those wild claims can only be accomplished by Congress, not the new president – because Congress controls the purse.



Our national news media continue to report all the babble and blather that comes out of the mouths of the candidates. Much of it should be refuted immediately – but our media usually neglect to qualify or explain how improbable most of their claims are.

The real culprits, of course, are the candidates and the political action committees who are spouting so much of this nonsense. But it’s the media’s job to hold them accountable for such tripe and unwarranted innuendos.

The broadcast media especially are guilty of cursory and superficial coverage of the campaigns. They tend to make the situation worse since readership of the more in-depth articles in print media has been declining.




Instead, we have the rise of social media through the Internet – where falsehoods abound in unsubstantiated opinions.

Commentators should emphasize over and over again, after each wild claim, that:

Candidate A will never be allowed to “carpet bomb” ISIS unless Congress approves such action;

Candidate B will never be allowed to deport 11 million illegal immigrants unless Congress approves such action, and

Candidate C will never be allowed to initiate single payer medical insurance unless Congress approves such action.

Instead, our national media are guilty of fostering a continuing belief by voters that our president has considerably more power than he actually does. The media should be reminding the public repeatedly that most of what presidential candidates claim they will do can only be done by Congress — not the president.

We saw how often President Barack Obama was thwarted by a Congress that did not cooperate with him — especially the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

President Obama has used executive powers as much as he could to bring about changes. But those actions have been far short of what he envisioned — because the necessary power resides in Congress.

That situation will continue for any future president. So most of the failures of our federal government must be blamed on Congress — not the president.

The media should be explaining that on most issues the president can only initiate actions. He can set executive policies for his administration, and try to establish a direction for our nation.

But the national broadcast media continue to provide us with repeated reports each time our presidential candidates make big promises. Seldom do the media report how most of those claims require congressional action. Our national media fail to say emphatically that the real power lies with Congress, and that our votes for who we send to Congress are so much more important than who we install in the White House.

That requires, of course, that the news media do more in-depth reporting on how senatorial and congressional races will affect subsequent meetings of Congress. That requires much more work than merely following the presidential candidates everywhere to report each nonsensical or frivolous statement.

I really don’t like criticizing the media, especially the print media – because I have been active in the news media for much of my life. But I feel I must call a spade a spade when the national media are shoveling the wrong … “stuff.”

The real culprits, of course, are the candidates and the political action committees who are spouting so much of this nonsense. But it’s the media’s job to hold them accountable for such tripe and unwarranted innuendos.

I must give some credit, however, to the continuing increase in fact-checking being done by the media. But that fact-checking is far short of what is needed.

I also must emphasize, again, that it is the national news media that are failing our citizens – not the local media. Local media have an obligation to report on local and state issues and candidates. Local media just do not have the space, time and resources to give appropriate detailed attention to the national political stage.

Little change will occur until our national broadcast media provide more in-depth reporting on how each presidential candidate must deal with the internal workings of Congress to accomplish his or her goals. That should be their main objective.

Meanwhile, I can’t help but think that international leaders and media look upon some of our national news media and presidential candidates as a laughingstock.

It’s time for the national media to change these careless activities. It’s time for them to stop giving repeated attention and credence to unfounded, unattainable and sometimes idiotic claims made by candidates and their campaigns. They are misleading the public.

That is the revolution that we need — a revolution in political reporting.

Darrell Berkheimer lives in Grass Valley. He is a retired journalist who was a writer and editor at daily newspapers for nearly 30 years.


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