unfiltering the cacophony

When I was on my way up to the mountains last week, I listened to an interesting discussion about the nature of unfiltered discourse (ie blogs, talk radio) with Seattle PI editorial cartoonist David Horsey. He’d posed the following question to readers, as the subject of his final Burning Question column :

"All things considered, is our understanding of the world made better or worse by an unfiltered cacophony of opinions?"

It’s about quality vs. quantity, news vs. infotainment, conservative vs. liberal.  It’s about as difficult to find reasoned discussion between people who might disagree on principle as it is to find a good course comparitive religion.  You can, but you really have to look.

As much as I dislike that the conservonauts rally their numbers via Limbaugh and Hannity and their ilk, I don’t think the answer is something like Air America.  I have conflicted feelings about AA’s financial troubles.  AA listeners might have more in common with me than Limbites do, but the whole AA thing is pretty unoriginal.  I can’t listen to it, not even for the few minutes I might be able to eavesdrop on one of the conservative gits.

First of all, by the numbers there are probably more ultra-right wing nuts in the various target audiences than there are ultra-left wing nuts.  No stats to back this up, just an opinion.  Second, where’s the talk radio for the swing voter?  This is the sweet spot – folks who identify with sides of an issue rather than political party.  Third, the worst sin you can commit in the entertainment business is to be unoriginal.

On election night 2004, I watched the late returns come in with my mom.  After the networks called the election for Bush, she switched over to an interview Charlie Rose was doing with David Halberstam and others.  They were talking about social dynamics and political culture.  It was pretty dry, but a whole lot more interesting than any of the crap you could see on CNN, MSNBC, Fox, {N,A}BC, or CBS.  I pointed out to her that the basic problem we face is that there are only a couple of hundred people who feel that same way, which is why we don’t see good stuff like that on the networks.  It’s not sexy, but if I want sexy I generally don’t watch news.

The left and middle just don’t know their audience as well as the right does.  It’ll be interesting to see whether or not someone tries to change this by identifying a set of least-common denominator values and fears that motivate this target audience.  It’s not often that issues are thrown into as much sharp relief as they are currently – so the time seems ripe.

Side note – Fox was among the first to link to the videotape of Saddam’s execution.  Shows you where their journalistic standards are.



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