I spent over a year staying up until midnight looking at what was in the newspapers because I foolishly thought it was what shaped the electorate’s political views.
In hindsight I should have reflected on my own experience.
In 2007 when I was a TAFE student who was uninterested in politics and didn’t know the difference between The Australian and The Australian Financial Review, I made a sarcastic comment before the federal election that I’d vote for John Howard just to piss off someone who was annoying me.
In hindsight, I was completely clueless about who I should vote for (this was before I learned about and got inspired by the achievements of the 1983-1996 ALP federal government).
It was my first time voting and although I loathed Howard, I felt insecure about voting for the ALP due to the Liberal Party’s repeated authoritative messages that they were a danger to the economy (this was before I learned some history, some basic economics and the difference between centralised wage fixing, enterprise bargaining and WorkChoices).
After I made that sarcastic joke about intending to vote for Howard (shame on me), my lecturer, who was eavesdropping, looked my way and said in a very authoritative tone “you better not!” and gave me a very serious look which let me know he wasn’t messing around. It was at that moment I knew consciously I’d be voting ALP at the 2007 election.
It had nothing to do with the media. It had nothing to do with the candidates (my local ALP candidate at that election was Nicole Cornes). It had nothing to do with the policies (which I was clueless about). It was entirely to do with the fact that someone I respected told me who to vote for in an authoritative way and metaphorically pushed me over the edge. He didn’t mention a policy position, an ideology or anything else. He didn’t even utter the words “John Howard” or “Kevin Rudd” or “Liberal Party” or “Labor Party” or anything else. All he said was three simple words in an authoritative tone: “you better not!” and my mind did the rest.
This person was far more influential on my decision on who to vote for than the media of whom I knew literally nothing about.
This Lateline panel of Gerard Henderson, Andrew Bolt and George Megalogenis was pretty much the only media I saw during the entire election campaign and I thought it was all ridiculous. Had I known about John Howard’s war on the ABC at the time (Howard was another who blamed the media for his problems) I would have associated that ridiculousness with him. This goes both ways i.e whenever the ALP blame The Daily Telegraph or News Limited for their problems instead of ignoring them, it looks trivial and ridiculous.
This brings me to my point: who cares what Dennis Shanahan or Michelle Grattan or any other pundit says! The voters who decide elections don’t know who they are let alone why they should trust them so why should you? Getting emotionally attached to a mouth piece is ultimately a self defeating cul-de-sac because it makes you feel powerless and it puts your focus in the wrong area.
Ask yourself, how many news, opinion, radio and television pieces on politics you remember in the last fortnight? Then try the last month. Then try the last year. Then try the last two years and so on. If you can’t remember them, I can guarantee you the average voter, who pays less attention than you do, remembers them either and even if they did, public trust in the media is so low that their ability to persuade a voter who hasn’t made up their mind to put a “1” in a box on a piece of paper on election day let alone legitimately putting a “1” in a particular box on a piece of paper given to them at a polling booth is ridiculously remote.
Try the same exercise with Question Time or a parliamentary sitting day. In the last year, I only remember two events from parliament off the top of my head: Tony Abbott running out of the chamber to avoid Craig Thomson’s tainted vote and Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech.
In a year, I’ll probably have forgotten both events as they’ll no longer be relevant to me or the average voter. And this is coming from someone who paid a lot of attention to these things. Thankfully, I gained some perspective and stopped the madness that was all in my mind.
Another exercise: Can you name the names of three journalists in the Canberra Press Gallery? If you can and you think they have influence over public opinion, you’re probably paying too much attention.
In the end, people make up their minds on who to vote for based reasons that would make most of social media have a heart attack.
Recently, I was listening to someone I know talk about some insurance issues he was having in regards to his house after it had been hit by a thunderbolt during a storm and his dealings with an idiot who was trying to fix his newly installed swimming pool. I’m not doing it justice because it’s a story that really should turn into an advertisement for an insurance company.
What does this have to do with politics or the media you ask? Absolutely nothing. All he cares about is solving two issues: doing his job and looking after himself. This is most people. They are not going to be influenced by a silly opinion piece in a newspaper or a blog they don’t want to read on a subject they’re not interested in when there’s simply better, more important and more entertaining things to do.
Am I suggesting avoiding the media entirely? No. All I am saying is the media’s not responsible for the political problems of the government or the opposition.
Sure, the media can be stupid, make inaccurate predictions, be biased, want to be involved in the insiders game and they should be held to a higher standard and so on, but in the end the media, journalists and pundits are outsiders to the political debate just like the rest of the public and they don’t control people’s ability to think for themselves, regardless of whether that’s their intention or not.
So instead of reading Andrew Bolt or Gerard Henderson or Michelle Grattan or Dennis Shanahan or anyone else who has a stupid opinion you disagree with or getting swept into the paranoia of a Bob Ellis inspired conspiracy surrounding a poll that merely reflects a data point, have a glass of milk, read a good book or listen to some good music instead. It will make you feel better and you’ll be better informed.
In the end, the media only has the power that is given to them by people like you. If you choose to believe the nonsense that they’re shaping public opinion, you’re giving them that power over you. No one else! When we blame the media, we evoke the media!
For myself, since I decided to stop the madness of blaming the media and paying attention to the repetitive news cycle, I have gained a decent quality of sleep and I’d also say my quality of life has improved a lot (especially my mental health).
I’ll end with this quote from the classic book 1950’s book on motivational research titled “The Hidden Persuaders” by Vance Packard:
“The spokesman for the agency said that the undecided voter is not the thoughtful “independent” he is often pictured. The switch voter, he said, “switches for some snotty little reason such as not liking the candidates wife.””