Al Gore and the teapot tapes

I’ve begun reading Al Gore’s book The Assault On Reason, and I highly recommend it. This passage jumped out at me:

It is simply no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse. I know I am not alone in feeling that something has gone fundamentally wrong. In 2001, I had hoped it was an aberration when polls showed that three-quarters of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was responsible for attacking us on September 11. More than five years later, however, nearly half of the American public still believes Saddam was connected to the attack.

At first I thought the exhaustive, nonstop coverage of the O.J Simpson trial was just an unfortunate excess – an unwelcome departure from the normal good sense and judgment of our television news media. Now we know that it was merely an early example of a new pattern of serial obsessions that periodically take over the airwaves for weeks at a time.

As I was reading this, one event immediately sprung to mind – the teapot tapes “scandal” that engulfed the final weeks of the 2011 campaign.

People on all sides have acknowledged that it was something of a non-event. It was no Watergate. But still, it took up almost all of the political coverage during the most critical part of the election campaign. Was it simply easier for the media to latch onto a hard and fast “event” like this? Either way, the political discourse in our country suffers when things like this take disproportionate coverage.

It is a long standing bugbear of the beltway to bemoan the lack of quality news. Personally, I think that avenues such as the internet are going to have to play an increasing role. I’m looking forward to reading what Al Gore has to say at it.


4 thoughts on “Al Gore and the teapot tapes”

  1. I think this comes down to the dilemma of the fact that what interests politically involved people and what interests those who are not are very different things.

    At the moment for example you can easily see both political people and the media are concerned with Maori issues and asset sales. When I talk to non-politically involved people about what is concerning them at the moment the answer is resoundingly the Food Bill which has received little to no attention by politicians and the media.

    What is important to discuss politically is usually very high level theoretical issues. What the general public is interested in hearing is real life stories or the direct affect on them. The media simply attempt to make a balance between the two with the result that things like the tea pot tapes get mass reporting because they involve both matters of political principle and are a real life story that people can visualise and latch onto even if they are not that important to New Zealand over the long term.

  2. Dan & Rob,

    Do you think that this sort of “smoke screen media manipulation” is deliberately trying to distort or hide the issues, or is it simply pandering to what is commercially successful?

    If it is, then is this not simply a problem that could be solved through policy, ie: setting up a proper public service broadcaster?

    I wish I had the time or resources to do some research into how much the various media outlets covered the teapot tapes. Did Radio NZ cover it less than the others? I’d love to know.

  3. It is mostly pandering to what is commercially successful in my view. There is some stories that are deliberately distorting but these are isolated stories not the general trend.

    A public broadcaster would alleviate the issue to a limited extent by creating a product to satisfy the existing market. i.e. people who want to read quality political news. What it cannot do is expand the existing market to people who are not interested in political news. They will simply not read/watch that broadcaster and rely on the standard media.

    Looking to overseas we see while things like the BBC are better than normal broadcasters they still have the same scandals and dramas to make up their news. Without it they wouldn’t have enough readers/viewers to be viable.

    If a political party such as Labour wishes to have its side of the story told better the far more effective option would be to bring its discussions of policy down to a level where the average person is actually able to relate to them rather than hoping people will vote for them because something based entirely in principle such as opposing asset sales.

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