President Obama seems determined to prove Lincoln right. The power of public opinion is irrefutable. And the most powerful soapbox, reaching millions and millions of people each day, is the media — which Obama recently said is “one of the biggest factors” shaping our national conversation.
Politicians, worried about their own job security, are reticent to go against harsh indictments from media pundits who encourage the view that the only way to win is to make sure the other guy loses. A non-factual, incendiary pronouncement played in the media, has the power to destroy working partnerships, demolish plans, and destroy any hope of optimism, collaboration, benevolence, and peace.
Currently media is handled like a for-profit bully pulpit run by big corporations and special interests. Media that makes a different sometimes breaks through, to the delight of about 50% of the population. Either way, it’s one side “wins” and the other side “loses”.
As Obama said in an interview in The New Republic, people in Congress “long for the days when they could socialize and introduce bipartisan legislation and feel productive.” For example, with Hurricane Sandy, “Chris Christie was getting hammered by certain members of his own party and media outlets for cooperating with me to respond to his constituents. That gives you an indication of how difficult I think the political environment has become for a lot of these folks. And I think what will change that is politicians seeing more upside to cooperation than downside, and right now that isn’t the case. Public opinion is going to be what changes that.”
The President continues, “So the question is not, Do we have policies that might work? It is, Can we mobilize the political will to act? And so, I’ve been spending a lot of time just thinking about how do I communicate more effectively with the American people? How do I try to bridge some of the divides that are longstanding in our culture? How do I project a sense of confidence in our future at a time when people are feeling anxious? They are more questions of values and emotions and tapping into people’s spirit.”
So, you see, to reboot the media, you must start by realizing how much the media is already shaping the message. Only then can you begin the work of creating a new game from that realization.