A Careful Look at Issues

Political campaigns generate sound bites as the preferred mode of communication. Few people are motivated to listen to long-winded speeches, so the goal is to simplify messages in the extreme. Politicians have been way ahead of Twitter. Television news is complicit in favoring one-line easily-digestible capsules of semi-information. The news people suppose that viewers have the attention span of gerbils, and so they must continually get on with something else. The news people are probably right, but there are stories that simply cannot be reduced to sound bites. The oil spill disaster is a case in point. The scope and complexity of the problem defies the sound bite treatment either by politicians or the news media.

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Politics has continued to move down the priority list for most people, and candidates have responded with ever-simpler messages. One might suppose that the press would provide a counter influence, demanding more thorough treatment of complex issues. That has not happened. The press lives in the world of sound bites, and they know that if they spend more than thirty seconds on any issue, their audience is likely to change channels to find something fresh.

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