SOLOMON: Counting Our Media Blessings

A lot of people complain about our country's news media. But we should not forget all the good things!For instance, it's very helpful to watch television and hear "both sides" of various issues -- two sides and no more. We get a contrast of views without confusion.By simplifying matters, the TV networks have saved us from chaos this election year. I don't want to listen to those minor guys running for president, chattering endlessly. C'mon, this is a binary world. Get real. It's Bill Clinton or Bob Dole. We shouldn't have to consider a bunch of silly ideologies.I admire the networks for giving free air time to the two major candidates, night after night. Clinton and Dole have both done so much for the conglomerates that own the broadcasting industry, it's only fair to return the favor.Another boon, especially this month, is the abundance of polls. USA Today even prints a new one every day. I like always knowing who's ahead and by what margin -- especially when there aren't too many presidential candidates listed. Last spring, a Los Angeles Times poll reported that Ralph Nader had 6 percent support nationwide and a CBS News poll showed him at 8 percent. But soon, the media pollsters got smart and stopped including him. Less clutter.And when I want clarity on world affairs, I greatly appreciate the NewsHour With Jim Lehrer. That in-depth PBS program doesn't merely identify the global good guys and bad guys, it also explains why they're good or bad. It's delightful to see the exclusive interviews with people like Warren Christopher and William Perry. If I want to understand what top U.S. government officials want me to understand when they want me to understand it, there's no better way.Meanwhile, I'm glad we don't hear much these days from the special interests yammering about tedious things like economic justice and environmental protection. Boring. They probably can't even talk in sound bites.On Sundays, I love to watch shows like ABC's This Week With David Brinkley. Maybe George Will and Cokie Roberts and Sam Donaldson act a bit smug, but let's face it: If you were making that kind of moolah, you'd probably be smug too.But I don't like nit-picking. Recently, the new editor of U.S. News and World Report fired senior writer Steven Roberts -- just because he accepted five-figure lecture fees from corporate interests with big stakes in decisions he covers on Capitol Hill. So what! Where would this country be if journalists couldn't provide services to the highest bidders?Fortunately, Roberts didn't get kicked off Washington Week in Review -- one of my favorite public-TV programs. Each Friday night, it helps me comprehend what I should think about the events of the last seven days. The discussion around the table stays nice and simple. Plus, no one tries to pull a fast one by getting away from conventional media wisdom.When I'm not able to concentrate, I appreciate CNN. After the identical story repeats a bunch of times, it kind of sinks in. And wherever I travel overseas, I find a TV set, and it's like I never left home. A familiar deep voice says, "This is CNN," and all's right with the world.Sure, I've heard the foolish demands for media diversity. I'd rather defer to divinity. As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote a few weeks ago, after the United States launched a missile strike on Iraq: "So we acted alone. So what? That's the price of leadership. It's also why God created cruise missiles -- for operations without allies."Speaking of insight, I'm delighted by the TV treatment of this month's presidential debates. After the first one was over, I only had to wait about 20 minutes until ABC told me that Clinton won. Thanks to the network's instant poll, I could quickly grasp the significance of the debate.Then I switched over to NBC, just in time to hear Newsweek's Jonathan Alter explain that Dole had failed to appeal to the most important swing voters in the 1996 campaign -- Americans called "soccer moms." It turns out that this election will hinge on the outlooks of middle-class white women who live in the suburbs and drive their kids to soccer practice. Now we know. _____________________________________________ Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist and co-author (with Jeff Cohen) of "Through the Media Looking Glass: Decoding Bias and Blather in the News." **********************************************Politics '96: The Power of Babble By Norman Solomon DEBATABLE RHETORIC "I'm a plain-speaking man, and I learned long ago that your word was your bond." -- Bob DoleIn other words: My opponent is a smooth-talking con artist, and his word isn't worth a plugged nickel.***"Our government is smaller and less bureaucratic and has given more authority to the states than its two predecessors under Republican presidents. But I do believe we have to help our people get ready to succeed in the 21st century." -- Bill ClintonIn other words: I'm better at slashing federal jobs than Reagan and Bush were. And I'm much better at futuristic blather.***"I think the basic difference is...I trust the people. The president trusts the government. ...Where possible, I want to give power back to the states and back to the people." -- Bob DoleIn other words: I don't want the federal government to interfere with corporate power. And I'm well aware that state and local governments are no match for it.***"The American people can make up their mind about whether that's a liberal record or a record that's good for America: liberal, conservative, you put whatever label you want on it." -- Bill ClintonIn other words: I've proven that I'm way too unprincipled for you to be able to put an ideological label on me and make it stick.***"It seems to me that there's a problem there, Mr. President. And I will address you as Mr. President. You didn't do that with President Bush in 1992." -- Bob DoleIn other words: Unlike the rude whippersnapper I'm debating, I have proper reverence for men in high places.***"I believe we've got the results to show we're on the right track." -- Bill ClintonIn other words: My handlers tell me that I haven't quite run the train metaphor into the ground yet.

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