TV and Politics

Commentary by Pete du Pont
Host intro: Commentator Pete du Pont edits Intellectual Capital, an online magazine of Policy Opinion. In it, former newsman Marvin Kalb recently wrote about the negative impact of television on politics. Du Pont concurs.

Television flattens. It's almost a truism to say that TV is all about surface without depth. That's not a problem when you're talking about sitcoms or cooking shows or baseball. Two dimensions are all you need.

Politics, though, is all about context, and the complex ways in politician's promises relate to the policies he'll have to implement or vote on. Thirty-second commercials and eight-second sounds bites can't do it, so nobody tries. The medium encourages platitudes and posturing that feed the ignorance and laziness of an electorate who vote for a candidate because they "like him," or "trust him," or "think he's a good man" without being able to tell you what he stands for or even how he votes.

Television dumbs down politics as it dumbs down everything. As Kalb says, television perverts the press and the political process. Everything it touches is reduced to a lowest common denominator of presentation and understanding. Political coverage becomes soft, featurized fluff.

I have a modest proposal: no political commercials of less than five minutes in length. Fluff only stretches so far. Pols will be dragged, kicking and screaming, toward specificity and substance.

Those are my ideas, and at the NCPA, we know ideas can change the world. I'm Pete du Pont, and I'll see you next time.

Host outro: Coming up Monday, how the actions of an agency you've probably never heard of show why Washington is so out of touch.