As anticipated, now that Election 2012 has kicked off in earnest, the campaign itself should provide us all the material we need to put into practice the various critical thinking skills we’ve been discussing over the summer.
Today, we need to thank Mother Jones Magazine for dishing up the best example we’ve seen all year of the media literacy and Internet media ideas discussed during this week’s podcast.
For anyone whose head has been buried all week (in work, of course, or maybe trying to answer this week’s Critical Voter quiz), a video surfaced several days ago of a Mitt Romney fundraiser that took place in May during which the candidate is speaking candidly about a number of issues in an informal talk and Q&A session that included some controversial statements regarding the makeup of the US electorate and the candidate’s opinion on foreign affairs (including hot-button Middle East issues).
The statement that’s made the most news has to do with Romney’s characterization of 47% of US voters as not paying taxes who are, thus, unlikely to vote for him under any circumstances. But putting aside the controversy generated by this statement for a moment, let’s take a look at how a video shot at a private function over four months ago somehow managed to dominate the news cycle for most of an entire campaign week.
One could not ask for a better example of the power of imagery and the new rules of Internet newsmaking than Mother Jones’ Romney video “scoop.”
First, you’ve got the video itself, shot through what looks like a fish-eye lens, with the candidate and his audience viewable through candlesticks behind which the spy cam is supposedly hidden. And then there is the event itself where the wealthy candidate is apparently revealing his “true self” to a bunch of rich friends, a setting that fits too many pre-conceptions of the candidate to not be true.
It’s interesting to speculate what might have happened two decades ago if someone dropped a VHS tape off at the Washington Post of a minor fund raising event that took place months earlier and insisted that it be presented as front page news. But, today, such questions and speculations are moot since the Washington Post (and every other paper in the country) isn’t publishing a story on the event itself but is instead talking about the fact that someone else published this surreptitiously obtained video on the Internet, after the story moved “up the line” from blog, to bigger blog to one newspaper and then the world.
Given how compelling just a few seconds of such video truly is, it’s no wonder that attempts to diffuse the story by insisting the video be seen in its entirety have been such a flop. For people are not interested in what was actually said at that event (at least with regard to going over it comprehensively to get an overall sense for what the candidate talked about in context). No, for most people, a few seconds of spy-vid coupled with highlights selected by the news sources peddling this story is all that was needed to come to a conclusion about the matter.
Now if we were simply partisans, our conclusions about this “scoop” would be simplicity itself. For Obama supporters, this video – especially comments in the video made by the candidate in which he disparaged half the American voting public as feeling themselves to be “victims” – is just one more demonstration of Mitt Romney’s elitism (and possibly his bigotry against minorities likely to make up much of that 47%).
For Romney champions, the story is an equally simple one of complicity of the “liberal media” to bring down a Republican with a story they never would have touched had it been about “their” candidate: Barak Obama.
But for those of you following along with this project, our job is not to take the easy way out but to consider how we might approach this same sensational story from the vantage point of critical thinkers.
And how do we do that? Join us next time to find out.