We’ve posted before on the phenomenon of peaceful town hall meetings on health care reform, where calm, intelligent and informative dialogue takes place being largely ignored by traditional media, while the few meetings dominated by screaming wingnuts get all the coverage (See here and here). E. J. Dionne, Jr. has a column today, which sheds fresh light on the problem, noting:
…What if our media-created impression of the meetings is wrong? What if the highly publicized screamers represented only a fraction of public opinion? What if most of the town halls were populated by citizens who respectfully but firmly expressed a mixture of support, concern and doubt?
There is an overwhelming case that the electronic media went out of their way to cover the noise and ignored the calmer (and from television’s point of view “boring”) encounters between elected representatives and their constituents.
It’s also clear that the anger that got so much attention largely reflects a fringe right-wing view opposed to all sorts of government programs most Americans support. Much as the far left of the antiwar movement commanded wide coverage during the Vietnam years, so now are extremists on the right hogging the media stage — with the media’s complicity.
In some cases the media distortion is deliberate. In others it’s more about their gullibility, as Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D-OH) suggests, quoted by Dionne:
I think the media coverage has done a disservice by falling for a trick that you’d think experienced media hands wouldn’t fall for: of allowing loud voices to distort the debate
The most disturbing account came from Rep. David Price of North Carolina, who spoke with a stringer for one of the television networks at a large town-hall meeting he held in Durham. ..The stringer said he was one of 10 people around the country assigned to watch such encounters. Price said he was told flatly: “Your meeting doesn’t get covered unless it blows up.” As it happens, the Durham audience was broadly sympathetic to reform efforts. No “news” there.
As Dionne concludes, “…The only citizens who commanded widespread media coverage last month were the right-wingers. And I bet you thought the media were “liberal.”