How many different political issues are there? The obvious answer is probably “too many to count.” That response is understandable, as there certainly appear to be many different issues related to politics, including with the social, culture, economic, religious and other realms. However, an analysis of any individual issue will invariably lead back to the same fundamental factors that address how change happens within any particular issue.
Let’s start with the controversial topic of abortion rights. Any particular individual’s position on abortion rights might consider issues of morals, ethics, religion, cost, economics, and much more. When we analyze the national discussion of abortion, it is almost exclusively fueled and led by corporate media coverage of the “pro-choice” and “pro-life” dichotomy. Lobbying groups on both sides of the issue spend time and money buying influence on corporate media, in part overtly, and in part by training “experts” on their side of the issue to present their side concisely and in a visually pleasing way on a variety of television and radio program. Corporate media, in return, creates the false impression of balance on the issue of abortion, in part because of ratings, and in part because of influence from groups, mostly right wing, who want the anti-choice perspective to be given attention. Even though abortion is a medical procedure, like countless others, that is legal in the United States, and even though a constantly growing majority of Americans believe that it should continue to be legal, corporate media continues to fuel the same tired “debates” which only confuse and distort reality. Of course, the money doesn’t go only to corporate media. It also goes directly to lobbying elected officials, because lobbying works. The issue of abortion is dictated, at its core, by media coverage of abortion and by campaign finance and the status-quo system of buying influence.
To look at another issue, consider climate change. The notion that human activities have, in the most understated sense, a very high likelihood of contributing to global climate change, is not controversial. Corporate media continues to represent climate change in the 1-versus-1 “on the one hand, on the other hand” types of false balance debates that suggest it is truly a controversial issue about which we have very little knowledge. Why does this happen? For starters, corporate media outlets receive incredible sums of advertising dollars from large energy companies that, through their interests in the fossil fuel industry, want to cast doubt over the increasingly-corroborated data that exists about climate change. Additionally, most of those energy companies also contribute to political campaigns with the implicit understanding that, as a reward for their contributions, elected officials will, either by acting or often simply by not acting, help their businesses run in the most profitable way possible. Part of this is strategy involves elected officials themselves adopting the same types of non-science-based positions that we hear on corporate media. In fact, elected officials themselves are the ones arguing the “we have no effect on the climate” point of view on television and radio. Once again, an issue that may appear to be about science, climatology, environmentalism, and more, is really guided by corporate media coverage and the way in which media and the political system are financed.
Lastly, let’s think about equality and gay rights. Discussions and arguments around equality often go down the paths of parenting, morality, religion, civil rights, human rights, adoption, biology, sexuality, and more. While these are certainly the factors that many individual voters and news consumers think about when they consider gay rights, this is an issue that is deliberately being used as a wedge issue by conservative politicians to catalyze bigoted and so-called “values” voters into donating money and voting. Many conservative politicians honestly couldn’t care less about whether two men get married or about whether two women adopt a child, but years of heated debates and attempts to pass or maintain discriminatory legislation have turned it into a litmus test around which massive sums of money can be raised. Many large political action groups require an anti-gay position in order to fund campaigns. Millions of dollars pour into think tanks and anti-gay lobbyists to push these agendas and fund politicians. The same mechanism described in the first two issues exists here.
No matter what issue is most important to you, it is dictated by media coverage of that issue, and the financing of politicians who legislate the issue. Since corporate media itself is one of the areas affected by campaign financing, a strong case could be made that there really is just one issue: Money.
There is no more important time to fund alternatives to corporate media, and to work diligently towards campaign finance reform.
David Pakman, host of the internationally syndicated political talk radio and television program, "The David Pakman Show," writes a monthly column. He can be reached at www.davidpakman.com.