Media and Elections in the USA
The people of the United States were smart enough to recognize the electromagnetic spectrum is a public resource that should not be controlled by private power. To regulate this important resource, the public airwaves, the FCC was formed to hand out licenses for people to use certain bandwidths. These licensees, or media outlets, are then required by law to provide a public good in exchange for the privilege of using this public resource. However, when it comes to elections, when it is most important to provide an accessible medium for candidates to discuss substantive issues, they abuse their licenses to raise funds. As is widely reported, spending in our elections continues to rise every election year and those hundreds of millions of dollars are funneled straight to the corporate media that have a stranglehold on our newspapers, television, magazines and radio. In fact, the hands from which the money comes are often the same hands to which the money goes when traced through the complex associations of several corporate conglomerates, families, or close associates. Since we have allowed our media to be owned by so few hands, they have gained levels of influence over our political system that leave our already inadequate democratic institutions ineffective on nearly every single issue at the national and state level.
If we want to restore that balance then media consolidation will have to be reversed, campaign finance radically changed, and we must change how candidates are given access to media by changing regulatory practices of the FCC. Presidential candidates, for example, are only allowed to participate in corporate-televised debates if they are polling at 15% or more thanks to the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). Note that this restriction was designed by the Republican and Democratic parties in order to create a monopoly on which issues are up for discussion. A reasonable criterion would allow candidates who will be on the election ballot in at least 30 states in the union. Removing candidates that aren’t polling well is detrimental to the range of political thought most Americans have access to. Furthermore, the media refuses to give “third-party” candidates enough face time during the entire election so those without the funds to buy the air waves have no effective means to reach voters. Elected officials therefore never truly stop the hunt for financial backing since a fortune will be needed for access to this public good. This is an unethical abuse of licenses issued by the public to these media companies. The public airwaves are thereby limited to debates that will increase profits and, whether by design or happenstance, maintains a stranglehold on already inadequate democratic institutions.
Many candidates have been unjustly marginalized by the current campaign and media structure. Some recent and notable examples include Ron Paul, Dennis Kucinich, and Ralph Nader. This “election to the highest bidder” approach is precisely why presidential debates routinely show two candidates that rarely show stark contrasts or give meaningful stances for independent voters to decide upon. Note this is primarily a failure of FCC policy, not campaign finance structure that is often targeted for reform (even though it has serious problems itself). If there was at the very least a third person on the stage it would allow for discussion on the following topics which are left out of the business class consensus represented by the Democratic and Republican parties:
- Reducing the size of our military below 100 Billion a year (>80% reduction)
- Removing military bases from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere
- Reversing media consolidation
- Enforcing the Sherman Anti-trust Act
- Supporting Net Neutrality
- Legalizing harmless drugs such as Marijuana
- Setting up a single-payer healthcare plan
- Repealing the USA PATRIOT Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism)
There are many more examples, but those are the few you will never see a democrat or republican presidential candidate ever address in an election. The debates are limited only to issues in which there are tactical disagreements on how to accomplish shared goals. What are not in the debates are issues in which there is consensus in the business community who finance the elections, briefly outlined above. This is precisely the reason so little substantive changes occur between democratic and republican administrations. There is wiggle room in the domestic policy, but the fundamentals always remain and the U.S. military is consistently used to bully the world into surrendering its resources and political will.
Until these structural issues in the media are addressed, our elections are all frauds.