Over the past two and half decades, our boys each played competitive sports. During that time, we've found ourselves in the regrettable position of disagreeing with a ref a time or two. Interestingly enough, my husband enjoyed a stint as an IABO official, during which time he too became the sorry recipient of the same unpleasant treatment. This diverse point of view drove one critical point home to us—that despite the drama in the stands, or the feelings that may arise within themselves, the referees' duties were to fairly represent the efforts of the players on the field or court. The refs' interests or attitudes should never affect the outcome of the game.
Now we are involved in a contest with far greater consequences than a game—a contest where the outcome will affect individuals, communities, nations and the world. I speak of the current U.S. Presidential race.
I believe the media is and has always been the referee in the political process, but their increasingly visible biases worry me. Now we have stations that the public can identify as “liberal” or “conservative”, “left-wing” or “right”. When I was a child, I thought their duty was to be unbiased and to report, not interpret the news. Now, with a mere mention, or lack thereof, a political candidate can be promoted, demoted, or all but eliminated from the public radar, negating the process of a free election. “Out of sight” can mean “out of mind”.
I regret the process of exit polling and early predictions. I know the media reached a "voluntary agreement" not to release their predictions of a winner until after the polls close, but leaks occur in their effort to "be the first" with the news, and as a result, some voters can feel politically neutered, discouraging their participation altogether.
And the media’s influence is not confined just to the news corps. I am increasingly appalled by the extreme influence we allow the entertainment media to exert on our political process. What does it say about our voting constituency when the endorsement of an actor or musician, most of whom are no more politically savvy than any other citizen, (and who, in many cases, are far less), can draw a voting block's support by throwing his popularity and fortune behind a candidate? Should we be appalled that a candidate’s appearance on MTV, playing a sax, could create a sudden rise in his popularity among young voters? Or that voters are more likely to tune in to see a candidate share some lively banter on a late night talk show than will faithfully watch the network broadcast of a debate on issues and credentials?
But entertainers are business people, just like the corporate giants who endorse and support candidates. . .
Fine by me. Let’s hold everyone who uses their power and money to steer the ship of democracy by influencing elections, to the same standard of scrutiny. And let’s personally judge the candidates not only by the issues and standards they claim to revere, but by the issues and standards their publicly-embraced endorsers appear to cherish. When we do our homework and check to see where a candidate stands on the issues that matter to us, let’s also ask ourselves whether their high profile supporters reflect the values or issues that are important to us and to our families as well. Let’s judge the candidates by the money and company they keep. We do it when they accept PAC money. Let’s do it when they accept Hollywood, or media, or any other money!
It’s our own fault if we fail in this. We are the consumers and the voters. We still control the referees. But if we allow the news to erase a candidate by failure to cover him or her, or if we, like sheep, follow the gleaming smile of our favorite star of Entertainment Weekly or Rolling Stone instead of our conscience, then we have allowed the refs to affect the outcome of the game.
And remember how all encompassing that outcome might be.