Fiscal frenzy or “Why the media should use its power for Good”

by

Perhaps you’ve heard of the “fiscal cliff.”  Actually – you have heard of it, and you probably believe that jumping off of it will cripple the United States for the foreseeable future.

I’m confident that you know this, because at every second of every day, almost every news outlet is screaming it at the top of its lungs.  At the moment of this writing (11 a.m.), CNN has 5 stories on their home page with headlines including “No sign of progress” and “Conservatives rip Boehner.”  The New York Times has Op-Eds and a section of their website labeled “Debt Reckoning” devoted to the issue.  On the Wall Street Journal’s home page, there are three stories – including a link to a live feed that covers all things fiscal cliff, 24/7.

Yes, a live feed devoted entirely to the fiscal cliff and just how horrible life will be 27 days from now.

Let’s take a beat here and discuss reality.  The fiscal cliff is real, but it simply isn’t news.  Over the past few days lawmakers formulated, they debated, they may have even thrown up their hands in disgust.  They didn’t reach an agreement.  But they don’t have to yet, do they?

The media is using its megaphone to the wrong end.  It could easily be publishing stories about how patience is in order, or about the almost identical frenzy that gripped companies and investors in 2011, when debates raged over a deal for a debt ceiling increase.  Last year, that December 31 deadline came and went, many of the issues were postponed, and the economy continued to grow at its now-customary slow rate.

Whatever your political leanings, you should acknowledge that Obama uses the media for the powers of Good.  As he did in his 2008 campaign, he is leveraging social media and local platforms to engage with the public on the benefits of reform and the positive momentum that can be created by the White House proposal (thanks to friend and colleague Alison Simons for pointing that out).  You may not know that, because he isn’t using these vehicles to shout about how the world is coming to an end.  Sadly, his tactics are dampened by a media and a country that responds better to shouting and hand-wringing.

Will lawmakers avoid the fiscal cliff?  I don’t know.  Will they further postpone the supposedly rigid deadline?  I don’t know.  All I know is that the media thrives off of fear, and creating a panic is the best way to get your attention.

Resist!  I will.  And I’ll hope for the return of media sensibility of decades past (yes – I’ll be hoping for a long, long time).

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