Editorial by John Ziegler

How The Liars Won

11/10/2005

After numerous submissions, the LA Times finally published an Op-ed of mine. Below is the link is the version I actually sumbitted to them. The link is to what was actually printed, which was rather different.

http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-ziegler10nov10,0,1109840.story?coll=la-news-comment-opinions

The results of the much anticipated special election, while largely expected, are truly remarkable on numerous levels. They reveal much about who we are as a state as well as the current nature of our political landscape. They also exposed numerous cracks in the foundation of our public dialogue; a political discourse that is now clearly broken, perhaps far beyond repair.

In my recent book, "The Death of Free Speech? How Our Broken National Dialogue Has Killed the Truth and Divided America," I discuss many of the flaws now inherent in the process by which the public absorbs the information upon which they base important decisions. Many of these same defects were more than apparent here in California over the months leading up to what could be Governor Schwarzenegger's 'Waterloo.'

For instance, how in the world did Proposition 77 not only fail to win, but, considering it once was favored in the polls, get relatively clobbered? The initiative had the backing of a recently popular Governor, numerous Democrats and the majority of Republicans, as well as Common Cause and even the admittedly liberal editorial board of the LA Times as well as every single other major paper in the entire state. It is almost impossible to get that kind of agreement on what day of the week it is!

Meanwhile, almost no one would speak out publicly against the idea of trying to fix a clearly busted system of redistricting that nearly everyone agreed was corrupt and anti-democratic. Instead, the plan was apparently shot down because of 30-second TV ads that alternately featured a long-forgotten 'People's Court' judge and three nameless, clearly evil, old white male actors in robes who were seen carving up the state to look like Texas (did anyone else find it odd that a commercial that tried to take advantage of the voter's ignorance would rely on those same voters connecting the Texas map to the indicted Republican leader Tom Delay').

The entire special election campaign was completely dictated by 30-second TV ads (and to a lesser extent the relatively substantive 60-second radio ads) which were mostly such verbal garbage as to make even a Beverly Hills gold-digger addicted to plastic surgery seem almost deep and honest by comparison. The vast majority of commercials seemed to view the truth as a mere technicality and the facts as nothing more than a mere obstacle to a goal apparently inspired by Oakland Raider's owner Al Davis famous mantra, 'Just Win Baby.'

Unfortunately, in a country with a First Amendment it is both impossible and inadvisable to ban or even restrict lying in a political campaign. However, that does not mean that there should be absolutely no repercussions for those who bend or break the truth in the pursuit of electoral victory. Here is where the news media in California as well as the public failed in their democratic duties.

The newspapers (especially this one, the news source of record for the region) made only a feeble effort to separate fact from fiction when it came to these absurd ads and even then made it seem as if both sides of the 'debate' were lying equally. In general, the news media seems to have created this matrix through which we are supposed to view all political discourse with such extreme cynicism that it is presumed that no one is telling the truth. So if one side claims that 2+2=4 and the other claims 2+2=100, there appears to be a consensus that the real answer must be somewhere in the middle. Ask yourself who prevails in that scenario? Obviously, it is the liars who win big because the truth, by its very nature can not be exaggerated. Well, there is absolutely no doubt that it was the liars who won in this election.

At least newspapers made some sort of an effort. Local TV news outlets (the very same ones who were making by far the most money from this election) gave almost a complete pass to the ads that were airing during their newscasts, focusing instead almost exclusively on the 'horse race' aspect of the election, apparently fearing that any coverage with actual substance may hurt their precious ratings. Even when KNBC and Telemundo sponsored a statewide hour-long 'forum' on the issues it turned into a sham that was literally hijacked by Democratic Party operatives.

As for talk radio, we at KFI spent quite bit of time attempting to get to the bottom of these inane ads (during one particularly surreal moment an ad ran on my show claiming that the author of Prop 74 refuses to campaign for the issue, even as she was my guest campaigning for the initiative!). However, much like the LA Times, everything we say is now perceived to be biased and preaching to the already converted. How ironic (not to mention tragic) that on one of the few occasions when the Times and KFI wholeheartedly agree, Props 75 and 77 still go down to defeat because the majority of voters were fooled by ads that lied to them.

Our Founding Fathers knew well the vital importance of an informed and engaged public to make democracy work. Sadly, even in an era in which more information is at our fingertips than ever, California has proven that the machinery of our public dialogue is badly broken and that we as a people are not up to the considerable challenge of overcoming that deficiency.

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