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Media intake scrutinized

Amy Barker | Monday, October 2, 2006

The endless stream of media from a variety of sources can actually pose a problem to politics in America, Dr. John Pauley said in a talk at Saint Mary’s Stapleton Lounge last week.

Chair of the Saint Mary’s communication department Dr. John Pauley spoke on the complications media poses for politics in America last week at Saint Mary’s Stapleton Lounge.

Entitled “What does it matter what media we consume?,” the speech began with a presentation of American media and its coverage of American politics. Pauley, who chairs the communication department at Saint Mary’s, compared the media of 50 years ago – when there were three major networks mainstreaming the news – to today’s innumerable resources of information, which Pauley actually called a serious problem. He pointed out that anyone with an opinion can potentially publish it on the internet.

“The line between fact and opinion is continually becoming blurred,” Pauley said.

Pauley also discussed the dangerous “Selected Exposure” phenomenon, which creates factions full of like-minded citizens.

“We are reaching a point where people consume the media that matches their own prejudices,” he said.

For example, 86 percent of people who watched Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9-11” already disapproved of President George W. Bush’s administration, Pauley said – and 88 percent of Rush Limbaugh listeners already approve of President Bush.

According to Pauley, in the trend of reinforcing and reassuring, the prospect of collaborating with an opposing opinion in order to find common ground is lost. The broader the spectrum of people a person is talking to or collaborating with, the sounder their reasoning must be in order to best reach out to the audience.

“In my opinion, the net result of selected exposure pervading our environment is disheartening,” he said.

Pauley moved into the second point of his speech by defining politics as “a system for distributing scarce resources to a collective for programmatic reasons,” and questioned the media’s presentation of politics. For example, 33 percent of citizens switched their initial presidential vote after listening to the Howard Stern show.

“Howard Stern, Oprah, etc. are not reporters or journalists,” Pauley said. “How can they be a substantial source of political information?”

He encouraged students to seek and decipher all the available information and to avoid the cultural fixation with personality, an obsession that is not a part of his political definition.

Three techniques for preventing the problem in media consumption are listening, reasoning and dialogue, Pauley said, and students should focus on “conscious consuming of political information and in fact, all information.”

Saint Mary’s senior Rachel Sokolowski recognizes a problem in media consumption.

“A lot of youth are influenced by the wrong outlets,” she said, “and if they can’t decipher between thought and opinion then we are at a loss.”