Tuesday, October 7, 2008

How To Force Answers From Candidates And Why It Needs To Be Done

Cat and mouse games would be a welcome respite from the day to day chasing around of the candidates for public office in order to obtain unscripted views from them. Playing hide and seek would be a preferable past time, rather than watch the U.S. media beg and plead for a sound bite from those who seek to hold the highest offices in our nation.

Everyone in the country is well aware of the refusal of the current Republican candidate for Vice President, Sarah Palin, to answer any questions by the media or by voters themselves unless the setting can be carefully controlled by her handlers. The same can be said for John McCain to a lesser extent. Speaking to a television station that is known to be a talking point distributor for one political party does not an objective accounting make. To this day, no one has any idea of the truth about the Republican candidates because of this refusal to answer questions, and by default, we have no idea of their fitness to hold high office. The situation would seem ridiculous were it not so serious. But when citizens of the United States, the supposed beacon of world freedom begins to resemble the old Soviet Union because of the actions of it's leaders and it's candidates, then it is obvious that changes are needed as to the way political campaigns are conducted.

This most unusual practice of not being open and honest with the American people is not without precedent. In recent years, other candidates for office have just refused to answer any and all questions in the hopes that the media would feel they couldn't run a story because they didn't have a quote from the candidate themselves. A case in point would be Rudy Giuliani's refusal to answer charges that he used the budgets of obscure New York City offices to pay for his lavish travel expenses. Campaign staffers would manhandle reporters into 'press areas' at campaign events, that is, until the glad handing began and they needed the media to take photos of a smiling ex mayor being the man about town.

Another case of candidate refusal to speak to the public in any form other than settings of their own spin worthy choosing would be what a Montana group called Project Vote Smart did in Idaho. They wanted to determine just how many lawmakers would answer questions from them. The group's board includes George McGovern and Newt Gingrich. Interestingly, and most telling, John McCain was on the group's board but was kicked off after refusing to answer the non partisan questionnaire. Before McCain picked Sarah Palin to be his running mate, she also refused to answer the questionnaire sent to her. Maybe that's what gave McCain the impetus to choose her. Her propensity for silence. The Idaho politicians who refused to answer any questions were a mixed bag of both Democrats, Republicans, and even one Independent. Two are members of the U.S. House of Representatives, the others are all Senators.

Other notable candidates or even office holders who refused to state their positions on issues or who ducked questions altogether are Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who refused to clarify the statement he made equating homosexuality with bestiality and incest. Presidential candidate Fred Thompson, during the Iowa Republican debate held December 12, 2007, outright refused to answer the question of whether or not global warming was man made or if it occurred naturally. As of this writing, neither Presidential campaign will answer the questions of the Americans With Disabilities Group as to their stance on protecting benefits for the incapacitated. Colorado Senate candidate Bob Scahaffer ducked the media at an April event where heated discourse was expected on the economy and the Iraq War. In fact, he didn't even bother showing up at all.

There are many more examples of candidates who seek public office that refuse to answer media questions, but to include them all here would take a year or more. The problem seems to be that no one really gets to hear about the fact that these people refuse to answer questions on matters of how they would govern, because there is really no way for the media to force the candidates to give information to the public. What generally happens is the media outlets will just not bother televising or writing up a story, due to the lack of response from the politico involved. In this way, the politician gets to put forth what he or she wants the public to hear without ever having to explain their positions or answer anything but 'softball' questions.

This would never have been allowed even 25 years ago. The press even as late as the 1980's had the tenacity and the willingness to go the extra mile to get to the bottom of a situation, or to go so far as to ignore candidates who refused to answer questions. This doesn't happen any more. Now, if a candidate refuses to answer reporters or gives vague references to a talking point as an answer to a direct question, the media will just print or parrot the candidate's non answer and that's all the People get to see or hear. Instead of using the power of the First Amendment, the U.S. media acquiesces to the wishes of political campaigns by still following them around and reporting on their talking points, even when those very same reporters know full well what they are reporting is a lie. The so called 'rag' newspapers have done a better job in getting to the truth than the mainstream media, as have citizen journalists.

One way to end this type of politicking by omission, a practice that leaves the electorate confused or feeling that they don't know enough about the candidates to even bother voting, (which is what the politician who refuses to answer questions hopes for in the first place), is to implement an appendix to the Freedom of Information Act that orders for the full disclosure of all positions held by every candidate that runs for any political office in the country. From County Sheriff to President of the United States. Or even a stand alone law that decrees the same thing.

Naysayers will say that this will give an unfair advantage to those who speak well in public, but the argument doesn't hold up due to the many spokespeople candidates have, the advent of instant communication via the Internet, news print media, and a populace that has already declared that they could care less about speaking styles, they demand substance instead.

A law would not be needed were candidates to just level with the American people. But as we have seen in recent weeks, the state of political discourse in this country has degenerated into a laughing stock caricature of days gone by. Campaigns that declare their candidate doesn't speak for the campaign, hides a Vice-Presidential hopeful in an ivory tower, outright humiliate reporters that follow the campaign by keeping them in cordoned off areas and not giving them any access to the candidate or the candidate's supporters. Since the reporters involved don't mind being spit upon in public, and not turn and tell the campaign to cover itself from now on, there must be a way for the public at large to force the candidates for office to either answer to the issues put forth, or be barred either from running for office altogether, or at the very least, be banned from the airwaves that are owned by the People, not the politicians.

Regular press conferences with questions and real answers are the way Americans glean insight into candidates, not having their talking points, lies, and filthy sleaze thrown at voters by the very same Fourth Estate we entrust to give us the truth. If the media wishes to change the way political business is conducted in America, all they would have to do is to press a lawsuit with the Federal Communications Commission, pressing for relief. On the flip side, every single voter can file a complaint with the F.C.C. on their web site under the 'Broadcast (TV and Radio), Cable and Satellite Issues' area here: http://esupport.fcc.gov/complaints.htm The basis for your complaint can be lodged due to the section of FCC law that deals with unauthorized/unfair/biased/or illegal broadcasts. Continue on to the next page and click 'Biased or Distorted News Stories By The Media'. Continue on to the online form and fill it out. If the FCC receives enough complaints, they'll be forced to act against any on air media that presents false information or reports known to be lies by candidates as a news item.

We the People have the power and the authority to demand changes to the way political campaigns are conducted in our own country. The time has come that politicians understand that we the People own the air waves of America, not the media, and certainly not the mud slinging liars who slime our living rooms with falsehoods. But in order to accomplish anything resembling change, we all must get involved. File an FCC complaint. Demand campaign disclosure laws that force candidates for office to hold real press conferences and answer the People's questions. because we are fast approaching a point in our history when politicians will just send out an email flyer and you won't ever get to see or hear from them. You'll just have to completely take their word for it, and we can see how well that's been working out.

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