Media Rants Talks To Mike McCabe
from the April 2015 edition of The SCENE
Democracy activist Mike McCabe, former Executive
Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and author of the reform manifesto
Blue Jeans in High Places, will speak
at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh on April 9 at 7:30 p.m. in Reeve Union
306. Attendance is free and open to all. If you are interested in what’s ailing
our democracy and what we can do to cure it, you owe it to yourself to attend!
In anticipation of Mike’s visit, I asked him to
respond to a few questions.
Rants: Blue Jeans in High Places is relatively silent on
the role of mainstream media in helping to create the civic crisis described in
the book. What has been the media’s role in that crisis?
The role has been huge. Chapter 12 focuses on how the changing media landscape
has contributed mightily to the decline of our democracy’s health. Of course,
the whole book – or a great many books – could be devoted to this topic. There
are other parts of the book that don’t appear to be addressing the media, but
describe how politics has changed because of the way news organizations have
changed. Like how Bill Proxmire used to be able to run successfully for
statewide office while
spending less than $300 on each of his campaigns at a
time when newspapers were king, and how we now see $80 million spent on statewide races for governor once television replaced newspapers as the place
where most people get most of their information about government, elections and
candidates running for office. TV also has changed the way politicians talk.
They now have to speak in soundbites. They have to be glib, and they think they
all have to be blow-dried and made up to look like TV anchors. Substance is
sacrificed. I write about how more truth is found on “fake news” on Comedy
Central than is found on the “real” news provided by the cable news networks.
That’s a sad commentary on the state of the media.
Rants: Are there particular Wisconsin news sources and/or
journalists that you rely on to find out what’s “really going on” in our state?
Who/what should active citizens be reading?
McCabe: I don’t put my eggs in one basket,
or even in a few baskets. I believe in reliance on a very wide variety of news sources.
I don’t completely trust any single news source. I still subscribe to a daily
newspaper, and glean news from the websites of many other newspapers. I am an
avid public radio listener. I get a lot of news online, from a large number of
sources. I occasionally listen to commercial talk radio, but generally don’t
find it very useful. I used to faithfully watch “Meet the Press” and “Face the
Nation” and other national news programs, but have given up on them. I learn
way more from one episode of The Daily Show on Comedy Central than I did from a
month’s worth of watching Washington pundits pontificating on one of the major
networks. Some of the best news sources are small, little-known operations, and
some of the finest journalists work for such outfits. The Wisconsin Center for
Investigative Journalism and its wisconsinwatch.org website is outstanding. I’m
big fan of Bruce Murphy at urbanmilwaukee.com
. He’s really good. Jon Stewart
and Stephen Colbert deserve to be included among the nation’s best newsmen.
They are going to be tough to replace on those shows. As I write in the book,
thank god for satire. The last safe harbor for truth.
Media Rants: During your time at the Wisconsin
Democracy Campaign, your “Big Money Blog” was a lifeline for many activists
seeking information and insight about how special interests rule our politics.
Will you continue to blog or produce similar reports in some other format?
I will start blogging again very soon. I can’t help myself.
Media Rants: You’re quite active on social media. How are
Facebook and other social media changing the civic landscape?
McCabe: I have a
love-hate relationship with social media. They are amazing tools, with vast
potential to democratize the media. But they are still in their infancy,
politically speaking. They also have a dark side, obviously. Some of what you find on social media is
mindless, some of it is disgusting, some of it is downright depressing. But on
the whole, I think the good outweighs the bad. I find Facebook and Twitter and
other social media platforms to be very valuable ways to reach people, exchange
ideas and even inspire action. So I try to overlook what I hate about them.
Media Rants: Blue Jeans in High Places offers some
pretty hard-hitting criticism of the political status quo, yet it’s also a very
hopeful book. You seem optimistic that engaged citizens can repair our broken
democracy. Why are you so optimistic?
McCabe: The political system is broken, the major
parties are failing us. There’s no whitewashing that. The current moment is bleak.
But such conditions have existed before. And every time past generations
encountered these same kinds of threats to democracy and civil society, they
rose to the occasion and straightened things out. I refuse to believe that
there is something fundamentally different about us or wrong with us that
renders us less capable of making change than past generations were. We’ve
reached a crucial turning point, just as our grandparents and
great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents did. And I have no doubt that
we will do what they did.
: Mike McCabe speaks on the topic of “When Words Fail Us: Reimagining Political Vocabulary and Remaking Our Democracy”
: Thursday, April 9th
: 7:30 p.m.
: UW Oshkosh Reeve Union, Room 306
The event is free and open to the public.
For More Information: Email Tony Palmeri at email@example.com or call 920-235-1116.