Bullet casings were still burning impressions into the snow last Friday evening. The building had not even been cleared. Impressively poised Colorado Springs Police Lieutenant Catherine Buckley was speaking to the media about the apprehension of a suspect inside the Planned Parenthood building at a time when she didn’t know if her fellow officers were alive or dead. Clearly, the media would show restraint commensurate with the somber realities at hand, right? Wrong. The scramble was on. One crime in progress was replaced by another as a cynical hunt for derivative perpetrators commenced. CNN inferred that the Republican Party’s campaign against Planned Parenthood could be blamed for inciting the gunman. The NRA was starting to look good for this one, too, as descriptions of the weapon used by the actual assailant graduated from “long rifle” to “weapon of war”.
By Saturday morning, the New York Post decided that the best defense was omission. The cover of Robert Murdoch’s conservative tabloid was silent as to the atrocity. There was also no mention of it on the second page. Or the third, or fourth, or fifth. A fleeting reference could be found on page 19, under the baffling headline, “Arrest at ‘cop shoot’ clinic”. The story above it – about the Miss World pageant – was longer. The murder of a police officer and two civilians was apparently less noteworthy than Rapper 50 Cent hiding money in his refrigerator (page 3), and a “Real Housewife” who is launching a liquor brand called “Tipsy Girl” (page 14).
Why does the media work so hard to shape the news? It’s not because “that’s what the public wants”. The numbers put the lie to that myth. According to the United States Census Bureau, the current estimated population of the United States is just over 322 million. According to Nielsen, as of October, 2015 the average daily viewership for FOX was 1,085,000, and 511,000 for CNN. In other words, the “ratings champion” is watched by less than .3% of Americans. Over 99% of Americans aren’t watching FOX or CNN.
The vacuous manner in which ratings are discussed omits the critical distinction between what people glance at, and what people value. Every person who buys groceries sees tabloids at checkout. A smaller percentage read the headlines, and the percentage of people who actually buy one is a fraction of those who see it. On the other hand, Americans have shown durable allegiance to 60 Minutes, making it the most successful television program in American history. And presidential debates draw 60 – 80 million viewers. People watch them because they know they have a stake in the outcome. There is a massive void for accountable, relevant programs.
The shooting in Colorado Springs is yet another (grim) reminder that momentous events occur continuously. In today’s political climate, the calculated, cynical reactions to these episodes are designed to prompt legislative change, either by passing or repealing laws. Our opportunity to weigh in should not be limited to strolling to a voting booth every two years. We are entitled to perpetual participation in, and accountability from, our representative government. We are entitled to nationally televised debates before every major congressional vote. In addition to validating the right of the governed to evaluate the realities of what their representatives intend, it would reshape media. The numbers are already there.
Rob Kilmer, the President of You Defend It, Inc. is a lawyer with a litigation practice in upstate New York. He hosted the “You Defend It with Rob Kilmer” radio show until 2009 and since then has produced You Defend It debates.. He worked as a guest commentator for CBS4 in Miami during the 2012 Presidential debates, and Pulitzer Leonard Pitts Jr. wrote a piece on him called: “A Solution for Loud, Empty Talk”.
Mr. Kilmer’s initiative focuses on current, divisive issues, and provides members of the public with an opportunity to witness a dignified debate, the purpose of which is to identify how people’s lives will actually be affected by the outcome of the issue being debate. Towards that end, You Defend It debates are governed by two, simple rules: 1) each debater must directly answer the question asked; and 2) each must do so without a single reference to his or her opponent’s argument, party or (presumed) political philosophy. In other words, each debater is expected to show up at the debate with his or her own solution – and defend it.
You Defend It
“If you say it, prove it – because we live with the consequences.”