As both presidential candidates pointed out repeatedly in the highly televised first debate last week, this election offers voters two very different paths for the future embodied in two very different candidates. However, one thing incumbent president Barack Obama and former governor Mitt Romney do share are unfathomable sums of money dedicated solely to this campaign. With such vast resources available, both candidates have the ability to advertise how and to whoever they want to. Interestingly though, most of the ads aired in swing states have been remarkably negative and Obama and Romney have publicly attacked each other on everything from foreign policy to the economy, culminating at the debate. Each day, it seems a new strategy is attempted by the candidates in an effort to gain any possible edge; and with record expenditures by each side, many view this year’s election as the nastiest ever.
But, as L.A. Times journalist Mark Barabak humorously pointed out during his lecture at Oxy Monday night, each presidential election in recent memory has been dubbed “the nastiest ever” in succession. Before 2012, it was commonly accepted that 2008 had set a record low, and before that, George W. Bush’s bid for re-election saw some of the most emotional opposition to a incumbent ever seen. Barabak continued to every election he had covered, pointing out that someone involved in each election going back as far as the 80s had concluded that the current year’s election was the worst. Even farther back, politicians used shocking tactics to help propel their campaign. For instance, Barabak mentioned the “little daisy” ad used by Lyndon Johnson in his race against Barry Goldwater in 1964. Showing a little girl peeling petals off a flower before the scene erupts in a nuclear explosion, the ad proclaimed “these are the stakes”, and was extremely effective for Johnson’s campaign. Yet, Mr. Barabak noted, the tendency of campaigns to employ negative ads and dirty tactics is not so much a reflection of the politicians or the nature of the race as it is an indictment of the public. Politicians wouldn’t use these tactics if they didn’t work.
Here, asserted Mr. Barabak, is where journalism comes in. Journalists provide voters with valuable information that allows them to make an informed choice in any given election. If voters understand the issues at hand, they are more likely to see through the conflicting information they receive in advertisements to the heart of the issue at hand. If more voters understand the issues, the efficacy of the everyday citizen increases and more can be accomplished by government. For this reason, I believe unbiased journalism to be extremely valuable to a society and I hold the freedom of the press as the dearest of all protections preserved in the Bill of Rights. Moreover, with the internet, anyone can access a wealth of information and spread their own ideas without cost. Our society should be extremely well-informed, yet we continue to respond to negative ads and attacks. No matter the result of the 2012 election, I hope in the future more people will appreciate the value of political journalism so that our politicians can begin to more positive campaigns.