Wednesday, September 23, 2009

When public discourse is not civil

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is no political novice.

The former Illinois congressman has been through the political wars and is still standing, a Republican appointed to his post by a Democratic president.

So it was with some surprise this week that I read that LaHood said that "trash talk" on conservative talk radio and cable television programs is impeding the nation's ability to solve big problems -- like transportation infrastructure.

LaHood, speaking at a Ohio transit facility, reportedly said the conservative attacks on President Obama make it hard for the president to get his message across to the American people.

"All of this background, all of this trash talk in the background, it does not contribute to civil discourse, and it does not contribute to the government or the country's ability to solve big issues," said LaHood, according to media reports.

I personally don't listen to talk radio or watch the cable talk shows on a regular basis because they bore me. The hosts are all about promoting their political agendas and have transformed what was once a respected news medium into a tabloid shouting match where sensationalism is more important than substance.

I am a news junkie, reading several newspapers each day and catching news reports on several networks. I am old school, and I don't care much for the so-called news talents who come across as more cheesy than professional.

The advent of 24/7 news cycles and celebrity talking heads has resulted in more public discourse than ever before. Issues and events are bantered about and analyzed until it seems no angle is ever left unexplored.

During my channel surfing I catch brief snippets of these shows and they will take a tragedy and milk it for all of its worth until the next scandal/catastrophe/revelation emerges. I caught a few minutes of one show where they were interviewing friends of the suspect in the murder of a Yale student.

The friends of the suspect were telling us that their friend was not capable of such horrific acts. Who decided this was newsworthy? It was tabloid journalism at its worst.

Transportation Secretary LaHood and President Obama may not like the tone of opposing voices who inhabit the radio and television shows and rail against them.

But let's not ever forget that the freedoms enjoyed by those talking heads is one of our most precious freedoms. I may not agree with their rantings, but I sure believe they should be free to say what they choose.

And if I don't agree with what they are saying -- I don't have to listen.

David Fierro is a transportation public relations consultant. He is a former newspaper and magazine editor. He worked for the Florida and Virginia departments of transportation. He resides in Sanford, Florida.

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