On Thursday afternoon, Andrea Tantaros, political contributor for FOX News, found her way to Middlebury College. Situated in beautiful, middle-of-nowhere Vermont, this small, go-green, liberal arts college attracts more than its fair share of overzealous, liberal, 18-22 year-olds. Needless to say, the idea of Tantaros speaking at the college was incredibly intriguing to a political junkie like myself, and I thought the discourse that took place at the talk was worth reflecting on here.
The title of the talk, “The Role of the Media in the 2012 Race for the GOP Nomination,” ultimately had nothing to do with the bulk of the substance of Tantaros’ speech. Though she discussed the fact that the GOP candidate race has been framed as a brutal, bruising battle and touched briefly on commentary regarding some of the 2012 candidates, her thesis seemed to be that news anchors have become biased, and they have become biased in favor of the Democratic Party.
On that point alone, I don’t disagree with her.Sure, the major news networks lean left. Sure, President Obama benefits from some positive media coverage. But, she grossly underplayed the effect that punditry, a field that Tantaros should consider herself a part of, has when it comes to media biases. She noted that unlike news anchors who claim to be unbiased, she and other “political contributors” on FOX News never hide their political stances.
When asked by a student if she and other pundits take responsibility for the lack of “truth” in the news today, she responded that she doesn’t. What Tantaros didn’t acknowledge in her response is the inability, or perhaps more accurately the unwillingness, of many TV-watchers to discriminate between the Bill O’Reillys, the Chris Matthewses, and the “news.”
Beyond her points about the media, Tantaros made a variety of inflammatory comments, including criticizing women who are “asking men to pay for their birth control.” By men, she meant taxpayers. In fact, she said taxpayers and men interchangeably in a few consecutive sentences on the topic. Still, though I staunchly disagree with her when it comes to the birth control debate, I do see through the provocative language and can evaluate her stance on the issue for what it is. And I understand and respect it.
As a liberal democrat who often feels her views are safe in the Middlebury community, I very much appreciate the effort by the College Republicans to bring a face like Tantaros to the college. She certainly shook up the day’s political discourse here, and I truly believe that we need more of that. I know there are plenty conservatives at Middlebury, and I think they should speak up more often.
However, in true liberal arts fashion, what I don’t appreciate meshes perfectly with last week’s lesson from my political science class on the United States Congress. Reviewing Morris Fiorina’s book Disconnect, my class spent an extended time discussing his thesis: that “those who ostensibly represent the American public take positions that collectively do not provide an accurate representation of the public.”
Essentially, political moderates dominate the American population, but they do not speak up. Instead, the political class, which makes up a very small percentage of the electorate, dominates political discourse and takes positions very far to the left or right of the average voter. While politicians see issues in black and white, Americans see them in shades of grey.
Where is the voice of the moderates? Why are the people who are willing to stand up and discuss their political beliefs so far removed from the real desires of the American public ? Does the middle have any hope for representation, or is it doomed to be misrepresented in American politics forever?
Tantaros’ speech at Middlebury was refreshing, and I feel that it served its purpose well. Still, I can’t help but feel that supporting the work of pundits in the media serves to perpetuate the polarization problem in American politics today, and thus, it perpetuates the disconnect between Americans and their government.