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Part II:  Jon Stewart, Charles Krauthammer,

and America's Game of Political Telephone


Author’s Note:  This article is the second in a series of three articles on the topic.


            In my last blog post (the first part of “Jon Stewart, Charles Krauthammer, and America’s Game of Political Telephone”), I pointed out that even knowledgeable individuals can differ in the definition of key political terms which can then prevent meaningful dialogue on the issues.  This problem of miscommunication is rampant in America’s politics and causes disagreement and polarization.  If the different sides actually understood the others’ actual beliefs, however, they would notice that their positions were much closer than previously believed.  It is likely that four causes are the sources of this miscommunication.  This blog discusses these four reasons and ways for the original espousers of ideas or positions to limit the possibility that their ideas are misstated or misinterpreted.


            1. Politicians do not effectively articulate their views or positions.  Most commonly, politicians do not state certain points because they assume that everyone knows them.  This situation often arises when discussing a new program or initiative.  For example, the politician does not discuss why the program or initiative is needed.  Most people on the politician’s side knows what the need is, but the other side does not.  Another reason for confusion from politicians is that they misstate their views.      


            2. Politicians inaccurately state the oppositions’ views.  Reasons for this phenomenon could be a lack of information or that politicians do not understand the other sides’ beliefs.  The most likely reason, however, is that politicians present others’ views incorrectly so that they can get votes.  The desire to win votes can be so strong that politicians’ statements can be so outlandish that they cannot possibly true. [1]  Unfortunately, some voters believe the statements, no matter how unbelievable they are.


            3. Members of the media, pundits, and celebrities (collectively, the media) present incorrect information.  They may do so because they do not understand politicians’ positions or arguments, or they do not have the correct information.  Another possibility is that they mischaracterize the other sides’ views on purpose to further their own political cause.  If one can make the opposition appear unacceptable, one can draw supporters to one’s own side.


            4. The subject of the incorrect information (such as a political party or politician) does not defend himself and correct the misinformation.  Consequently, the incorrect perception may become “fact” in the eyes of the public.  This phenomenon is especially true if the mischaracterization is repeated.


            The key question is how do politicians make sure that they and others are accurately presenting their beliefs.  While opposing politicians and the media are often to blame for the mischaracterization of beliefs, it is clear from analyzing the above reasons that politicians have a great deal of power in the situation to ensure that their views are accurately presented. 


            In this effort, politicians must act with discipline and hard work.  First, politicians must accurately express their views.  They must constantly be on the lookout for assumptions and unclear points in their speeches.  They should ask themselves what  a person hearing the speech for the first time will take away from it.  If the answer is different than what the politicians want to convey, they should rework the speech.  


            Second, and possibly more importantly, politicians must consistently correct the media and other politicians when these individuals incorrectly state the politicians’ views.  Politicians can do so by sending a tweet, posting on Facebook, issuing a press release, writing an op-ed piece, doing a radio or television interview, or holding a press conference.  As the lie becomes more serious, politicians must take greater action to defeat it (i.e., more to the interview or press conference side of the pendulum).  In doing the correction, politicians should usually focus on the message itself.  If the lie is egregious enough and especially if the culprits have distorted the message often enough, politicians must go after the sources and attack them as dishonest.  Politicians will not be able to prevent other politicians and the media from initially mischaracterizing their beliefs, but the politicians will be able to correct the misconceptions and hopefully deter others in the future. 


            America can take steps to solving its game of “political telephone” if politicians both communicate their views more clearly and use their leverage to encourage fellow politicians and the media to accurately report as well.  With clearer communication, America will hopefully be able to focus on fixing its problems rather than addressing its rhetoric.  In turn, polarization will likely decrease, and America can focus on what brings us together instead of what drives us apart.


            In Part III (the final part on this topic), I will analyze an issue, the political parties’ perceptions of it, the oppositions’ statements on the topic, and the similarities and differences in the parties’ likely true stances.



[1] For instance, President Obama stated that Republicans want dirty air and water, a view that is definitely not true.  

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