Civic Responsibility and Civic Vacations

We should forgive ourselves, and one another, for our occasional retreats from the news of the day. We should not judge ourselves for clinging to the safety of ignorance about current events, nor for tolerating a desire to stay “in the dark” about important social and political matters. The alternative to a periodic escape from a frenzied world might well be permanent imprisonment in its swirling chaos.

Yet the legitimacy of one’s withdrawal from the news cycle does not extend to withdrawal from the obligations of citizenship. No matter how frenzied, one must not disengage from the political process because to do so puts at risk the very institutions that grant the freedom to enjoy those occasional retreats from daily news. Voting is a privilege, but I believe it also should be an absolute obligation. To safeguard against obligatory voting spoiled by being ill-informed, though, voting should follow testing to measure knowledge of the political issues at hand. An “issues measurement index” should be developed to accompany every ballot measure (both issue-based and individual-based); failure to achieve a satisfactory level on the issues measurement index would automatically void the vote and subject the voter to mandatory non-partisan issues education, plus a “time fine,” which would require the ill-informed voter to dedicate a reasonable amount of time to civic matters (e.g., cleaning roadsides, removing graffiti from government structures, etc.).

I’m only half-kidding about the punitive measures for demonstrable voter ignorance. The other half is at least a quarter dead-serious.

How, though, can we stay informed and simultaneously retain our sanity? It is not easy, but the process is relatively straightforward. First, identify reliable, unbiased sources of news. In my opinion, a very good resource for finding such news outlets is https://mediabiasfactcheck.com, which rates news media on the basis of factual reporting and editorial/reporting bias. A search on the mediabiasfactcheck.com website reveals the following rating for the Associated Press:

LEAST BIASED
These sources have minimal bias and use very few loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes). The reporting is factual and usually sourced. These are the most credible media sources.

Overall, we rate the Associated Press borderline Left-Center Biased due to left-leaning editorializing, but Least Biased on the whole due to balanced story selection. We also rate them Very-High for factual reporting due to proper sourcing and a clean fact check record.

Two factors play into media overload: 1) bias and 2) volume/frequency. Bias can rear its head even when facts are presented fairly; unnecessary frequency tends to exacerbate the perceived urgency and seriousness of subjects. So, fewer exposures to reliably factual sources can keep us informed, while dialing down the stress the 24/7 news cycle tends to bring on.

On the other hand, when the volume of reporting/analyses of issues one finds important shrinks, one’s own view of the importance of the issue can decline; so, even though I feel strongly about an issue, a reduction in the frequency of media reports about it might diminish my sense of urgency about it. Might I decide to skip going to the polls? So, it’s a double-edged sledge hammer, as it were. We can’t let frequency of media coverage influence us one way or another; we must focus on the issue, not the sound bites.

Does this sound remotely like I’m giving myself a pep talk and a warning? Really? I would never have guessed.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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4 Responses to Civic Responsibility and Civic Vacations

  1. This, David, is probably true. We learn that there is an immeasurable volume of untapped knowledge permanently just beyond our reach. 😉

  2. David Legan says:

    “The more you learn, the less you know.”

  3. I’d fail on local issues, too. But I think I’d sometimes be so overwhelmed by “facts” on national issues that I would be almost in information paralysis. That’s why I need to step away, sometimes, and risk not knowing all I should know. Is it better to risk my sanity or risk casting a vote that, on deeper analysis, I might not have cast? I don’t know.

  4. Meg KoiE says:

    I like the idea (impossible of course) of the issue test. I read the local paper, I watch 3 news programs every day. I follow the headlines from one National paper (Washington Post), and read some of the stories. I’ve voted in every election since maturity (not sure about when I was in my 20’s) But I’d fail on local issues, I imagine. Who knows who would make the best coroner or justice of the peace, or POA Board member, for that matter. Meg

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