In Paper #1 of the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton calls on the American public to engage in a process of “reflection and choice”. By this, he means that he would like to see Americans foster political reflection in a public sphere. The face-to-face debate clubs and small-scale pamphleteering described by Benjamin Franklin in The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is much more effective at promoting political reflection in the public sphere than the current mass media. The small-scale efforts were more effective because they encouraged personal debates.
The mass media on the other hand, can tend to digress from the important issues and not delve enough into the political spectrum. The debate clubs and pamphleteering that Benjamin Franklin described were effective due to the fact that they made an influence on everyone involved. The debate clubs were made to spark intense person to person debates. These discussions weren’t made for the sake of winning, but for the sake of compromise. Instead of arguing to a point, a consensus was made. Due to this personal involvement, anyone involved had the opportunity to make a political impact.
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One downside of these clubs was that the rich, educated, minority had most of the power to make a political impact. The difference, though, is that when improvements were made to the educational system, a wider debate forum may have possibly been accomplished; On the contrary, mass media somewhat informs the public, but the rich still have most of the political power, with no opportunity for change through this system. The mass media can digress from the more important political stories due to the fact that it is as much an entertainment venue as an informational venue.
Due to the fact that mass media is in the business for profit, the stories they put out are sensational. Articles and headlines are usually presented as conflicts, and with flashy titles containing some sort of wordplay, such as “Terror on the Tarmac” , the current front page headline of the New York Daily News. On the other hand, the first story about the combat process in Iraq is on page 17 . The main objective for these newspapers is to turn a profit, and that is achieved by moving the most units. The best way to move units is by drawing customers in with exciting headlines, even if they’re not the most relevant politically.
The best modern way to improve the public sphere is to merge the roots with the current mass media. Public interest is at a low percentage-wise in politics because many prospective voters feel as if they don’t have a say. This is partially because mass media tends to ignore the issues at hand, and also because they feel candidates can almost buy their offices. This would be somewhat alleviated if the media could intertwine relevant political issues with excitement and if candidates would go to the grassroots and speak to their constituents, instead of just being paid to run by special interests groups.
In conclusion, the debate clubs and pamphlet spreading did much more to currying political reflection than the current mass media. The debate clubs helped the participants come to a consensus. The current mass media can tend to ignore important issues and just try to entertain us. Hopefully we can attain a perfect mix of the two options in the near future, which would be the best for profits, entertainment, and spreading education and inducing debate about the political spectrum.