The U.S. political system is a crumbling, "bleak landscape" where fewer and fewer people vote, mudslinging campaigns take the place of thoughtful debate and 96 percent of office holders - for better or worse - are re-elected.
And some reporters, news directors and editors aren't making the situation any better.Those were the thoughts of Washington Post columnist David Broder, who joined a panel of local journalists and politicians, including Sen. Jake Garn, Gov. Norm Bangerter and former Salt Lake Mayor Ted Wilson, at the University of Utah Monday to discuss media coverage of American politics.
"We in the press have to move away from our intimate and somewhat compromised position as political insiders," Broder said. "The press must become more involved with the people we write and broadcast for and less involved with the people we write and broadcast about."
Broder said journalists should do face-to-face interviews with voters to discover what they want to know about during a political campaign. "Then ask questions and find space and time to report the answer extensively," he said.
He added that most news organizations are inflexible and will have a difficult time changing the way they report on political issues.
Panelist and Salt Lake Tribune business editor Paul Rolly said Utah reporters did little more than cover press conferences during the last governor's race.
KSL television executive producer Janice Evans pointed out that the time of candidates' sound "bites" expressing their views have been reduced over the past three decades. Television spots of candidates thoughts lasted about 40 seconds in 1968 compared to about 9 seconds last year.
Other factors associated with media coverage contribute to the weakened state of American politics.
Sen. Jake Garn criticized drawn-out, expensive campaigns that lack spontaneity and focus on opponent's weaknesses.
"I've seen my colleagues on both sides of the senate floor planning their elections and there is far too much talk about `how do I look?' and `what kind of ads do I use?' " he said. "Candidates across the nation should be addressing the issues that concern voters."
Garn rebuffed politicians who use the media to sling mud to get elected.
"Candidates should campaign on the basis of why they should be elected rather than why their opponents should not," he said.
Bangerter told the audience that the press should be aggressive in covering controversial issues. "Drive hard. Don't let us get away with fuzzy answers," he said. "Force us to take positions."
Broder, whose column is printed in more than 300 newspapers nationwide, concluded that effective campaigns are ultimately up to the candidates.
Journalists may have trivialized politics in their coverage, he said. But politicians must take responsibility for the conduct of their own campaigns.