By Tyler M.
Media literacy is incredibly important today in our everyday life and is especially pertinent in the democratic process. Media literacy is defined as “a process in which media consumers (everyone is a media consumer to some degree) learn how to ask questions about the media in hopes of coming to a deeper understanding of it” (understandmedia.com). There are some common questions to ask when receiving messages via some media form, which include; who, what, where, why, and how. These questions help the recipient to better understand what is being presented to them.
Media literacy has been a tool that has been necessary since the advent of the earliest forms of media all the way to today. In today’s political climate, media literacy is a very important means to be competent in our contribution to the democratic process. The average American is inundated with a plethora of political ads throughout the election season, with the next election always seeming to come sooner and sooner. Political ads are a cornerstone to any election and it is necessary for individuals to ask themselves the important questions; who, what, where, why, and how; in order to decipher what exactly the message is being put out.
Campaign ads have been a key feature of Presidential elections in this country since it’s founding, and as technology continues to advance it is important for Americans to be well versed in media literacy. When watching a campaign ad on TV, which is one of the most common and dominant forms of media used for these types of advertisements, one of the first questions to ask is who is sending this message and what are it’s “embedded values” (understandmedia.com). The advertisement is certainly not unbiased or neutral and is trying to persuade the audience to vote for them. Following those questions it is now important to ask “where was the message placed for my consumption?” (understandmedia.com). Most times politicians will air messages in areas that they need the vote most. They won’t waste their time or money on places that they know will be a guaranteed vote and also in places that they know are certainly for the other candidate. Another question is “why was this message sent?” (understandmedia.com), with the obvious answer being for people to vote for them. The last question is “how do I view this message and might other people view it?” (understandmedia.com).
One of the problems that this country faces and politicians rely on is that people take the ads at face value and do not analyze and look critically at them. When negative attack ads run, it is important for individuals to question why the ad is being put out there in the first place, who their target audience is, and the validity of it. “Fact checking” is an important tool that has been used extensively in the 2008 presidential elections and even more so in the most recent one. Ads for both sides would oftentimes distort the facts or outright lie. Depending on the media, it was oftentimes up to the viewers to check for themselves or decide whether or not the claims were true.
During the 2012 election season, Americans were plagued with countless ads, most being negative in nature, which was both exhausting and confusing. While both candidates contributed to the negative ad cycle, Super PACs were a huge driving force for those advertisements. Karl Rove’s Super PAC, American Crossroads, was at center stage for both the insane amount of money spent, millions of dollars, and the virulent and vitriolic ads his super PAC put out. I went through four or five of his videos and all seemed staged and as serious as they tried to be almost seemed like a spoof. One of the commercials was titled “Bow”, which was about the President and his “hypocricy” when it came to Chinese relations and debt. Most of the quotes were taken out of context or flat out wrong. This is where media literacy is pertinent and is a definite help. Asking who funded the campaign and why can help the individual decipher the real reason behind it. Karl Rove is entrenched in the GOP and one of the biggest driving factors of his ad campaigns were the supposed rise on taxes and the catastrophic results that would ensue. However, the tax hikes proposed by the President wouldn’t affect middle class Americans in the same way that they would with individuals with his income, multi-million. Many of his ads were negative in relating to the president, but would leave out Mitt Romney and what his campaign stood for. This was one of the downfalls of this campaign strategy since it only drove in negative thoughts, but what were the other options? The campaigns lacked strength in their arguments and were a part of the Romney campaign’s downfall.
With technological advances especially pertaining to the Internet and social media, it has been easier for individuals to check for themselves and find truth in the messages being put out. Individuals no longer have to rely on corporate media companies who have a biased take on whatever they are reporting on. People taking their decisions into their own hands is the very epitome of what democracy is. Media has allowed individuals to do just that and help the democratic process.
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