Direct, sure, but not yet translated

DKS Editors

In the 1940s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to reassure war-weary Americans in his fireside chats, broadcast on radio.

In the 1960s, President John Kennedy spoke to his constituents via TV, hands clasped, leaning forward across his desk in the White House.

In the 1990s, President Bill Clinton appeared on “The Arsenio Hall Show,” donning sunglasses and jamming with the house band on a saxophone.

Fast forward to 2009: Less than 70 days after taking the oath of office, President Barack Obama arranged appearances on a late-night talk show and a prime time news magazine, spoke on a Latin music awards show and hosted a “town hall,” taking questions from audience members in front of him and via Web videos.

The current president is without a doubt the most media-savvy political leader in our nation’s history. No other president has ever used both traditional and cutting-edge means of connecting with the American public the way Obama has. He’s one of the most accessible presidents in history, as accessible as a leader of the free world can be. And modern technology certainly helps.

But with citizens’ questions going straight to the president and his answers going directly back to the people – is anyone really understanding the other?

Many have been criticizing the media since President George W. Bush was in office, saying that reporters have not been digging as deep as they could or asking the questions the people really want to know. The point of media is to explain to the public, in a comprehensive way, what exactly politicians are trying to tell them. And it’s also their job to ask questions for the people by order of general importance and dig into stories they have access to.

The public does not have access to the same information a reporter has, nor do they necessarily know how to decipher the information found. An individual asking questions to the president also doesn’t cover what the general public is interested in. A journalist asks the questions that yes, may pertain to them in one way or another but also are of importance to a large group of people. A journalist does not ask for themselves; they ask as a voice of many, many people.

It’s great that technology allows the everyday Joe to ask the president a direct question, but there is a reason the media has existed for so many years. Hearing a direct answer from the president may be a phenomenal and educational experience – but will the person necessarily understand the political mumbo jumbo? Will he or she know to ask the right follow-up question when it seems the president is trying to avoid something? Will the citizen even know how to tell if the president sounds like he is trying to avoid a topic?

Politicians are primed to say just the right things to citizens, which usually means only the positive aspect of a situation. Luckily for Americans, reporters are primed to decipher what the answers really mean and how it will affect the general public.

Americans must be careful that their need to get direct answers and their obsession with virtual accessibility not overshadow the information that matters. Just because you can walk up to a person from a foreign country and ask them a direct question doesn’t mean you’ll understand the answer. Don’t ever forget the necessity of a translator.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board.