By REA KONDI-The evolution of the media seems to point to a trend of a mediated experience that is indistinguishable from a real-world experience. Society lives in the most media-immersed age. The turning point has been the shift from legacy media of the 20th century to the new social media. The emergence of the social media platforms have sped up a rather slow evolutionary process. The technological ability of media to gather, recycle, and disseminate information has resulted in a society that is ‘a multimedia environment’. In this context, subjects like news reporting, media representation, moral panics, media and the police etc. are worth-exploring and useful in spotlighting a form of behavior or pattern of events that is increasingly common in our media-saturated modern society.
On November 4th, Matt Walsh wrote an opinion article titled “After This Debacle, We Should Abolish Early Voting And Mail-In Voting” in the Daily Wire, a conservative website that publishes news and opinion articles. In response to this year’s election multitude of voting methods, the writer proposes that all votes should be in-person on election day. According to Walsh, abolishing early voting and mail-in votes would minimize confusion and the counting of fraudulent votes.
In my view, the article might have been less controversial if it were part of a discussion that we would be having at a different time and not in the course of an ongoing pandemic. Given the current situation and circumstances, I find the premise of the argument to be inconsiderate. The mail-in and absentee ballots allowed or enabled a range of people such as elderly, those facing immune-deficiency conditions as well as students studying in different states (such as myself) a chance to vote, to be heard and to exercise their civic duty. The article uses the attributional framing of the Left in order to make it appear ridiculous and over-emotional. Namely, the leftist are to blame for the counting errors that led to no change in the result of the election. The author even includes rhetorical questions such as, “What if people who have this (insane, irrational) fear are in charge of counting the votes in key battleground states? Is there not now, at minimum, a severe temptation toward potentially dishonest behavior?” (Walsh). Although it is presented as a speculation, it is a veiled accusation. The only prognostic frame the article has to offer is the abolition of the problem. It is safe to guess that conservative groups would agree with this view. Walsh most likely chose this representation fueled by the conservative argument that President-Elect Biden won the election mainly because of the mail-in ballots. To go a step further, such a subjective view could be intended to cause moral panic.
The opinion in particular follows the interest group model of moral panics since the conservative author intends to push his view onto a wider and more susceptible audience. By using disproportion, the article frames the Left as the ‘folk devils’ that committed voter fraud to elect their candidate. I would argue that the article uses disproportion since out of about 100 million votes, a very large proportion of these votes would have to be fraudulent in order to affect the outcome of the total vote count. Regardless, the argument of the mail-in votes and the Left is poised to increase tensions between the two main parties. It will polarize further those who agree with Walsh’s opinion and those who oppose him or hold a different opinion. Conservative personalities that have a platform, such as Ben Shapiro and Alex Jones, will refer to this point to oppose the legitimacy of the next (not-Trump) President. If the previous four years are in indication, their followers will blindly follow.
At the end of October, CNN uploaded an article titled “Feds say Russia and Iran have interfered with the election”. The article focuses on the Cyber attackers from Iran and Russia having accessed information of registered US voters. They claimed that in some cases voters were even threatened to vote for President Trump over email. In other instances emails spread disinformation through videos of voter fraud. The article concludes with the motivations that Russia, China and Iran would have to interfere with the elections and why it would make sense.
The framing of the issue is that America is targeted by countries like Russia, Iran and China who seek to destabilize or throw doubt in the American democratic process. Yvonne Jewkes, author of the bestseller book Media and Crime, provides a context in which to view the CNN representation of the topic. The main value of the reporting would be the conservative ideology and political diversion. At a time of intense political divide and polarization within America, the subject of interference with the election serves to increase tensions in the foreign affairs arena with Russians and Iranians. Democrats are aroused as they recall the 2016 election and the claim that Russian interference gave Donald Trump the help he needed to sit in the Oval Office. Politics in the news and media has gained a lot more attention over the past four years for a number of reasons. The engagement attracts more viewers and gets more clicks for the media outlets and news organizations. The potential Cyber attacks on the election is a topic of increased controversy and therefore wider CNN audiences and revenues.
The CNN writers most likely considered values such as threshold and risk. Since the election affects the entirety of America, the threshold stands at the national scale. By stating that “both Iran and Russia have obtained US voter registration information” (Herb et al.), every registered American imagines their information being affected by it. The writers are aware of the risk value when the by publishing it, every voter will believe they are in danger of possibly having their vote nullified on account of the Cyber attacks. In this particular case, Russia, China and Iran appear as threats to American societal values. On one hand, information is based on specific intelligence data, on the other hand, the representation invites feelings of resentment towards Russia, China and Iran.
The interesting point about these cases is that they highlight the spiral effect produced by the interaction of the media, public opinion, interest groups and the authorities which gave rise to the phenomenon known as “moral panic”. As the author writes, implicit in the use of the two words is the suggestion that the threat is to something held sacred by or fundamental to the society. “The reason for calling it a moral panic is precisely to indicate that the perceived threat is not to something mundane such as economic output or educational standards but a threat to the social order itself or an idealized (ideological) conception of some part of it.” Moral Panics, Kenneth Thompson. He notes that the threat or its perpetrators excite strong feelings of righteousness and the events that give rise to moral panics are to be perceived as fundamental if the society, or some important part of it, is in crisis. “The response to such threats is likely to be a demand for greater social regulation or control and a demand for a return to ‘traditional’ values” writes Thompson, making the case for the motives of those who call for or impose social regulations in such cases – the mass media, activists, politicians, police and judiciary.