TV and politics

Much is admirable in television coverage of politics. For example, a study of the presidential campaign by George Washington University analysts shows that the major networks have so far had their fairness meters in good working order: The numbers of stories and amount of time accorded each ticket have been about equal; stories have fairly reflected the campaigns' ordeals; quotations have responsibly represented candidate views.

Also, the presidential debates of the primaries, and the two presidential and one vice-presidential debates beginning nine days hence, Oct. 7, in Louisville - all televised - will likely be counted among the most decisive political events of the year.

But much about television's role in politics, in both campaign advertising and news-hour coverage, should bother an alert public.

* There is often a significant mismatch between the TV screen ''reality'' and the actual event, a disparity for which no knob on the TV set allows adjustment.

* Television domination of today's campaigns encourages a compliant, passive voter.

* Large swings in voter opinion can be the mere effect of ''media bursts'' - unrooted in political conviction.

* Brevity of ad and news formats encourages appeals to voter uncertainties, invocations of vague ''enemies'' and of ambiguous social and personal values.

* This scattershot approach permits politicians to take contradictory, inconsistent positions, often offered in bumper-sticker, slogan style.

* Freedom from follow-up questioning and a lack of accountability for the accuracy of statements in the same televised time frame distort the polemic of the campaign; sustained, reasoned explanation and comparison of campaign positions are discouraged.

We still have confidence in the good judgment of voters ultimately to sift through and sort out today's political spectacle, which Murray Edelman, a University of Wisconsin student of political imagery, called on these pages yesterday an ''unpredictable melange of threats and reassurances, largely unrelated to one another.''

Network and print reporters have made some effort to report the conscious use of the camera for partisan ends. Yet television's impact is if anything enhanced by today's reporting. What else can one conclude when the coverage of senior political reporters reads at times like the work of a television critic?

Does it make any difference that the frenzy of crowd adulation for a candidate, the waving of placards and flags, is being conducted by someone off camera, much like a stage prompter for a production of ''Aida''?

Does it matter that a candidate supposedly meets for lunch with workers at a restaurant table - the facility emptied of all other furniture?

Public funds help pay for the presidential campaigns. Why not just turn two of the huge hangars at Andrews Air Force Base into campaign stage sets, conserving campaign energy and the public's cash?

Voters should be aware that today's media campaign targets them for manipulation as much as it educates them for a voting booth decision.

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