GREENVILLE — The worlds of politics and journalism have changed exponentially in the past 30 years or so and, according to Tim Skubick, producer and anchor of the weekly public television series “Off the Record,” these changes have not been for the better.
Addressing an appreciative audience Thursday evening at the Stanley and Blanche Ash Technology & Learning Center in Greenville, Skubick bemoaned the fact that in today’s political arena, the focus is on winning rather than carrying out the wishes of the electorate.
“Today it is all about winning,” Skubick said. “If the people’s business gets done in the meantime, that’s great, but it’s not the top priority. My definition of political leadership is doing what you believe to be the right thing and not worrying about getting reelected.”
According to Skubick, Gov. Rick Snyder is a good example of a politician who votes his conscience even when it sometimes costs him votes.
“Gov. Snyder is an interesting dude,” Skubick said. “He ran as a non-career politician, which is why he got elected; because we don’t like politicians.”
Regarding media coverage of state politics, Skubick admitted it has declined precipitously since he began his career in journalism. Too many news outlets have cut back on their staff — particularly staff tasked to covering politics — in an effort to turn a larger profit. He noted that at one time, a television station posting a 10 percent profit was considered well in the black; these days the minimum most stations shoot for is 25 percent.
To make up the difference, Skubick said, station management make cuts, often in political coverage.
“We in journalism have lost our way,” he said. “Journalism is now a way to make more money. It’s all about the bottom line. My own personal thought is this: The greatest threat to our country is not terrorism. I believe it is greed. That is what will eat us alive.”
At least some of the blame for this lies with the viewing public, Skubick added, and its seeming lack of interest in politics.
“Ask a guy who the starting Tigers pitcher is and he can tell you,” Skubick said. “Then ask who is the Secretary of State. The guy doesn’t know. We are intimately more involved in our sports than in our politics and I think that is dangerous. When this happens, we turn our country over to the fringe factions on both the right and the left.”
The role much of the media is having on this year’s presidential race also is detrimental to the health of the country, Skubick added. Too much attention is paid to the wrong issues.
“You may all think this race for president will be decided on the issues, but it won’t,” Skubick said. “It will be decided on the beer question; who would you rather have a beer with? In this contest, I’d probably rather want to have a beer with Obama. You can’t have a drink with Mr. Romney because Mormons don’t drink.”
The need for candidates to look good on television is no laughing matter, however, Skubick stresses.
“The worst thing that could happen to American politics is television,” Skubick said. “It forces our politicians to be performers. Think about the vice presidential debate. All we talked about was smiling so much.”
This year’s presidential contest will be decided in large part, Skubick said, by women and undecided voters.
“(Women) are smarter than us,” Skubick said. “They think a little bit more; guys just go with the gut. That’s why Romney’s ‘binder full of women’ remark is going to hurt him. It’s that kind of stuff that can cost you votes.”
Skubick also noted that too many voters today have a difficult, if not impossible, time considering opinions different from their own. Conservatives watch conservative news and listen to conservative radio, so they can have their own opinions bolstered. Liberals do the same, he said.
“This is just wrong,” Skubick said. “We are supposed to be opening our brains to all points of view and then making a decision. The conservatives don’t have all the answers. The liberals don’t have all the answers. Somehow, compromise has become a four-letter word. Compromise is the essence of our democracy. It’s what democracy is all about. Everywhere I go I sense a thirst for bipartisan cooperation. But it doesn’t exist because the politicians want to get reelected and slam-dunk the other guy.”
Skubick’s talk drifted off into many other political topics throughout the evening. Topics included media bias (there isn’t any, he says), the Bridge to Canada (build it), allowing every presidential candidate, no matter how obscure, to take part in the televised debates (dumb idea), and his television show, “Off the Record” (watch it).
Skubick’s presentation was part of what he calls a “self-imposed tour” of the state.
“This is fun,” he said, “because I love politics. And I’m on a mission.”
Montcalm Community College President Robert C. Ferrentino, who emceed the evening, said he was a little surprised by the excellent turnout, considering the Tigers game being broadcast at the same time as the meeting.
“It’s great to see so many showed up,” he said.