The only thing worse than governing by opinion poll is reporting by it.
From the 1940s CBS Radio, then CBS Television was the ratings darling of news. Its high standards for balanced reporting were the bellwether of journalism for decades.
Is it any wonder, then, that the cesspool that has become the 4th Estate is the result of chasing after the lowest-common-denominator news broadcasts and propagandist punditry of Fox News and Rush-led self-Right-eous radio?
Thankfully, XM's broader spectrum of programming has yielded a news channel called P.O.T.U.S., short for Politics of the United States.
While Fox News gives lip service to "Fair and Balanced" reporting, POTUS walks that walk.
Every weekday, POTUS airs new programming with balanced news and commentary that is punctuated by the most important speeches of the day from political leaders across the spectrum, usually presented in their entirety. They also deliver the daily White House press briefings raw and unfiltered.
Their shows focus on politics, and leave the kitschy programming about the day's latest Bubble Boy or shocking court video of a raped and strangled child to the Springeresque channels like CNN and FOX.
Instead of the 60 second blip and 30 seconds of spin, POTUS listeners are able to digest the major live events of the day and make up their own minds as to what it means.
It is interesting, for example, to hear POTUS broadcast one of President Obama's complete speeches to a political group or a town hall meeting, and then tune into a CNN, CBS, MSNBC or Fox News and watch the cherry-picking and the distortion curve hit it.
It is refreshing to be able to hear enough of what is going on in the news day live that one can form their own opinion about major events and political policy.
During this election season, the networks are delivering news that sells soap. To do that, they pay for a seemingly infinite series of polls to document the fears and worries that they stoke nightly to keep those ad dollars flowing. In their quest to pander to their audience groups, they have made public opinion the political bellwether of the day, a failure of journalistic principle that aids and abets the political system of this country spinning out of control.
"There is no maxim, in my opinion," said President Madison during his day, "which is more liable to be misapplied, and which, therefore, more needs elucidation, than the current one, that the interest of the majority is the political standard of right and wrong."
POTUS will talk about the polls, but they don't pander to them. They have done a terrific job of reporting the reality and the distortion effects of public opinion polls, along with the spin and political sentiment that accompanies them, without getting sucked down into that vortex themselves.
They balance the time of pundits, key live news conferences, and interviews with political candidates. For many listeners, it is a breath of fresh air. For others, it is a maddening curse as they seek out the "take sides" news that these listeners are used to hearing.
The centerpiece of the POTUS schedule is perhaps the best-kept secret in talk radio: A three-hour political talk program called "Stand-Up with Pete Dominick." It is probably the only show of its kind: Real Centrist talk radio. It is truly the best political talk show on the air today.
Dominick, a comedian and man-on-the-street for CNN, goes out of his way to place his XM/Sirius show on neutral ground, even setting aside his own perceptions and opinions. He catches and clamps down on spin from either side of a discussion. He generally gets a bit more thoughtful and thought-provoking discussion out of his program.
This self-effacing talk show host checks up on facts, and does an extensive amount of reading on the topics featured daily on his show, and readily admits when he doesn't know enough to have a take on something. He lets the listeners know what he knows, and what he doesn't.
Stand Up also encourages some of the most intelligent political discussion by listeners that you will find anywhere on American radio.
"Morning Briefing" anchor Tim Farley, and the early afternoon POTUS "Press Pool" hosted by Joe Mathieu deliver thoughtful punditry with a broad perspective. Today, Farley reminded listeners commenting via Twitter that POTUS keeps an even hand in its coverage, and later pointed out the irony that a Democrat was using Fox News footage of Chris Wallace interviewing his Republican challenger because he was actually asking a "tough" question.
Their live coverage of major political events like the national party conventions and and up-to-the-minute election coverage has been better than any other news outlet since their founding.
Lou Dobbs survivor Louise Schiavone is the swing anchor who usually fills in for Farley or Mathieu. She had brief run-in with Media Matters over some reporting on Obama back in her Dobbs days, and she struggles a bit more with the balance thing, but she still puts on a great block of news.
Their biggest challenge as a channel is finding hosts who can sit in when Schiavone is not around, or Dominick goes on a break. Most other fill-in talking heads are dye-in-the-wool partisans from other networks, magazines or newspapers, and moving to a Centrist format is a tough jump for a few of them.
The radio station produces a blog called "The Readout" hosted by POTUS producer Pamela Kirkland that scours the Internet for stories that are worthwhile for their listeners, an audio summary of which comes up a few times each day on the satellite radio channel.
Kristi Dangoia also hosts the POTUS Blogcast, briefs which hunt down interesting political opinion from the blogosphere.
Their only Achilles heel is the weekend, when coverage turns to a rehash called "The Raw Feed" and much weaker partisan programming from Left and Right sources.
When POTUS produces the political programming, though, it lives up to the best tenets of journalism. It is informative, entertaining, balanced and relevant.
If CNN is looking for a way to stop sinking into the tar pits of journalistic irrelevance, they could learn a lot from this small group of very talented news people who produce hours of the best news programming in America right now.
My shiny two.