ENOUGH ALREADY! Political Overkill Coverage Numbs Voters
Would someone please remind me when the next presidential election will be held? I sure don't want to miss it. A genie even told me it's not until November 2008. Can it be that far off? Could have fooled me.
Judging by the intensity of the coverage and the overheated debate in the blogs and among advocacy groups you would think that we were going to the polls tomorrow. There's a presidential candidate spieling everywhere you turn. What's worst, there's an endless telethon of pundit speculation on the basis of the thinnest polls and wonkiest projections.
Why is this happening? Is there really nothing else to report on? Has the glare of constant media attention become such an irresistible obsession for pols? Is the excitement of running for office so powerful in its gravitational pull on politicians that they have nothing better to do? Does our media have to manufacture excitement so much that it relies on constant coverage of what was once called the "permanent campaign" to lure audiences?
Has what TIME magazine once called "ELECTOTAINMENT" become a permanent feature of our TV diets only to be interrupted by even more empty-minded celebrity scandals?
Already the public, outside of a primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire where candidate events are a stable of recreational interest and free food, is getting weary of all the political noise all the time. It is as if real life is finally catching up with an imagined satirical poll that appeared in l998 in the ONION with the headline: "73 percent of Americans Unable To Believe This Shit."
Electoral overkill is producing a tune out among voters even as it seems to be exciting the "base," which seems to be on uppers while the rest of the country is clearly on downers.
The whole election machine is stuck on fast forward-which is good news for the professional political class because of all the jobs it creates for consultants, pollsters political ad firms, and armies of media specialists. Raising money and getting on the air is their focus. Of course the more we see them the less we see about what's happening in Afghanistan and Iraq, or even to our own economy.
The news value of all this is pretty empty but it's easy to cover because so many reporters have done it for so long. Once it was the "boys on the bus," now it's the "prettiest hair on the air" anchors being given a chance to get out from behind their sets to cover "real events," even though they are so obviously manufactured.
Is this what our democracy has come to? It is NOT the carnival of free choice it appears to be. We know that behind the scenes the money men are calling the shots, as the invaluable Amy Goodman reported on a show that might be rebranded "Democracy When?"
"The race for the 2008 election is on, and all we hear about is the race for the money. Presidential hopefuls are vying with each other to raise tens of millions of dollars for what is projected to be the most expensive election in history. But hardly anyone is talking about where this money comes from or where it ends up. Fewer still have asked persistent questions about corporate America's grip over not just the elections, but most policy decisions out of Washington, DC."
Agreed, but maybe, just maybe, the coverage is there to overload us deliberately with so many images and so much trivia that we never learn to ask the really important questions.
Just read this report on mostly "meaningless campaigning" in the San Jose Mercury News, it makes you wanna weep, if not throw up. Mike Murphy and Mark Mellman nail it:
"In the first 100 days of 2007, the big field of Republican and Democratic candidates running for president collectively spent more than $50 million campaigning, made hundreds of stump speeches in Iowa and New Hampshire and endured several nationally televised debates. Too bad so much of it will prove meaningless.
Don't get us wrong - an awful gaffe at this stage could be deadly, and there's no question that early money is crucial. But let's be honest. The absurdly early start of this primary season has a lot more to do with entertaining bored political elites than with persuading actual primary voters.
It is reminiscent of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle we all heard about in high school physics class. Professor Werner Heisenberg postulated that 'the more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known.' Applied to the presidential race, this suggests that the more we measure how the candidates stand now, the less we may know about where things are going to end up - because the measurement itself can render the findings inaccurate."
Run that by be again-this mainstream newspaper in Silicon Valley is sort of agreeing with the shit detectors over at the Onion but with many more words, especially these: "This primary season has a lot more to do with entertaining bored political elites than with persuading actual primary voters." This sentence is so insightful it deserves repetition.
You can call this a massive case of goal displacement because the alleged goal of our media to strengthen democracy by informing us has given way to its actual role of deceiving us by treating the Merry-Go-Round as if it is important.
The NY Times reports that many Americans are "disgusted"-their word, not mine- with the early start of the 2008 campaign. Veteran political reporter Gabe Pressman blames the press for this-if anyone should know, he should:
"The truth is we journalists have created this monster. I attribute it to a shortage of old-fashioned journalistic smarts and just plain laziness. It's far easier to cover the politics of 2008 as a horse race than as something infinitely more serious. Publishing the latest public opinion polls on a weekly basis is easy. So is publishing or broadcasting the latest fund-raising totals.
Sadly, we - the army of journalists throughout this country - have prodded the candidates to raise heaps of money but not give us clear choices on issues that matter. And the campaign has descended at times into just 'blah, blah, blah.' One Pennsylvania woman said: "It's too much for too long. You get tired of it."
In fact, all this "coverage" is bogus in another way, because most American know better than to pay it too much mind. As the men from the Mercury point out:
"More than two-thirds of the Democrats who voted in the 2004 Iowa caucuses didn't decide who to vote for until a month before the caucuses. Four in 10 decided in the last week. In 2004, 54 percent of New Hampshire Democrats decided within a week of the primary. It's no surprise, then, that in the 2004 election, John Kerry was lagging in third place until only a few weeks before the Iowa caucuses. Kerry then more than doubled his vote in Iowa and nearly quadrupled it in New Hampshire - all in less than 20 days."
Now that we know this, will it make any difference? Not to many of the masters of the media-and for one good reason. There is money to be made on political commercials on TV. Broadcasting & Cable reports that TV ad men are salivating at the prospect of Mike Bloomberg entering the race with over a billion to spend.
Now you can understand why the coverage of political conventions has been cut way back. Sound bites seem to sell better than substance. Ten years ago, the Onion "reported" that the "National Shit Credulity Index (NSCI) has hit an all time low with only two percent believing this sh-t at all." I wonder what the Index says today.
- News Dissector Danny Schechter edits and blogs for Mediachannel.org, His latest film is IN DEBT WE TRUST (indebtwetrust.org) Comments to Dissector@mediachannel.org.