The Broad is Back!

January 12, 2008

Slashing freedom of choice

Filed under: American culture,Democratic primaries,media,New Broads,politics — by maggiec @ 5:58 pm

The more I listen to the television news, the more discouraged I become.  The “news shows” focus on Obama and Clinton, McCain and Romney.  (I think it’s McCain and Romney–you know I am a lefty!)  This means thousands of dollars of free advertising for two candidates.  This is muzzling the other candidates.  Where’s the freedom of speech in that?

Today in my FAIR newsletter (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), I saw a great article called “Humbled in New Hampshire?”  The title doesn’t refer to a candidate.  It refers to the pontifical press who declared Clinton’s campaign to be over.  The media pretty much called the election for Obama days before the election even happened.  Lo and behold, Clinton won.  Egg on faces.  We would hope.

I was just upset about the non-coverage of some of the candidates.  But the article in FAIR pointed out that the press does more than just cover select candidates; it spins the wins and losses of those it’s not focusing on, using loaded language to manipulate voters.

As FAIR points out, “Democratic contender John Edwards defied press predictions by finishing second in Iowa, ahead of supposed front-runner Hillary Clinton. But much of the media conversation after the votes were tallied focused on the disappointing Edwards showing. By contrast, Republican John McCain had a great night in Iowa, according to many in the press– despite the fact that he finished fourth, behind Fred Thompson. The obvious difference is not how well the candidates did but how well they are liked by the press corps.”

And the results of the press meddling is even more insidious.  This is more from FAIR:  “There’s a long trend of media hostility towards so-called “second-tier” candidates (Extra!, , 9/10/03). As a recent Wall Street Journal news story put it (1/10/08), “In both parties, second-tier candidates continue to press on and siphon off votes.” But Broder and Russert were not just saying that non-frontrunners have a duty to get out of the way–they were asserting that a loss in New Hampshire would mean that Romney would no longer be a front-runner. This illustrates an important point about mainstream election coverage: Not only do journalists and pundits devote far too much attention to covering the horse race aspect of campaigns, but when they cover the horse race they generally do a poor job of it.

“Primary elections and caucuses determine how a state party’s delegates are assigned; if a candidate wins enough delegates, they will almost certainly be their party’s nominee. So a reasonably helpful media would focus on this delegate count. But the mathematics of this process are obscured by the media’s obsession with “wins” and “losses” in highly visible contests.

“Consider Barack Obama’s apparently monumental victory in the Iowa caucuses. The distribution of delegates, though, was hardly so dramatic: Obama won 16, Clinton 15 and Edwards 14. In a race to secure a little over 2,000 delegates, the results are of little consequence. In New Hampshire, Clinton’s dramatic comeback netted her nine delegates–the same number awarded to Obama. In the total delegate count tallied on CNN‘s website–which counts a large number of party insiders awarded as ‘superdelegates’–Clinton has more than double the number of delegates as Obama, and Edwards is about 25 delegates behind Obama.”

Now when I took Journalism 101, the first thing they taught us was to always use neutral language.  We were to report the news, not color it.  To color the news is yellow journalism or, even worse, public relations.  There’s nothing wrong with PR, per se;  I’ve worked in it.  But PR is not news writing. 

I’m not naive (I say that a lot in this column, usually when I say something naive–no, not naive, idealistic).  I know that newspapers have never been neutral. They originated as party organs.   It’s impossible for some bias not to get into what we write.  But there were always two sides out there, more than one source of news so that people could theoretically find more than one angle.  But the television news has lost that.  Sure, FOX is pro-Republican, other networks more pro-Democrat, but all the networks are marginalizing too many candidates.

Are news outlets too invested in who wins or loses or is it just plain laziness?  I would hope the latter but suspect the former.  And now what?  FAIR goes into that as well:

“What do we cover now?
“Former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw offered some helpful commentary during the coverage of the New Hampshire primaries, suggesting to MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews that reporters put less emphasis on trying to predict outcomes and spend more time covering actual policy:

“BROKAW: You know what I think we’re going to have to do?

“MATTHEWS: Yes sir?

“BROKAW: Wait for the voters to make their judgment.

“MATTHEWS: Well, what do we do then in the days before the ballot? We must stay home, I guess.

“BROKAW: No, no we don’t stay home. There are reasons to analyze what they’re saying. We know from how the people voted today, what moved them to vote. You can take a look at that. There are a lot of issues that have not been fully explored during all this.
“Matthews’ response is illuminating. Does a political junkie who hosts two national television programs really not have any idea about how to cover politics other than talking about strategy, fundraising and polls? Do campaign journalists really have so little interest in the actual policy positions of the candidates?

“As it stands now, the races for the major party nominations are remarkably close. The most valuable service journalists could provide now would be to illustrate the differences between the candidates on the major issues of importance to voters. The press corps seems chastened by their misreading of the New Hampshire electorate, and many are vowing to be more cautious in their assumptions. Will they follow through on their own advice? And will voters ever get campaign reporting that helps them make informed choices about the direction of their democracy? “
 

I recommend the article.  You can find it here.  And I recommend FAIR.  It’s an illuminating organization.

But what do we do in the meantime?  Well, write.  Write to the networks, write to the newspapers, let them know that we don’t like what they are doing.  But I don’t have much hope for that.  And then there’s the internet.  Preaching to the choir again.  If you’re reading this, you’re already internet savvy and know that we have to be active seekers of truth.  But let’s keep fighting the good fight.

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3 Comments »

  1. UPDATE: Just got a bulletin from the Kucinich campaign. NBC has decided to exclude him from next week’s presidential primary debates even though he meets the requirements for inclusion. Shameless. I’ve already written to them and now I’m about to call them as well. You can reach them at letters@msnbc.com. Let your voice be heard. No more taking away our rights!

    Comment by maggiec — January 12, 2008 @ 6:20 pm |Reply

  2. I emailed them.
    I heard Kucinich at the end of last week’s Bill Moyers. He was good. Here’s a transcript. You have to scroll to the end, after the news analyst lady and Ron Paul.

    Comment by Emily — January 12, 2008 @ 10:46 pm |Reply

  3. Thanks! And it’s not just for Kucinich’s sake. It’s the principle of the matter.

    Comment by maggiec — January 12, 2008 @ 11:59 pm |Reply


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