Thursday, May 22, 2008

Starvation On The Campaign Trail

Are you exhausted by the media coverage of the current presidential election? Most likely. But have you actually learned much beyond how a candidate campaigns, feels about campaigning, or the now often-overused phrase "creating a narrative" for a candidate?

Given the history that so many political appointees and campaign staffers have become television icons who provide running commentary on elections, it's no wonder the results of a national survey show the TV coverage of the current presidential race is long on 'campaign strategy' and very short on analysis of issues and policies of the candidates.

FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) offers this insight:

From December 26, 2007, until February 5, 2008, the three nightly newscasts aired a total of 385 news stories about the election. This averages out to more than nine news stories on the election per night on network TV. With that kind of saturation, you’d think that the coverage would not only touch on the horse race and polling, but would shed light on policy platforms, economic plans, foreign policy goals and other substantive differences among what was then a wide-open field of candidates. You’d think that, after viewing or reading 385 news stories, you’d come away well-informed and ready to participate in a democracy.

But, unfortunately, you’d be wrong.

Campaign Analysis/Strategy dominated the coverage FAIR examined, appearing in 333 of the 385 stories overall (86 percent). It was the dominant frame in 252 stories (65 percent), and it was the only frame in 79 stories (20 percent). In other words, one in five stories in this sample touched only on the “how” of getting elected.

It’s not that campaign coverage should be devoid of analysis and strategic concerns; who’s ahead and why is of legitimate concern to voters, and this type of story can be informative and illuminating. But the emphasis on this type of reportage mostly provides news consumers with a lot of insignificant “insights,” like the January 2 CBS story “Hillary Clinton Needs Supporters to Show Up to Caucus.” So which candidates didn’t need their supporters to caucus?"

FAIR goes on to mention critical failures in coverage of just exactly how a candidate might propose to address the faltering economy and the war in Iraq. Short, zippy riffs from campaigners get air time - specific plans are seldom given coverage:

Remarkably, in the 55 stories that raised the Iraq War as an issue, the networks made no mention of any of the Democrats’ plans for troop withdrawal or their stances on the troop “surge.” Both of those topics, however, provided much fodder for the coverage of the leading Republican candidates.

John McCain is “surging in part because the ‘surge’ in Iraq, which he has long supported, has shown signs of success,” ABC reported on January 2. The “progress in Iraq . . . put new life into the John McCain campaign,” CBS reported (1/29/08).

The supposed success of the troop “surge” became a lens through which to view the McCain turnaround, but his plans for what happens next weren’t covered. Rather, his “ownership” of the war issue in the media left viewers with very little specific information."

The news media too often is addressing the cult of personality, and from their cheerleading heading into the war with Iraq to today, viewers are fed junk food and not food for thought.

1 comment:

  1. Amen brother.This will be the year of which empt suit wins.