Between Feb. 11 and April 22 there are no presidential primaries taking place – a lull for all the political junkies out there. Yet after the madness of the beginning of the year, the media has still found events to report on during the quietest part of the campaign. Somehow, according to many media outlets, the race is more tense than ever.
When nothing is changing at the polls, can the media still go overboard? Through its exaggerated coverage of the campaign, the media is risking its proper place as just a bystander to the process and is having real effects on the campaign’s outcome.
Of course this election is a historic one. The background of the 2008 election reads like something out of a prime-time drama: an energized Democratic base is choosing between whether it should run an African American or female candidate, while the Republicans have chosen a war-tested political maverick – all against the backdrop of some of the most disappointing eight years of executive rule in living memory. It is no understatement to say that this is a truly crucial and telling moment in America’s history.
So why question the extreme levels of media coverage? The problem is that this is not playing out in the few hours or even a season of television. The status quo is not changing every 15 minutes, but the media continues to act like it is. They have invested so heavily in the appeal of this electoral narrative that they have over-taxed the actually tangible news stories.
The sensationalized coverage of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his controversial remarks and Sen. Barack Obama immediately come to mind. Is it really a coincidence that as soon as the primaries paused the media broke open the story about Rev. Wright’s controversial comments? These remarks were not made after the last primary, but rather in sermons delivered years ago.
Posted on MSNBC a few days ago was a story about the fact that Sen. Hillary Clinton and Obama are so close in policy matters that it is bringing tension to the race. The big-time media outlets have actually reached the point of reporting how Obama and Clinton are so similar that this must be news. They have the same goals, for the most part. Even the last debate between the two top Dems was so docile it sounded more like a conversation between friends than an uncontrollably intense fight for the presidency.
Another story posted on CNN reported how Clinton had called husband Bill and asked him to stop discussing the Bosnia faux pas in his campaigning on her behalf. I am simply at a loss for words on this one. It is actually unbelievable how uninterested I am in calls between Hillary and Bill. But beyond just the excruciating monotony we have to endure with this coverage are some real ramifications that the media should consider. The day after John McCain won the Republican nomination, the pundits were in chorus predicting that the Democratic runoff would now hurt the party, while McCain would benefit from an open field. This became a self-fulfilling prophecy when the media suddenly started writing stories about how the Democrats became more ruthless.
The media is supposed to be an independent observer – neutral and fair. Yet, in the past few weeks McCain’s poll numbers have come on par with both Clinton’s and Obama’s. There really is no way to know the qualitative reasons for this, but it is another ironic coincidence that all has played out in the news as the pundits predicted – as the lull between primaries, the most docile part of the campaign, has suddenly become the most definitive and unforgiving.
The writer, a freshman majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.