Friday, January 11, 2008

New Hampshire Primary Breakdown: Could the Press Coverage Be Any Worse?

TONIGHT'S COVERAGE OF THE New Hampshire Primaries reinforced what has been evident for some time--the press has done a phenomenally bad job covering the 2008 presidential elections.

We are used to a certain amount of palaver by now, but tonight's over-the top characterization of Hillary Clinton's victory as a "comeback" or in the words of Chris Matthews, one of the greatest upsets in the history of American politics, pinpointed the gap between how seriously Americans take the media and how seriously the media takes themselves.

Before the Iowa Caucuses, pundits claimed Barak Obama would be out of the race if he didn't win Iowa. On Friday, after Obama's impressive showing there, it was suddenly putative knowledge that if Clinton did not snatch New Hampshire, she would be done for. All of this with over 99% of the country yet to vote.

The need to overdramatize the present has hindered broadcast news since the arrival of channels like CNN and in particular since the ubiquity and immediacy of the Web. None of these are new observations, but rarely has so much been heralded to ride on so little.

Self-selected voters in two small, White states cannot determine the presidential candidate in this unprecedented year. For the first time ever, an African American and a woman have won a caucus and a primary. Those kinds of accomplishments can, of course, lead to over-rhetoricized discourse, but they are also the kinds of epoch-defining events that undermine the dialogue of the over-hyped and under-analyzed. Of all the moments in American political history, this is one of those times when we need a press that is insightful, restrained, useful, and trustworthy. In one of the great ironies of American public discourse, the politicians are more on point, more in touch, more . . . enjoyable . . .than the press.

How painful was it to have Anderson Cooper's "best political team on TV" turn out to be Bill Bennett and Ralph Reid? The only difference between the two is that one is 30 years younger and 30 pounds lighter. Otherwise, they drink from the same Right Wing Republican straw.
These are the voices, though, that are supposed to pilot us through the murky waters of exit polls, tide riding, momentum, and the pulse of the voter. If these are our captains, we shall drown.

Similarly, Chris Matthews was utterly unable to describe Clinton's victory as anything less than a Hummer full of bombs that launched Satan's own grenades exploding into machetes of fire.
Even the New York Times Website described the New Hampshire result as an "upset." We should remember that Ms. Clinton was the de facto candidate (not just the favorite but the candidate) until a few days ago. For some reason, the mainstream press believed a demographic of voters who claimed to be wavering between McCain and Obama. That is to say, they took at face value the answers of people who have allegiance to no political system, no party, no poll.

The mantra the press keeps coda-ing is how independent and unpredictable New Hampshire voters are. And yet, things have gotten to such a point that they don't even believe themselves. The speeches of Clinton and Obama tonight told us more about what voters want and why issues matter than any of the bodies behind the desks.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad someone is talking about how predictable the mainstream news coverage has been. I'm worried the coverage is determining the election. I don't know who you are, but I'm going to start checking in now and then.