DEITZ: Journalism unleashed



Ian Deitz

Feeling jaded by all of the news about the presidential election campaigns? Not surprising – the repetition and superficiality of much of the coverage can be mind-numbing. On the eve of the first primaries it reached fever pitch, and it’s only getting worse.

Amid all the public opinion polls, fundraising statistics, haircut updates and other superfluous nonsense, the ideal of “freedom of the press” becomes murky. The situation, simply put, is downright absurd.

For one thing, too much of the coverage consists of polling data. It’s usually hard not to know the latest numbers. The question is, must we be reminded of minute changes in the percentages from day to day? Moreover, the predictions sometimes turn out to be inaccurate, as in the recent New Hampshire Democratic primaries. Pollsters suggested beforehand that Obama had a 10 percent lead over Clinton; when the ballots were counted, Clinton won by several percentage points.

Professional journalists must have something more meaningful to convey to us than horse race statistics. What is even the advantage of knowing election results in advance of the actual vote? All told, there are much more substantive issues to be reported – how about that crisis in Pakistan?

Alas, polls aren’t the only reason to be fed up with the media during campaign season. For reasons unbeknownst to me, much focus is placed on the earliest primaries, as if they determine the course of later ones.

One gets the impression that the media is, in a sense, “picking” candidates by projecting momentum onto them (recall the Howard Dean debacle of the 2004 primaries).

Shouldn’t the public base their votes on candidates’ platforms, rather than the media’s assumptions about who the inevitable winner is?

Thankfully, this campaign season the voters are not jumping on the journalists’ bandwagon. The early primaries are being divided up – each of the frontrunners has won at least one of them.

The public, therefore, has proven itself capable of wading through the media’s drivel, which is a comforting thought.

However, the focus of attention on early primaries has further unfortunate consequences. This year, several states made their election dates earlier than ever before, presumably in an effort to attract more spending from the campaign finance machine. Michigan experienced an unintended reaction from this decision: Democratic party officials stripped the state of all of its delegates for the National Convention. Dare I say that the demands placed by the news media have interfered with the elections?

In addition, both ABC and Fox News excluded certain candidates from their televised debates based on early primary results. Apparently the need for a plurality of viewpoints has been superseded by the media’s “inevitable winner” logic. Following ABC’s decision to exclude Dennis Kucinich, he rightly filed a lawsuit, alleging violation of regulations mandating that each candidate be given equal airtime. Granted, he is not likely to win the nomination, but why not let an underdog fight?

Perhaps the most annoying aspect of the campaign coverage, though, is the media’s tendency to magnify trivial events. Several examples from Clinton’s campaign come to mind. When a lunatic entered one of her regional offices and held several people hostage, the issue became “breaking news” on all of the cable news channels. Even as the media paid excessive attention to the topic, additional news stories were produced, analyzing the effect that all of the attention might have on Clinton’s campaign.

Another example, which occurred just recently, is when Clinton shed some tears on camera. Several commentators immediately began debating the effect of emotion on candidates’ success. Does anyone even care whether the candidates get emotional at times? Or whether there are lunatics who would stop at nothing to get on national TV? Do either of these events have a bearing on the candidates’ capacity to be president? Obviously not. Once again we have a case in which useless journalism could be replaced by something of more interest to the public.

It is a shame that such a fabled democratic government would have its electoral process muddled by its rabid news media. To be sure, a vibrant free press is an essential asset to our country. However, that press should be concerned strictly with matters of due importance to the public. Sadly, with every new campaign season, the situation degenerates further. To quote rejected candidate Stephen Colbert, “News is drama.” Unfortunately for our presidential candidates, their task is doubly hard as a result.


Ian Deitz is a senior political science major from Gettysburg, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].