Saturday, January 05, 2008

Choosing the President: It’s the Media, Dummy

According to the Associated Press, ABC News has excluded Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel from its New Hampshire Democratic Party presidential debate. Apparently, neither the Ohio Representative nor the former Alaska Senator meet the network’s criteria for inclusion. ABC has determined that only senators Obama and Clinton, former Senator Edwards and New Mexico Governor Richardson can possibly win the Democratic Party nomination.

On the Thursday evening NBC News this week, anchor Brian Williams and Washington bureau chief Tim Russert were discussing the Iowa Caucuses that were about to start. After discussing the campaigns of Democrats Obama, Clinton and Edwards, and Republicans Romney and Huckabee, the two began to talk about the “second tier” of candidates. Somehow the issue came up of the role of the media in reducing these candidates to also-rans. Williams and Russert recognized that the candidates that raised the most money, and were thus able to run the most extensive campaigns, were the ones that received the greatest coverage from NBC News. Russert indicated that the campaigns of the “second tier” candidates complained to him that they weren’t getting adequate coverage from the media. Russert acknowledged that they might be right but added that it was, in effect, their own faults for not doing a better job selling their candidates.*

Loyal reader, we have a serious problem with the process by which we choose party nominees. The media, both print and broadcast, give extensive coverage to certain candidates. Those candidates, with this free publicity, are then able to raise significant amounts of money and gain recognition and support from the public (whoever the “public” may be). Those unfortunate candidates who do not win favor with the media do not get this free publicity. Therefore, they are not as effective in raising campaign money and in gaining recognition and support from the public. And, wouldn’t you know it, the early public opinion polls show that those candidates who received the free publicity from the media happen to be scoring better. Now, these candidates are the front runners, or “first tier,” and the media gives them even more free attention. All this has a multiplier effect and, in the words of the late Ray Charles, “them that’s got are them that gets.”

Look at this year’s Democratic contest, which as we know started last year at about this time. The media began salivating with the creation of exploratory committees by senators Clinton and Obama. One candidate was the first woman to launch a serious presidential campaign. Further, she was the wife of a former president. The other candidate was the first black man to launch a serious presidential campaign. (My apologies to Reverend Jackson.) And he was someone who was a virtual unknown as recently as 2004. These were great stories and the media gave them all the coverage they could. And, when other candidates got into the race they didn’t receive nearly the same coverage as Hillary and Barack. After all, a few old senators, a southwestern governor and a perennial candidate from Ohio just didn’t have the news sex appeal of Clinton against Obama. With all that free publicity, who raised the most campaign money? You got it—Clinton and Obama. With all that free publicity, who could put together the best campaign organizations? Again—Clinton and Obama.

Sorry senators Biden and Dodd! Sorry ex-Senator Gravel! Sorry Governor Richardson! Sorry Representative Kucinich! We the media have decided that you just don’t have the glamour necessary to be a viable candidate. Sure, one of you just might be the candidate best qualified to be president. That doesn’t matter. We have determined that the American electorate is just not sophisticated enough to judge among so many candidates. It will be so much easier for them to choose from just three.

I don’t know about you, but I get real upset when the media decides for me which individuals are viable candidates for president. I have checked the Constitution and I can find no reference to the role of the media in our election process. In this country the media have a tremendous responsibility to report completely and accurately. This applies especially to the broadcast media because we the people have granted them the use of the airwaves from which they make their profits. Yet the media revel in their power to be king makers. They are not particularly bothered by questions of objectivity or fairness. Unfortunately, they will continue to wield this power to choose for us until we demand that they stop.

*I apologize for this rather sketchy description of the Williams-Russert discussion. I went to the MSNBC website to view that discussion again. Unfortunately, the video of that Thursday night report seems to be missing.

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