And They’re Off!

By: Thomas Lindaman

I was chatting online with a friend of mine watching CNN’s coverage of the South Carolina Republican Primary when my friend mentioned something said by one of the political experts they had. One of the experts said, hopefully with tongue planted firmly in cheek, that John McCain and Fred Thompson are working together to weaken the other candidates. Yeah, because as we all know, Thompson is secretly a liberal Republican who is only acting like a conservative Republican to undermine Mitt Romney
and Mike Huckabee.

For the people who believe CNN is the epitome of fine political reporting and analysis, that was sarcasm.

Is it just me, or have the media done a horrible job covering this election? Reading the online newspapers and magazines and watching the cable news coverage has been more painful than watching any of the recent “American Pie” sequels, but with many more exposed boobs. I know journalistic standards have declined in recent years, but there’s a big difference between declining and devolving. And from where I sit, the New York Times is only a couple steps up from the Weekly World News as far as
journalistic quality.

Part of the reason is what the media do every time there’s a national election. In order to generate interest in the coverage, the media love to set up a horse race mentality. Which candidate is ahead? Which candidate is starting to fall back? Which candidate will be turned into glue at the end of the election?

Take the recent coverage of Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney, for example. After coming in third in Iowa, reporters were wondering if Hillary would keep going. Likewise, after a first place finish in Wyoming and two second place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, these same reporters said Romney had to win Michigan or else he’d drop out. And in both cases, the talking heads and political experts nodded in complete agreement. One tiny problem, though: Both Clinton and Romney were leading in the
delegate count when the “experts” were saying Clinton and Romney were done! That’s like calling for a retreat when you outnumber the opposing army 1000 to 1. Then again, that’s the way the French Army does business…

Another reason for the bad media coverage of the election so far is because of the nature of the business itself. Being in the media, even as a special correspondent, can be highly competitive and bitter. It’s like divorce court except that the people who don’t get on camera don’t have to give up half their stuff to the one who does. Once one gets “discovered” as a reliable source of information, it gets frightfully easy to create a psychological echo chamber where they stroke their egos like
Pee Wee Herman at a double feature. And with analogies like that, it’s no wonder I don’t have a problem with people asking me to appear on camera for political analysis segments.

The other reason I can think of for the declining media coverage is us. Most Americans today don’t want to take the time to stay on top of the political ins-and-outs because we have more important things to do, like being entertained. I’m surprised we haven’t seen the following exchange on a cable news network:

ANCHOR: Welcome to CNN’s coverage of Election 2008. I’m Antonio Cabrera, one of the top 16 finalists on the fourth season of “American Idol.” Tonight, we’ll be discussing the candidates’ plans for illegal immigration, but first let’s go over to Carmen Electra, who will give us the latest poll numbers. Carmen?

CARMEN: Thank you, Antonio. We talked to a bunch of people and of those people surveyed, Mitt Romney still leads the rest of the candidates in the “Candidate I’d Most Like To Have a Three-Way With.” Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go visit my new boyfriend, Thomas Lindaman, so I can strip and sexually pleasure him for a week.

Okay, so I made that last part up. Sue me.

The Founding Fathers intended for our government to be interactive, which means we have to do our homework. Relying on the media right now to do our homework for us is like cribbing off the dumbest kid in the class: you may get the occasional correct answer, but it will be completely by accident if you do. Most likely, the media won’t get any better at reporting and analysis because they have no desire to get better, so it’s up to us to get smarter about the process. I know it can be boring,
but it’s what we need to do.

At least until the new season of “Survivor” starts. Then, all bets are off.

Thomas Lindaman is a Staff Writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. and The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets. He is also Publisher of

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