Walter M. Brasch
American Reporter Correspondent
January 16, 2008
THE DISCONNECTED MEDIA
BLOOMSBURG, Pa. -- Add pundits, pollsters, and the press to the list of losers in the New Hampshire primary.
They weren't on the ballot. They didn't vote. And they didn't get it right.
[Editor's Update] And in South Carolina, they were even worse: No major poll offered by the comprehensive political site Real Clear Politics was closer than 12 points to Obama's results, and a Clemson poll was off by 28 points. The Jan. 24-25 Reuters/C-SSPAN/Zogby Poll, which closed the day before the primary, at 41% was 14 points off Obama's total of 55%, but at 26% just 1 point off Hillary Clinton's 27%. It nailed John Edwards' 19% result exactly. That suggests Obama's voters were coy about their intentions. Will the pollsters change their margins of error to 10-30%? And if they do, what good are they, anyway? [End Update]
For the Democrats, Sen. Barack Obama, fresh from victory in Iowa, was supposed to cruise into a double-digit win in the Granite State. Sen. Hillary Clinton, if anyone believed the media, was going to be flattened by the Obama steamroller that was chugging to dominate all primaries.
In the Republican primary, Mike Huckabee, who won the Iowa caucus, wasn't expected to be at the front of the pack, but he and Mitt Romney went head-to-head. Sen. John McCain, according to most pundits, would go down in flames, forcing him to give up what he hoped was a comeback.
The voters thought differently, giving Clinton and McCain "surprising" wins. At least it was "surprising," according to the media, which over and over proclaimed their wins as "surprising," a desperate effort to give a plausible reason for having been wrong.
Admittedly, the exit polls in Michigan were more accurate, but there wase only one frontrunner on the Democratic ballot, and a homegrown favorite on the GOP side. And no pressure. The outcome, which they tried to paint as a horse race, was utterly predictable.
The broadcast television media, with journalists an almost extinct minority on their news crews, think the best way to cover the primaries is to display 15 seconds of a candidate's visit to a doughnut shop. Then shove in another 45 seconds of comments from voters about the candidate, who said the same thing at 10 different stops that day.
Print media reporters spend as much as three minutes with a potential voter, condensing the comments to fewer than 20 words. For variety, the reporters quote not only each other but also the pride of pollsters who hover like caged lions over rotting horsemeat, fueling the political campaigns with false hope and the media circus with outright lies.
Smugly, the corporate mainstream media believe they are telling people what they need to know to defend and preserve democracy - and earn millions in advertising revenue.
When not watching, eating, or sleeping with the candidates, the media horde sagely fill air time and newspaper and magazine columns with predictions and mindless discussion. They trivialize the race with discussions of one candidate's hair and another's choice of pantsuits.
Together, they make it seem that without hourly polls and political predictions, American democracy would fall to the terrorists who lurk around every corner. In reality, media analyses and predictions may not even be as good as those of the weather forecasters and sports handicappers.
In her victory speech, Sen. Hillary Clinton said she listened to the people of New Hampshire and found her voice. Whose voice had we been hearing?
Maybe the media, too, need less time with the candidates and more time with the people. just listen to them, try to understand them AND their needs. try to avoid seeing see every carbon molecule as a potential seven-second sound bite oradditional statistic. Let the media open their own hearts a little bit, as Sen. Clinto apparently did.
Only then will the media might have some credibility - maybe.
Dr. Walter Brasch is professor of mass communications/journalism at Bloomsburg University. His latest book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, available at amazon.com and other bookstores. You may also contact Dr. Brasch through his Website.