Here’s an irony: It’s impossible for another media person to criticize the political pundits in this year’s presidential race without becoming one. But, at the risk of impugning my character, it seems some of the nation’s news organizations and their pundits become more inane, and more off-point year by year.
The hot topic of last week was making a big deal about how the drawn-out process for the Democrat Party’s nomination between Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama is bad for the party now that Sen. John McCain has a lock on the Republican nomination. Pundits are projecting a brokered convention and foretelling the potential damage if that’s how the process plays out, especially if it’s a dog-fight over the nearly 800 superdelegates.
In a recent CNN story, reporter Jim Acosta found a foil to dramatize how disruptive such a scenario might be: “If 795 of my colleagues decide this election, I will quit the Democratic Party,” said Donna Brazile, adding, for some theatrical effect, “I feel very strongly about this.”
First, her reaction is extreme. Second, whether someone quits the party is not the point — that’s what the established superdelegate process would dictate. So, regardless of her opinion, let’s stay on topic and assume Ms. Brazile is not going to change the existing process simply because she’ll throw a fit if the party doesn’t capitulate. Third, just who is this Ms. Brazile? Answer: A political analyst for CNN.
The reporter flunks any basic reporting-one class, and he gets a thrashing in the editor’s office at any respectable news organization. Come on: asking a colleague for a set-up quote to make your story seem more important — that’s outrageous.
The reporter doesn’t even ask anyone else their opinion of the superdelegate process to balance or support his colleague’s (a supposed analyst) opinion.
It’s an example of how news in this age of the Internet — where media organizations try to come up with new takes on a developing story every 45 minutes — has become extremely shallow and often misleading.
What can you, as readers, do? Critique such reports with your own common-sense meter.
There’s ample reason, for example, to believe that the debates between Clinton and Obama will continue to educate and excite voters in each state of the nation precisely because the outcome of the nomination is unknown. When Americans believe their votes make a difference, they pay more attention to the details of each candidate’s policies, personal stories and they learn about that candidate’s character. When that coverage comes through local media stories, debates and personal visits to each state, why is that not invaluable media exposure?
Consider that Obama and Clinton will dominate the media’s political coverage in a tight race through the spring and summer, while McCain will be begging (or paying for) any media attention he can get.
Will the race cost the Democrats some money running against each other? Sure. But do we think they’ll tarnish each others’ character, stoop to tactics that President Bush used on Sen. McCain in the 2000 Republican primary (where he falsely alleged McCain had an ill-legitimate black child), or try to Swift Boat each other? No, I don’t think so. They’ll fight it out on the differences of their policies and on their electability. And in doing so, they’ll inform the American people — better than any paid television commercials ever could — who they are and the direction they hope to take the country.
If that hurts the party’s chances to capture the presidency, it won’t be because the nomination wasn’t settled by Super Tuesday. It will be because the American people wanted someone else.
The caveat to such thinking is that the Obama and Clinton need to keep their attention focused on their platforms, keep the fight clean between themselves, and hurl their fury at the dismal record that President Bush and the Republican Congress produced while in office and as the majority party.
If that’s accomplished, the American public will be more informed about the eventual Democratic nominee and how that person differs from the Republican candidate than they have been for decades. That’s the fruits of a healthy debate, not something to dread and manufacture false fears of impending disaster.