FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Media on Presidential Campaigns

by RALPH NADER

The media coverage of the Presidential campaigns is a dreary repetition of past coverage. Stuck in a rut and garnished by press cynicism and boredom, media groupthink becomes more ossified every four years.

This massive mental motion-sickness confines reporters, editors and producers to the following all too predictable patterns:

1. They follow the money, whenever disclosed, but don’t diligently pursue the quid pro quos which NBC’s David Brinkley described as “deferred bribes.” Like a constant posting of a basketball game’s score, this reporting of cash register politics goes on and on.

2. They spend considerable time and ink on the tactics of the Obama and Romney campaigns. This year the Republican primary season took much of the attention of the campaign press as first Santorum, then Gingrich, then Romney, then Santorum, then Romney were the tactics-driven winners.

3.  The horserace is closely connected to the punditry’s facile fascinations – especially on the cable shows and the Sunday morning news programs. Who is ahead in the polls? Who is slipping? Who may slip? How will the candidates confront the next hurdle?

4. Then there are the gaffes! The population of gaffedom is growing and is the ultimate titillation for the reporters. It’s a gotcha moment that comes from the candidates or their chief honchos so that reporters cannot be accused of initiating trivia. Michael Kinsley once described a Washington, D.C. gaffe as someone really telling the inconvenient truth inadvertently.

Then there are gaffes manufactured by unscrupulous political consultants who neatly slice off the words that would have explained away the purported gaffe.

Gaffes don’t have long legs but they can crowd out all other communications by the candidate for several days. Gaffes provide reporters leisurely comic relief and require little work. (See links to this year’s political gaffes below.)

Gaffes proliferate when there are political vacuums that should be filled with reporting on substantive policies and agendas. After all, the campaign trail is usually a mind-numbing daily routine of déjà vu right down to the contrived quips, laughs and the same three or four issue lines that make up the repertoire for the faithful.

5.   Then there is the Morton Mintz admonition that should haunt any conscientious reporter. Mintz was a great reporter for the Washington Post for about thirty years. After he retired, he issued a series of questions the press should but does not ask of candidates running for federal office (www.mortonmintz.com/work1.htm).

Here are some samples from 2000: “Whether Congress should rescue 13.5 million American children from hunger”; “whether ending poverty in America is as important as tax cuts for the middle class and the wealthy”; and “whether it would be wise or unwise to adopt the nonprofit, Canadian-style ‘single payer’ system, which would provide health insurance for all Americans, enable every citizen to choose his or her own physician,  end insurers’ interference in the doctor-patient relationship, improve the overall health of the American people, and save $127 billion in administrative and billing costs in 2001 alone.” Lest you think the latter is a loaded question, Mintz always cited reputable studies and sources, in this case the General Accounting Office and a prominent Harvard Medical School professor.

Another question Mintz asked was “whether the federal government should stop doling out more than $125 billion a year to politically-wired corporations and industries – corporate welfare that costs the government as much as it collects in income taxes from 60 million individuals and families.” Mintz put forth question after question and reporter after reporter ignored them while covering the campaign. So too did the eminent columnists and editorial writers.

6.  Given that the two major parties superficially contend more and more over fewer and fewer subjects or redirections for the country, it should be incumbent for reporters to once in a while look at what third parties are putting forward for voter choices in a two party tyranny that obstructs them at every step – from ballot access to exclusion from the debates.

I’ve kept my website from 2008 open for this comparative purpose (See: votenader.org) and today’s Green, Justice, Libertarian and Constitution Party websites also present their priorities.

Because the media views third parties as “can’t win” alternatives, they avoid them, forgetting their pioneering contributions in American history (anti-slavery, women’s right to vote, labor and farmer protections). This blackout assures that fresh seeds and saplings in American politics do not have a chance to sprout, as they have in Parliamentary systems.

7.  Finally there is the suffocating self-imposed conformity of reporters and commentators. No one is stopping them from asking Presidential and other federal candidates about important issues, like cracking down on corporate crime (See: http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com/), raising the federal minimum wage to that of 1968 adjusted for inflation, or the war in Afghanistan and the use of drones anywhere a President chooses to send them, even over sovereign countries.

Defining news as largely focusing on charges or assertions generated by the candidates produces a narrowing of meaningful public debate. Instead, the presidential election, when the public’s attention peaks, should produce a widening public reporting and discussion.  Imagine twenty presidential debates around the country with tough questioning by informed reporters and engaged citizens.  (See George Farah’s book No Debate.)

Mintz, never jaded into giving up, wrote an article titled “The Sound You Hear Is Silence,” noting that “when the subject is corporate immorality, nary a judgmental word is heard…. it’s Fleedom of the Press.”

The media should engage in some serious introspection!

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.

Political Gaffes:

President Barack Obama: http://politicalhumor.about.com/od/barackobama/a/obama-isms.htm

Vice President Joe Biden: http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/ballot-2012/2012/08/15/top-gaffes-from-the-mouth-of-vice-president-joe-biden

Mitt Romney: http://politicalhumor.about.com/od/mittromney/a/Mitt-Romney-Quotes.htm

COMING IN SEPTEMBER

A Special Memorial Issue of CounterPunch

Featuring recollections of Alexander Cockburn from Jeffrey St. Clair, Peter Linebaugh, Paul Craig Roberts, Noam Chomsky, Mike Whitney, Doug Peacock, Perry Anderson, Becky Grant, Dennis Kucinich, Michael Neumann, Susannah Hecht, P. Sainath, Ben Tripp, Alison Weir, James Ridgeway, JoAnn Wypijewski, John Strausbaugh, Pierre Sprey, Carolyn Cooke, Conn Hallinan, James Wolcott, Laura Flanders, Ken Silverstein, Tariq Ali and many others …

Subscribe to CounterPunch Today to Reserve Your Copy

 

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

May 05, 2016
David L. Glotzer
Welcome to Fortified Europe: the Militarization of Europe’s Borders
Adam Szetela
Beyoncé’s “Formation” and the Boutique Activism of the Left
Bruce Lerro
Lost at Sea: Left Liberals Have No Party
Paul Cochrane
Hot Air in the Saudi Desert: a Kingdom in Descent?
Brian Terrell
My Visit to a Las Vegas Jail
Judith Deutsch
The Military’s “Securitization” of Climate Change
Phyllis Bennis
Kunduz Bombing: Proof the Pentagon Should Not Be Allowed to Investigate Itself for War Crimes
Chad Nelson
When Compassion is Terrorism: Animal Rights in a Post-911 World
Dan Arel
Making Sanders’ Dream a Reality Through Political Activism
Kent Paterson
Ten Years Later: Reflections on the Legacies of Immigrant Spring
Serge Halimi
Why Firefighters are Against Free Trade
Andrew Stewart
Green Bernie or Green Party Machine?
Binoy Kampmark
Yuri Gagarin in Space: the Politics of Cosmic Discovery
Hayes Rowan
This Naming of Things
May 04, 2016
Kshama Sawant
It’s Not About Bernie: Why We Can’t Let Our Revolution Die in Philadelphia
Conn Hallinan
Baiting the Bear: Russia and NATO
Joshua Frank
Hanford’s Leaky Nuke Tanks and Sick Workers, A Never-Ending Saga
Paul Craig Roberts
TIPP: Advancing American Imperialism
Ted Rall
Hillary to Bernie Supporters: Don’t Vote for Me!
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton and Wall Street’s Neoliberal War on Latin America
Leslie Scott
The Story of Jill Stein: Putting People, Peace and the Planet Before Profits
Ann Garrison
Building the Greens Into a Mass Party: Interview with Bruce Dixon
Tom Clifford
Crying Rape: Trump’s China-Bashing
Lawrence Davidson
Getting Rid of Bad Examples: Andrew Jackson & Woodrow Wilson
Ellen Brown
Bank of North Dakota Soars Despite Oil Bust: A Blueprint for California?
Nelson Valdes
Is Fidel Castro Outside or Part of Mainstream Thinking? A Selection of Quotes
Jesse Jackson
Don’t Send Flint Down the Drain: Fix It!
Nathan Riley
Help Bernie Keep His Halo
Rivera Sun
Remembering Nonviolent History: Freedom Rides
Clancy Sigal
Rachel and the Isolationists: How Maddow Blew It
Laura Finley
Changing the Conversation About “The Woman Card”
CJ Hopkins
Coming this Summer … Revenge of the Bride of Sophie’s Choice
May 03, 2016
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Resumé: What the Record Shows
Michèle Brand – Arun Gupta
What is the “Nuit Debout”?
Chuck Churchill
The Failures of Capitalism, Donald Trump and Right Wing Terror
Dave Marsh
Bernie and the Greens
John Wight
Zionism Should be on Trial, Not Ken Livingstone
Rev. John Dear
A Dweller in Peace: the Life and Times of Daniel Berrigan
Patrick Cockburn
Saudi Arabia’s Great Leap Forward: What Would Mao Think?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Electoral Votes Matter: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders vs Donald Trump
Chris Gilbert
Venezuela Today: This Must Be Progress
Pepe Escobar
The Calm Before the Coming Global Storm
Ruth Fowler
Intersecting with the Identity Police (Or Why I Stopped Writing Op-Eds)
Victor Lasa
The Battle Rages on in Spain: the Country Prepares for Repeat Elections in June
Jack Rasmus
Is the US Economy Heading for Recession?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail