FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Making a Killing

I’ve written before warning about the ways in which American elections have been transformed into a business.  Sadly, the second debate between Barack Obama and John McCain appears to offer more evidence of the same.  While the debate was unlikely to dazzle an electorate that’s been terrified about the housing collapse and the implosion of the economy, the business of negative campaigning has persevered, remaining insulated and unaffected by society’s larger problems.  Media corporations continue to make a killing off of negative campaigning, in the process poisoning our elections and turning off voters to the real policy issues at hand.

Media critic Robert McChesney warns against the dangers of the media’s profiteering from elections in his superb work: The Problem of the Media: U.S. Communication Politics in the Twenty-First Century.  In the book, he points out that media corporations’ percent of total revenues earned from campaign advertising increased from just three percent in 1992 to ten percent ten years later.  This dramatic increase has been accompanied by elections that are radically higher in cost; for example, the amount of money it took to successfully win office in the House of Representatives and the Senate (on average) increased by 85 percent in both bodies from 1998 to 2006 alone.  Sadly, the money required to buy these offices looks like it will continue to increase indefinitely into the future.

Coverage of the second Presidential debate has been heavily dominated by the business of election politics.  The following day’s (October 8th) coverage was noteworthy in the ways it subtly and not so subtly reinforced the interests of the election profiteers.  Online news sources like CNN.com and the Washingtonpost.com completely abandoned any pretense of objectivity by running profitable negative campaign ads for John McCain and Sarah Palin alongside stories on the debates and the election.  The Post and CNN ads, attacking Obama for denying middle class workers tax cuts and promoting McCain for being a “maverick” and the friend of the middle class, were shamelessly run alongside other marketing campaigns promoting Chevron, AT&T World Connect, Window’s Mobile Phone, as well as promotions of Lifestyle.com and auto insurance quotes.  That the candidates are considered little more than products to be sold alongside these other goods and services speaks strongly to the deterioration of American’s “choices” in this election.  Perhaps CBS.com expressed the perversion of democracy best, as it subsumed all of its reporting of Iraq under the banner “Presented by ExxonMobil,” located at the top of the debate coverage page.  Such blatant corporate control over the election process would be comical if it weren’t so tragic.

Of course, the debate coverage was full of political spin as well.  ABC News featured a “Nightline Report Card” with media commentator George Stephanopoulos which asked “Who Dominated the Debate?”  Stephanopoulos answered that, clearly Obama had outperformed McCain in terms of strategy, accuracy, and style.  Why voters should take Stephanopoulo’s views even remotely seriously (considering he was a senior political advisor to Bill Clinton and the administratin’s communication director) when they decide who won the debate was left unexplained by ABC.  Did ABC executives honestly think there was any chance that Stephanopoulos, considering his background, would have seen John McCain as the victor?  This inconvenient and troubling question was never addressed.

Fox News resorted to its usually partisan hackery, only featuring stories glorifying the Republicans at the expense of Obama.  The major stories featured on the Foxnews.com website included such hardhitting investigative pieces as: “Cindy McCain: Obama Campaign Dirtiest in History,” “Palin Keeps Focus on Ayers Ahead of Debate,” and “Obama Admits Bumming Cigarettes on the Campaign Trail.”

The nation’s elite print media hardly fared much better in terms of substance.  Frank Bruni of the New York Times complained that “Tuesday night’s presidential debate was remarkable for the dourness of its mood and for the subdued demeanors of the candidates even as they tore into each other.”  Americans have become painfully familiar with this lame, superficial approach to assessing candidates, divorced from their actual policy stances.  Perhaps the one ray of light in the media response was seen in the Washington Post, where Tom Shales attacked the media for its own failures in coverage.  Shales rightfully took aim specifically at debate moderator Tom Brokaw, who was seen as “the biggest wet blanket on the debate stage… [he] also played a kind of military role: Commander of the Clock.  Time and time again, the NBC newsman inflicted frivolous rules on the candidates that only served to frustrate true debate and the kind of give-and-take that a ‘town hall’ format supposedly encourages…Exactly what the rules were [in the debate] remained unclear, even though Brokaw explained them at the start of the debate.  He called for ‘discussion’ periods that seemed only a minute long; what kind of ‘discussion is that?  If a discussion really did threaten to break out, Brokaw got grumpy and called it off.  The least important thing on an occasion such as this is a bunch of arbitrary rules concocted by the debate organizers.”

I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

ANTHONY DiMAGGIO teaches Politics of the Developing World and American Government at Illinois State University.  His book, Mass Media, Mass Propaganda: Examining American News in the “War on Terror” will be released in paperback this December.  He may be reached at: adimagg@ilstu.edu

 

Your Ad Here
 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Anthony DiMaggio is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Lehigh University. He holds a PhD in political communication, and is the author of the newly released: The Politics of Persuasion: Economic Policy and Media Bias in the Modern Era (Paperback, 2018), and Selling War, Selling Hope: Presidential Rhetoric, the News Media, and U.S. Foreign Policy After 9/11 (Paperback: 2016). He can be reached at: anthonydimaggio612@gmail.com

August 15, 2018
Jason Hirthler
Russiagate and the Men with Glass Eyes
Paul Street
Omaorosa’s Book Tour vs. Forty More Murdered Yemeni Children
Charles Pierson
Is Bankruptcy in Your Future?
George Ochenski
The Absolute Futility of ‘Global Dominance’ in the 21st Century
Gary Olson
Are We Governed by Secondary Psychopaths
Fred Guerin
On News, Fake News and Donald Trump
Arshad Khan
A Rip Van Winkle President Sleeps as Proof of Man’s Hand in Climate Change Multiplies and Disasters Strike
P. Sainath
The Unsung Heroism of Hausabai
Georgina Downs
Landmark Glyphosate Cancer Ruling Sets a Precedent for All Those Affected by Crop Poisons
Rev. William Alberts
United We Kneel, Divided We Stand
Chris Gilbert
How to Reactivate Chavismo
Kim C. Domenico
A Coffeehouse Hallucination: The Anti-American Dream Dream
August 14, 2018
Daniel Falcone
On Taking on the Mobilized Capitalist Class in Elections: an Interview With Noam Chomsky
Karl Grossman
Turning Space Into a War Zone
Jonah Raskin
“Fuck Wine Grapes, Fuck Wines”: the Coming Napafication of the World
Manuel García, Jr.
Climate Change Bites Big Business
Alberto Zuppi - Cesar Chelala
Argentina at a Crossroads
Chris Wright
On “Bullshit Jobs”
Rosita A. Sweetman
Dear Jorge: On the Pope’s Visit to Ireland
Binoy Kampmark
Authoritarian Revocations: Australia, Terrorism and Citizenship
Sara Johnson
The Incredible Benefits of Sagebrush and Juniper in the West
Martin Billheimer
White & Red Aunts, Capital Gains and Anarchy
Walter Clemens
Enough Already! Donald J. Trump Resignation Speech
August 13, 2018
Michael Colby
Migrant Injustice: Ben & Jerry’s Farmworker Exploitation
John Davis
California: Waging War on Wildfire
Alex Strauss
Chasing Shadows: Socialism Won’t Go Away Because It is Capitalism’s Antithesis 
Kathy Kelly
U.S. is Complicit in Child Slaughter in Yemen
Fran Shor
The Distemper of White Spite
Chad Hanson
We Know How to Protect Homes From Wildfires. Logging Isn’t the Way to Do It
Faisal Khan
Nawaz Sharif: Has Pakistan’s Houdini Finally Met his End?
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Versus Journalism: the Travails of Fourth Estate
Wim Laven
Honestly Looking at Family Values
Fred Gardner
Exploiting Styron’s Ghost
Dean Baker
Fact-Checking the Fact-Checker on Medicare-for-All
Weekend Edition
August 10, 2018
Friday - Sunday
David Price
Militarizing Space: Starship Troopers, Same As It Ever Was
Andrew Levine
No Attack on Iran, Yet
Melvin Goodman
The CIA’s Double Standard Revisited
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The Grifter’s Lament
Aidan O'Brien
In Italy, There are 12,000 American Soldiers and 500,000 African Refugees: Connect the Dots 
Robert Fantina
Pity the Democrats and Republicans
Ishmael Reed
Am I More Nordic Than Members of the Alt Right?
Kristine Mattis
Dying of Consumption While Guzzling Snake Oil: a Realist’s Perspective on the Environmental Crisis
James Munson
The Upside of Defeat
Brian Cloughley
Pentagon Spending Funds the Politicians
Pavel Kozhevnikov
Cold War in the Sauna: Notes From a Russian American
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail