Saturday, January 19, 2008

Bad Journalism as Usual: Primaries, Caucuses and Choosing a President in the USA

Pack journalism predominates in television coverage of the Democratic and Republican processes for choosing presidential candidates to run for the country’s top office this fall. Pack journalism starts with always referring to these processes as races, contests, and competitions – the first mystification.

So many academic media analysts have commented on the harmful effects of framing electoral politics using metaphors of war and sports that it seems redundant to mention it. Yet, our numbskull journalists seem not to have read a single serious book about the subject they cover.

The latest pronouncement circulating is that the Republican Party is in disarray because no single, clear winner has emerged after only three decision-making events – a caucus in Iowa, a primary election in New Hampshire, an upcoming caucus in Nevada this weekend with South Carolina primaries to follow. “Republicans want leaders,” Chris Matthews has solemnly decided on NBC, diagnosing a sociological mindset for half a nation without a single social science instrument.

Is it true the Republican Party is in disarray, because the multiplicity of U.S. sentiments is being expressed in these early political processes? I doubt it. The purpose of allowing all of the 52 states to offer their input is to arrive at the decision of party candidates by popular vote this summer – not by polling and pundit prediction based on a few states in January.

Meanwhile, every awkward statement gets blown up out of proportion to its importance, instead of useful comparison of candidates’ positions on heath care, Social Security, financial impetus packages for an economy sliding into decline, and complicated issues related to foreign policy, such as the rise of China and India as competitors in world markets.

Former President Bill Clinton clumsily remarks that candidate Barack Obama’s statements about his consistent opposition to the Iraq War are a fairy tale, and the press convolutes this into a statement that the first credible black candidate’s campaign is a fairy tale. Former Arkansas GovernorMike Huckabee supports South Carolina’s display of a confederate states’ flag, while Senator John McCain decries it. Our feeble journalists run the bytes over and over again: This carnival sideshow is the real news for them.

Few of my students want to read or learn about anything that can’t be Googled and read in four minutes, but most want to be on television. It’s no wonder that I live in a know-nothing society. Journalists focus on the wrong things when covering political processes, and democracy suffers.

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