Important Facts about Those Who Actually Choose Your President
Elizabeth Edwards put it to me very plainly. She told me that any airtime is like free campaign time on TV, and the media can make a spike in the polls more quickly and significantly than many boots on the ground can accomplish. That's the depressing truth about our electorate: if they don't see it on TeeVee, it's doesn't exist to them. I'm being lazy and just going with the Yahoo story, but the bullet points are very useful reminders about how the "democratic" process works:
he study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, to be released Monday, also portrays the political press as a hidebound institution out of touch with the desires of citizens.
Among the findings:
• Stories focused more on fundraising and polls than on where candidates stood on the issues, despite a public demand for more attention to the policies, views and records of the candidates.
• The public's attention to campaign news is higher now than it was at similar points in the past two elections, but that interest is only shared by less than one in four people.
• Five candidates — Democrats Clinton and Barack Obama and Republicans Giuliani, Mitt Romney and John McCain — received more than half the coverage. Elizabeth Edwards, the cancer-stricken wife of Democrat John Edwards, received almost as much media attention as her husband.
• Democrats, overall, got more coverage — and more positive ink and airtime — than Republicans.
• Obama enjoyed the friendliest coverage of the presidential field; McCain endured the most negative. That was due in part to the media's focus on fundraising; Obama raised more than expected and McCain raised less.
The report is the most thorough analysis yet of media coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign and offers both a sober evaluation as well as a dash of guidance on how to improve. But the report's authors are not necessarily optimistic. They note that a study of the 2000 presidential election reached similar conclusions.
They argue that this election could represent a generational struggle in both parties, but that early media coverage failed to capture that fundamental tension.
"If American politics is changing," the report concluded, "the style and approach of the American press does not appear to be changing with it."
Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, said journalists face a conundrum: In a campaign that started as early as this one, why spend resources in a detailed analysis of candidates views and stances when the public is not that engaged? Or is the public not engaged because the media is focusing on tactics and insider stories that don't affect readers, viewers and listeners?
The report analyzed 1,742 articles about the presidential contest that appeared from January through May in 48 news outlets including print, online, network TV, cable and radio news and talk shows.
None of this is news to you, Gentle Reader. But it leaves me with one inescapable conclusion: we need a Constitutional amendment regulating money in politics, and a return to something like the Fairness Doctrine.
Without those things, we won't ever have a real democracy.