Friday, January 11, 2008


The press and the election

My favoured candidate, Bill Richardson, dropped out of the race yesterday (and see here for his message from his campaign web site). Not enough support, not enough money, the usual thing — same as with Joe Biden and Chris Dodd, who bowed out after the Iowa caucuses. That’s fair enough, and it’s how the primary-election system is meant to work. But there are two things....

One is that, as many have said, there seems to be something wrong when a couple of small states with early primaries cause these sorts of results. A minuscule fraction of the U.S. voters are leading us to disenfranchise the vast majority of the electorate. I don’t blame the people of Iowa or New Hampshire, of course, nor those of the other early-primary states; I blame the system. And I’ve written before about how I think we should fix that.

The other thing, though, is a question of how much the press controls the primary elections. Because the fact is that in order to do well, you have to get ink (or airwaves, or phosphor). And the media have been having such a love-fest with Senators Clinton, Obama, and Edwards that none of the other Democrats could possibly have had a chance.

OK, you say, sure, but that’s the candidates’ faults — they did it to themselves by running lacklustre campaigns, by not getting themselves into the news enough. If they had done things right, they’d have been covered just as much as The Big Three have.

I don’t think so. I’ve seen coverage, here and there, of Governor Richardson, of Dennis Kucinich, of Joe Biden, and of Senator Dodd. And what I’ve seen has usually been cursory, with only the occasional in-depth look (Bill Richardson has actually gotten more of those in-depth stories than have the others). The greatest evidence of cursory coverage has come in the news about the “debates”.

They’re not really debates, of course, which is why I put it in quotes, but whatever we ought to call them, they are important ways for the candidates to put their ideas out there and to become known. And the press coverage of them has been seriously lopsided, focusing almost exclusively on what was said by the top three, leaving comments by the others for the continuation of the story on page 24, if anything is said at all.

It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind, of course, and I understand how that can happen. But it’s the media’s job to look beyond that and to present us with the whole picture. We shouldn’t be losing good presidential material just because the candidates in question don’t have as good a media machine as the others.

As more evidence of the problem, I note that it’s different on the Republican side, where they don’t just have two or three candidates who’ve figured out how to dominate the news. Except for Duncan Hunter (“Who?”), we are getting coverage of all the others, and it seems more a case where the voters, not the press, will decide who’ll move toward the party’s nomination.

Anyway, for now I think I have to switch my preference to Dennis Kucinich. I want to support one of the media-anointed “front runners”, I really do. But I find that I really can’t get behind any of them, for a variety of reasons. So, Congressman Kucinich, keep pushing forward, keep getting your message out... and manage the press, don’t let them manage you.


Lidija said...

I agree with you, Barry. It has felt like the media has been steering the elections and the choices and thus all this money wins out. It'd be nice to figure out why someone like Obama has the money and Dodd doesn't. It's very depressing, it is (even though I support a candidate who has no money problems).

The Ridger, FCD said...

I'm a Kucinich supporter, but even if I weren't - Dodd and Richardson both looked fairly good to me as fall-backs - I'd be annoyed at the media's usurpation of the selection process. 845,000 voters aren't enough. Clinton and Obama took the same number of electors from New Hampshire. It's crazy to let two little, atypical states be so important...