As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, October 29, 2007

And We Wonder Why Citizens Aren't More Well-Informed

Because political reporters are no better than failed sportswriters:

This is a chart from the Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. It follows the topics of Presidential campaign stories thus far in 2007. 63% of the stories were horse-race, or process, stories, and another 17% covered the candidates' personal backgrounds. Just 15% covered policy proposals. And iIt's actually worse than that:

The press’ focus on fundraising, tactics and polling is even more evident if one looks at how stories were framed rather than the topic of the story. Just 12% of stories examined were presented in a way that explained how citizens might be affected by the election, while nearly nine-out-of-ten stories (86%) focused on matters that largely impacted only the parties and the candidates. Those numbers, incidentally, match almost exactly the campaign-centric orientation of coverage found on the eve of the primaries eight years ago.

The common argument from the press is that they're simply giving the people what they want. Actually, that's completely untrue, too.

What Topics the Public Wants Covered

Candidates’ position on issues: 77% (want more), 17% (want less)
Candidate debates: 57% (more) 32% (less)
Candidates’ personal backgrounds and experiences: 55% (more), 36% (less)
The candidates who are not front runners: 55% (more), 37% (less)
Sources of candidates’ campaign money: 55% (more), 35% (less)
Which candidate in leading in the latest polls: 42% (more), 45% (less)

This is crystal clear. The press is completely failing at doing their jobs in helping the eletorate choose a candidate. Which is why the electorate is tuning them out in increasing numbers. I'm not someone who will ever call the media liberal or conservative. That's fundamentally the wrong question. They're LAZY. They have no interest in and little knowledge of public policy, and at the elite reporter level have no idea how those policies can affect or improve their lives. So they break it down to something they can easily understand, the meaningless "who's up/who's down" that you typically see in reports of box-office receipts.

There are dozens of examples of this, but the most recent one is the sudden decision to anoint Mike Huckabee as a "rock star," mainly on the basis of one speech in Washington and some funny interviews, without examining his policy record. For example, his image in the media is of a "populist" despite favoring the Fair Tax policy, the most regressive tax imaginable. It's completely at variance with actual events. And how the media frames Iowa after the Republican caucuses will have a significant impact on who wins the election. If they see Mitt Romney as the unchallenged winner in Iowa and Huckabee as a distant second, for example, Romney rolls into New Hampshire as a prohibitive favorite. If Huckabee is seen as pulling off a miracle in Iowa, EVEN IF THE NUMBERS BETWEEN HIM AND ROMNEY ARE EXACTLY THE SAME, then Romney is wounded, Huckabee is ascendant, and probably Giuliani benefits. And those are the range of stories that we'll see, and you'll notice that none of them have anything to do with policy in any way.

The result of this study does not bode well for democracy. The Internet and alternative media simply aren't big enough yet for the entire country. Large sections will still get their news on the Presidential race from a process-obsessed media. They'll have a shallow understanding of civic engagement because the media demands nothing more from them than charting names on a list. It's not enough to rely on more people flocking elsewhere and leaving the press behind; that's not realistic. Traditional media itself must change.

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