Have you ever watched coverage of political campaigns on television and wonder, “Why does this sound so much like ESPN?
The experts on politics on cable news channels, on Meet the Press, This Week, and Face the Nation sound more like they are talking about a NASCAR race than a political race – who is out in front, how the guy trailing can gain on the leader, strategies for moving up and past the leader, strategies for saying in the lead. When the public is in desperate need for thoughtful analysis on public policy issues, the media instead focuses on other things.
Now we know why. A new report by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (reported at journalism.com) examined in detail the media’s coverage of the Republican primary race.
“The media often focus heavily on tactics, strategy and the numbers of the horse race. On top of that, during the primaries the policy differences between candidates are sometimes fairly minimal as rivals contend for the favor of party primary voters. In 2012, horse race and strategy dominated, but not to the degree they had in 2008.
From November 2011 to April 15, 2012, the coverage devoted to the strategic elements of the GOP primary fight (horse race, tactics, strategy, money and advertising) outnumbered the combined attention to all foreign and domestic policy issues by about 6:1.
Overall, 64% of campaign coverage examined was framed around polls, advertising, fundraising, strategy and the constant question of who is winning and who is losing…
Over the last five and a half months, the candidates’ policy proposals and stands on the issues accounted for 11% of the campaign coverage. The vast majority of these focused on domestic issues…[which] accounted for 9% of the coverage…
There was far less attention paid to foreign policy issues such as Iran’s nuclear program, negotiations with Russia, and relations with Israel, all of which accounted for just 1% of the campaign coverage…
The candidates’ public records accounted for 6% of the overall campaign coverage studied.”
So, only 17% of the media’s campaign coverage was focused on the issues: the candidates’ stands on issues and their records.
We Christians are complicit in this demise of political public discourse in the media.
Instead of taking the time to read deeply and widely about policy, we watch the claptrap that the media serves and parrot it back to each other. We rarely seek to understand the opposition’s arguments. Instead, we act like simpletons, watching only the shows that we think we already agree with so that we don’t have to think too deeply.
Instead of debating with civility with others about issues, we mimic the talking heads on our favorite cable talk shows by attacking the opposition’s character. We take this easy route since it is so much easier to dismiss those we disagree with by portraying them as utterly evil.
Instead of demanding that mass media coverage dive deeper into public policy issues, we continue to watch the junk the media shows, providing them with high ratings and little incentive to change their ways.