Add pundits, pollsters, and the press to the list of losers in the New Hampshire primary.
They weren’t on the ballot. They didn’t vote. And they didn’t get it right.
For the Democrats, Sen. Barack Obama, fresh from victory in Iowa, was supposed to cruise into a double digit win in the Granite State. Sen. Hillary Clinton, at least if anyone believed the media, was going to be flattened by the Obama steamroller that was chugging to dominate all primaries.
In the Republican primary, Mike Huckabee, who won the Iowa caucus, wasn’t expected to be at the front of the pack, but he and Mitt Romney were going to go head-to-head. Sen. John McCain, according to most of the media, would go down in flames, forced to give up what he hoped was a comeback.
The voters thought different, giving Clinton and McCain “surprising” wins. At least it was “surprising,” according to the media, which over and over proclaimed their wins as “surprising,” a desperate effort to give a plausible reason for having been wrong.
The TV media, with journalists an almost extinct minority among what passes as their news staffs, think the best way to cover the primaries is to display 15 seconds of a candidate’s visit to a doughnut shop, and then shove in another 45 seconds of public comments about the candidate who said the same thing at 10 different stops that day. Print media reporters spend as much as three minutes with a potential voter, condensing the comments to fewer than 20 words. For variety, the reporters quote not only each other but also the pride of pollsters who hover like trash-dump flies around political campaigns and the media circus.
Smugly, the corporate mainstream media believe they are telling the people what they need to know to defend and preserve democracy—and the millions in advertising revenue. When not watching, eating, or sleeping with the candidates, the media horde eruditely fill air time and newspaper and magazine columns with predictions and mindless discussion, trivializing the race to discuss one candidate’s hair, another candidate’s choice of pantsuits. They make it seem that without hourly ratings and political predictions, American democracy would fall to the terrorists. However, the media’s analyses and predictions may be about as good as those of local weather forecasters and sportswriters.
In her victory speech, Sen. Clinton said she listened to the people of New Hampshire and found her voice. Maybe the media need to spend less time with the candidates and more time with the people, and just listen to them, to try to understand them, their needs and problems, rather than see every carbon molecule as a potential seven-second sound bite or indistinguishable statistic. Perhaps, then, we might accept the media as having some credibility.
[Walter Brasch is professor of mass communications/journalism at Bloomsburg University. His latest book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, available at amazon.com and other bookstores. You may contact Brasch through his website, www.walterbrasch.com]