by Walter Brasch
The national news media—and their sidekicks, the cackling pundits—had been asking the same questions the past six months. “Will he? Won’t he? Should he? Shouldn’t he? Can he? Can’t he?”
The “he” is Joe Biden. The vice-president said numerous times he was still thinking about running for president, but hadn’t made up his mind. The Biden question kept the media busy speculating about an issue that even Mr. Biden couldn’t answer, nor should he have been forced to make a commitment in the media’s time frame.
This past week, he decided not to run for the presidency.
Although Biden explained his reasons, the media can now spend a few weeks asking the question, “But what if he had decided to run?” It passes as what the media now think is a deep and probing issue.
The general election is still more than a year away, and we’re seeing, hearing, and reading about the campaign. There is little in-depth reporting about policies and issues, and a lot of superficial reporting about personalities. The 24/7 news cycle has become constant repetition with minimal information.
It is this journalistic ineptness that has kept Donald Trump in the media’s spotlight. Whatever the issue, the media breathlessly rush to Trump for a comment. He is getting more TV air time than A-list actors and the rest of the Republican field combined. It’s difficult to find stories that quote anyone other than Trump or Ben Carson, Trump’s main competition at this point in the election cycle.
It is this also this journalistic ineptness that has also focused upon Hillary Clinton, who may be the Democrats’ heir-apparent to the White House. While the media focus upon Clinton, they keep believing that Bernie Sanders is just a campaign distraction, and have given him little thought, even though he is bringing as many as 20,000 voters to his rallies, and making major speeches, all of which have substance. The voices of the other two major Democratic candidates are muted by the media that have made decisions for the rest of us.
It’s nearly impossible to find stories about similarities and differences among the candidates of both parties. It’s even rarer that the mainstream media are challenging the statements of the major candidates, pointing out errors, semi-truths, and outright lies. For many, the attempt to be “fair” means allowing the subjects to have a megaphone; the search for the truth has been fumbled, with the media role apparently being that of Charlie Brown falling down after Lucy pulls the football away at the last moment.
From Iowa, where the candidates and media will congregate in December for the Feb. 1 election, we’ll learn that all of the candidates say they love pork and corn, the farm life, and the spirit of those in one of the flattest states in the country. In New Hampshire, which has its primary a week later, we’ll learn the candidates think granite is the best kind of rock, and support the quiet rural life, and the spirit of those in New England. In South Carolina, the media will report that the candidates have each declared they believe whatever it is that South Carolina believes. What’s left of the candidates will make their way into Pennsylvania for the primary on April 26, near the end of the campaign season. In the Keystone State, we’ll hear them say they love cheese steaks. When the candidates are in the eastern part of the state, they will proclaim their love for the Phillies; when in the western half, they’ll root for the Pirates. Everywhere else, they’ll praise the rural life. The media, of course, will report all this—unless a Kardashian sneezes, in which case the media will run shove aside political coverage for the more important late-breaking news.
While focusing upon the Democrats and Republicans, the media will ignore candidates for the other political parties, perpetuating a self-fulfilling prophecy of ignorance that they don’t have a chance to be president—and therefore their views are meaningless.
During the coming year, we will be subjugated to dozens of robo-calls from celebrities, politicians, friends of politicians, union and business leaders. We will be exposed to hundreds of TV ads. We will receive several dozen flyers and postcards. Our e-mail will be jammed with junk, much of them asking for donations. Our landscape will be overrun by campaign signs and billboards. We will see, hear, and read the comments of pundits who know little about government and a lot about show business. The campaign media cost for just the two emerging Democratic and Republican nominees will be over $1 billion each. Television stations will embrace the race for the primaries; newspapers will settle for advertising for local candidates.
In slightly more than two weeks, residents of several states will vote for candidates for city and county offices, and for judges. These candidates have immediate and direct affect upon the people. We must learn more about them, their beliefs and principles. We must force the media to do in-depth coverage.
And, most important, we must vote in this election—even if the presidential candidates aren’t on the ballot.
[Dr. Brasch is a former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor who covered politics and government for four decades. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania.]