"The press has become obsessed with gossip rather than governance; it prefers to employ titulation rather than scrutiny, as a result, its political coverage produces trivialization, rather than enlightenment. And the dynamic mechanism propelling and demonstrating this decline in news standards is the "feeding frenzy." (p. 6)
- Professor Larry Sabato, from his book "FEEDING FENZY, How attack journalism has transformed Americzn politics," (1991).
The role of a presidential candidate is not to make headline news for the "boys & girls on the bus" but to demonstrate to the voters they have the capacity and wisdom to govern.
As the dog days of August have descended on us, the media - aka the "boys & girls on the bus" are doing what they do at this time of the campaign cycle when news is slow - they make non-issues into issues (Clinton e-mails and The Clinton Foundation), they frame the campaign by focusing on the personal attacks by both campaigns (Trump is a racist, Hillary is a liar) and then the staple of the media comes into view - the so-called "horse race" (Hillary moving up and Trump spiraling down)
Data dumping from Wikileaks, Hillary's e-mail and meeting logs as Secretary of State from public records searches morph into the politics of innuendo, presumed informed gossip. This "Woodstein" affect positions the media as partisans not neutral gatekeepers. If one reads all the article not just a headline you find this is a murky business with no clear "there, there."
As I've said on my Face Book page - this devolution of campaign coverage increasingly focuses on scandal mongering, the politics of personality, conflict, media feeding frenzies and gotcha journalism. Sadly what's being lost is a civil discourse about the real issues we face as a nation - problems of war and peace, the issue of income inequality, the role of police in American society, immigration policy and issues which get even scanter attention - climate change, education, urban/rural infrastructure needs, trade and farm policy.
The latest absurd example is the media foaming at the mouth that Hillary hasn't had a press conference in months. For the record Trump has never had one - he simply puts the media down except his buddies at Fox News. But the question that needs to be asked why should a candidate be judged on whether or not they have press conferences? Does the national press corps have a divine right for such "special" access when we have televised debates, two conventions and a myriad of campaign events they already cover?
Presidents hold press conferences not candidates for office and it's at their call not the call of the White House press corps - aka the "beast!" The fact is Hillary has been far more accessible than Trump unless one includes his penchant for tweeting endlessly and incoherently while on the campaign trail. The media has no right to special access. But it has a responsibility to analyze the candidates positions on the issues. But the media has lost the narrative here.
The other question the media should be digging into but isn't covering are evidence of leadership capacity and the depth of understanding of the issues likely to be faced by a new president. What would a Clinton or Trump presidency be like? Who would be their confidants and cabinet? What do their biographies tell us about their capacity to work with Congress and foreign leaders? Given their campaigns can they gain the trust of the American people after the election or will they be damaged goods at the end of the election?
Most fundamentally which of the two candidates has the intellectual capacity to deal with the unexpected and which has the emotional maturity to respond to the challenges we face as a nation in a complex economy and world? On the eve of the 1960 election, Richard Neustadt, a highly regarded scholar of the presidency, framed this rhetorical question - how will the next president use his "power stakes" when dealing with a president's audiences - the public, the Congress, the bureaucracy, the media and foreign governments?
The media's penchant for the low hanging fruit is a species of political journalists being generalists not beat reporters with expertise on a policy issue.
The flaws of this approach in non-campaign reporting was evident in The Oregonian's recent special on forest fires. One of the reporters is an excellent journalist who has covered education and homeless beats in Washington County. But she has no expertise on federal or state forest policy. But with pictures of burning trees and graphics what essentially was a "feature" article became front page news.
There was considerable op ed blow back from those with expertise. But few readers take the time to dig deeper. So we are left as in political reporting with "first impressions" from it's got to bleed to lead, gotcha, sensation based journalism.
When the candidates come to your state - they will stick to their pre-digested talking points vetted in focus groups by pollsters, consultants and media gurus. Don't expect them to discuss the issues of forestry management in the West, how to stop gentrification in the inner cities, how to end rural poverty in places like Appalachia, the rural South or Indian country or how to craft a national energy policy to mitigate global warming and environmental degradation.
If you're looking for answers to these questions from the media class - you'll find little information on this from what Bill Safire coined as the "nattering nabobs of negativism." And in an age where few read a daily newspaper, fewer watch TV news and weekly news magazines have virtually disappeared we are left with the float some and jet some of the net, social media and shock jock radio or TV. We are saddled with Newton Minnow's media "wasteland." This is a perilous condition by which to decide who will be the next POTUS.
So we're on our own in election 2016. Don't expect much from the media - they are part of the circus of "sound bite" journalism that brought Donald Trump to victory and which is trying to make a likely Hillary Clinton landslide into a close election so they have a simplistic easy to digest story line to work with in the fall - "Trump the bigot" versus "Hillary the liar." It's all about Trump's x-rated language and Hillary's e-mail. Forget about who is really competent to be POTUS - hell we survived Dubya didn't we!
Only the brain dead would say YES to the Dubya reference above. "Good luck, good night America!" One hopes the adults wake up before it's too late!