Media & The Presidential Election
This blog was written by one of our IQ Man guest bloggers, Robert Malka, of St. John's College of Annapolis. He is a freshman liberal arts major, a staff writer for the school newspaper and co-founder and vice president of the college radio station.
“Given the fact that there’s no state that wants to ban [contraception], and I don’t know of any candidates that want to do so…I mean, the fact that you’re putting this forward seems a little silly, I think.” So comments Mitt Romney in a New Hampshire debate where we were subjected to a painful half-hour of inflammatory discussion on contraception. And when the candidates think the question is ridiculous—especially when observed in the larger context of the economy, foreign policy and healthcare—you know there are some deeper structural problems with how this election is going.
This absurd question based on a warped understanding of Santorum’s views (he has never discussed banning contraception) reveals that the Mainstream Media aims on maintaining viewership by keeping viewer tension, and it seeks to do that by being anti-sophistication and complexity. That’s not to say that contraception does not have complex and nuanced elements to it, by the way; it was asked because it was never going to be presented as a complex, nuanced issue. It is a topic that too easily lends itself to us-versus-them rhetoric and calls to pathos; and in this case it was a key way to portray the Republicans as extremist and distracted. (Note: before you call me partisan, this kind of thing happens equally with both parties. The media picks favorites.)
This is duplicity bordering on the malicious, for there is nothing the Media enjoys more than pretending that their influence is non-existent. Cries of “Objective” and “Fair and Balanced” abound. It is clear that reporters and commentators hide the importance of their role, pretending that they have almost no impact in influencing the public’s choices. But the idea that the Media is a neutral communications channel between candidates and voters is fiction. They play every role in our decision. Their biases towards surprise and clichéd sentimental backstories are so painfully apparent in the current GOP nomination process that it has become something akin to a reality show.
Indeed, have you noticed that there are certain periods where the Media publishes more stories about one candidate than any other? Bachmann got her time in the limelight, and then Rick Perry, and Herman Cain, and so on. But just looking at their poll numbers it is easy to see that there is clearly no true attachment to any of these characters. It seems fair to say that a priority on policies should leave people attached to particular characters, as long as they haven’t sexually harassed as many women as Herman Cain has, and yet that’s not the case.
The truth is, sympathies lying with certain characters are created mostly, if not entirely, by the Media (excuse the clichéd bashing here), and the only reason that this is a necessary thing to do is because all of the candidates have effectively the same policies, with the exception of Ron Paul and possibly Mitt Romney. Even then, however, the only reason that there is attachment to Romney is because he is the establishment favorite and the one most likely to beat Obama. It is thus fair to say that the only real candidate who has people celebrating around him due to his policies (and is otherwise a cult-favorite) is Ron Paul. Clearly it’s a pretty weak field.
It is amazing to realize that they have been managing to keep this campaign running for an almost farcical amount of time with such candidates. Remember Donald Trump? For a while, that was actually serious business. Oh, and Sarah Palin, and how she rode around the country in a giant bus with her name on it, only to… not run. And all of those speculations about Paul Ryan and Chris Christie? I’m pretty sure that they’re going to run in 2016, though this horse-race narrative may be much worse by then.
Or will it be? My hope is that, in bringing the pattern of this twenty four seven, eighteen month absurdity to everyone’s attention, we will be capable of ignoring the daily bombardment of useless, manipulative discussion about who is the most “American,” and instead go the harder route and force ourselves to do research on who is best capable of fixing America (presuming it needs to be fixed at all). The internet, while ultimately a form of communication that has caused the most polarizing characters to be more polarizing, also has all of the necessary information on it to make the right decision. Doing so would force the news to instead publish things of substance, since that would have to be their new model to continue to generate revenue. For the sake of this country, I hope we manage to do just that.