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MEDIA CRITIQUE:

The Flocked-Up Campaign Press Corps

by Walter Brasch

What the media have not been doing is getting into the trenches with the people, and spending more than a gnat’s attention span with them. Only then will we have a chance to better understand that democracy is about the people, not the candidates.
Shortly before the primary votes this past week, Newsweek called Barack Obama’s surge to the Democratic nomination “inevitable.” It also called for Hillary Clinton to “start campaigning for Sen. majority leader.” Newsweek was one of only dozens of national media that made that “analysis.” But the voters had their own ideas.

Sen. Clinton took Ohio by a wide margin, squeaked into a victory in Texas, and even won Rhode Island, stopping Obama’s victory streak in the smaller delegate-light states. Obama still needs at least 500 more delegate votes to assure the nomination. And that’s not inevitable.

Reporters and columnists, pundits, pollsters, and blowhards, just can’t seem to get it right. They want to be erudite and prescient. But they got it horribly wrong in New Hampshire, and then tried to scramble by saying that Sen. Clinton had a “surprising” win. It was only surprising to the press that confidently predicted an Obama win.

The media have also been weak in figuring out the effect of a heavy Republican cross-over vote that tended to favor Obama and skew results in Wisconsin, Texas, and other states that allow Republicans to temporarily become Democrats. And, large numbers of the media still haven’t learned that people often don’t make up their minds until they are looking at the ballot. Even the so-called scientific exit polls are based upon people actually telling those pesky pollsters the truth.

The media hover with the candidates and their campaign staffs, ride the same buses and fly on the same airplanes. They are herded from place to place, blindly following their direction so they get what they believe are the best seats in the house. When there are moments to rest, the press gaggle flock together, chat with each other and compare notes, especially about which super-delegate is likely to vote for which candidate. For dessert, they chat with the pollsters.

What the media have not been doing is getting into the trenches with the people, and spending more than a gnat’s attention span with them. Only then will we have a chance to better understand that democracy is about the people, not the candidates.


Walter Brasch’s latest book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, available at amazon.com. You may contact Dr. Brasch through his website, www.walterbrasch.com, or by e-mail: brasch@bloomu.edu.


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This story was published on March 10, 2008.