Monday, March 10, 2008

They Win

I've watched a lot of political television in the past few months. With a wife and father who are full blown Obama junkies (and my own small habit) CNN and MSNBC have become regulars on my television set, and even Fox News makes the occasional cameo.

While I am a journalist and shouldn't have been surprised, like many viewers I have been disappointed in the poor job television networks have done in framing and analyzing political news.

Everyday I see a story that has been spun or ignored that I believe deserved different treatment. While some would chalk this up to my Obama bias, I think it's just my understanding of what the core values of journalism are supposed to be.

One of my most recent disappointments was watching the media tone used to describe the recent election results in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont. As Clinton won easy victories in Ohio and Rhode Island and then carried the Texas primary, announcer after announcer jumped on the storyline that she was the new "Comeback Kid."

This storyline conveniently ignored the fact that Clinton only saw minuscule gains in her pledged delegate count, and minimized the fact that Obama had overcome huge deficits to make the races fairly competitive. Instead, announcers gleefully noted that you can never count a "fighter" like Clinton out of an election and noted that this race will probably go down to the wire. At the time I was disgusted by what I viewed as a ridiculous bias, and wondered why so many stations seemed to be in Clinton's camp.

Now I know why. Check this link out.

Apparently, the massive amount of public interest in the race for the Democratic nomination has been a HUGE boon for stations like CNN and MSNBC. Viewers are flocking to both stations to get their daily fix and I'm sure advertisers are flocking to those same stations to get at viewers. Not only has the democratic race allowed the stations to easily fill their daily news holes, but it's not too bad for their coffers either.

Now the coverage definitely makes sense.

Look, this media game is first and foremost a business. It's a big money business too. Newspaper have traditionally enjoyed profit margins greater than 10 percent, and at times nearly 20 percent. Television news stations don't enjoy the same level of success because of the costs involved with television production, but they do pretty well. In both media, the only way to make money is to draw viewers and consumers to your product, and then sell those eyes to advertisers. There is one tried and true way to get people's attention:

Conflict.

Conflict moves units like Hannah Montana. Remember how popular Jerry Springer was when somebody was getting beat down on television everyday? How much do you want to bet that those Maury Povich episodes with the paternity tests have higher ratings than all the other episodes? The old maxim in journalism is simple "if it bleeds it leads."

See, news shows where they quietly parse each candidates' comments and sedately discuss various policy points don't get viewers. Nah, stories that raise people's blood pressure get viewers. Stories that make you want to cheer or curse the television suck people in. When people think a fight is breaking out and they have a dog in that fight, well they are more likely to stay glued to that boob tube.

So, ignoring the fact that Obama smoked Clinton in 12 straight primaries was par for the course. Denigrating his achievements, crowing over Hillary's "big" wins and openly pushing forward Clinton campaign talking points is just another day at the office when it comes to the media. Stirring shit up is what we do, it's how we get paid.

Don't let this whole thing stress y'all too much, although I can understand your concern if you actually expected the media to provide you with unbiased unvarnished information. Although if you did believe that, I want to get a donation from you to help OJ find the real killer.

No matter who comes out on top in the fight for the nomination, the media wins.

3 comments:

Danielle said...

I expect nothing from the media in America, least of all the truth. The days of Cronkite and Murrow are dead and gone.

It's a disgrace and a disappointment, but if I want facts, I visit the blogosphere where smart folks like yourself break things down.

WNG said...

If I give her your phone number, will you please call my mother and repeat that three of four times? I try, but something tells me she might actually believe you :)

Big Man said...

Give me the number, I'll call. Lol.

Raving Black Lunatic