Political coverage has devolved into second-rate reality TV.
As embarrassed as I am about what constitutes news coverage in this presidential election cycle, I am more concerned about the lack of voices from reputable journalists condemning the downward spiral into what amounts to a second-rate reality television show.
More than two decades I was part of an awesome project that aimed to raise the level of discussion on important issues. Too much election coverage had devolved into nothing more than horse race updates on who was ahead and who was behind in the latest polls. Good for ratings, sure, but terrible for anyone who wanted to hear about how candidates were going to address the major issues facing the nation.
For a while, more reputable news organizations refocused their efforts. They still reported on the latest poll numbers, but the majority of their work went in to looking at what the candidates were saying, how they would handle the important issues of the day and how they would convince members of the opposing party to help move the country forward.
This summer, Donald Trump has completed what has been a steady erosion of fact-based, issues-oriented reporting on major issues and the political campaigns have devolved into the latest insults hurled and what the feud has done to the various candidates’ poll numbers.
It is worse on the Republican side because there are so many more candidates, led by Insulter In Chief Trump. (Yes Donald, I’m dumb; nobody likes me and I don’t have a clue either, just like every other person who has taken you to task for your schoolyard bully tactics and childish retorts to criticism).
On the Democratic side, there hasn’t been the level of nastiness that we’ve seen among the Republicans. But then, until recently no one was really challenging Hillary Clinton and all the attention with her has been on her email controversy. Still, as Bernie Sanders has gained momentum, there has been an increasing focus on poll numbers among major media outlets and a further diminishing of talk on the issues.
In truth, the major networks, cable stations and news outlets should be paying Trump royalties because he has given them something to write about and broadcast during the traditionally slow summer months. But make no mistake, it isn’t news.
If you doubt that, check and see how Trump’s latest escapades are driving coverage in the so-called news magazine shows on broadcast channels each night. What do these shows typically focus on? Trump and the spectacle that has become Republican Party politics have been reduced to reality TV status. Polls don’t rise or fall based on a candidate’s stand on an issue. They rise or fall based on who shot off the best zinger aimed at their opponent.
People complain about politics and how we can’t get anything done in this country. Then they sit on the sidelines cheering as the kids in the sandbox throw dirt on each other.
News organizations will say they are devoting all this time to horse race coverage because it is what people want, as demonstrated by the ratings. And at the end of the day, it is all about the ratings.
I say the media has a greater responsibility, one that is built on the traditions of the Fourth Estate, to be a source of information to educate the public so that, when they go into the voting booth, they can make an informed decision on who is best prepared to lead our country.
And that, I’m sad to say, has been absent from what has passed for political coverage this summer.