Category Archives: The Media

The Abdication of Fact Checking

English: Arriving in a horse race in Strasbour...

Strasbourg, le 14 septembre 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last week, the University of Denver hosted the first 2012 presidential debate between President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney. However, the media coverage of the debate and the resulting political fallout will be the same; both republicans and democrats will try to spin the outcome of the debate in a way that benefits their side. Meanwhile, the news media will overflow with coverage concerning the political impact of the debate, but will ultimately fail to explain if the facts actually fit the claims made by either candidate. Instead, the American electorate was given nonsensical and derivative sports analogies purely to oversimplify what should have been journalistic analysis of policy claims.

By lazily relying on the typical horse-race coverage of elections (i.e. the news media’s focus on which candidate is up or down in the latest public opinion polls), the news media, especially cable news, have abdicated their role as fact checker. These actions further exasperate the inescapable certainty that presidential debates are more about presentation than substance. Consequently, the big news story following any and all debates will inevitably be which candidate “won” divorced from any assessment concerning which candidate, if any, actually had the facts on their side.

This week, the news media will predicatively bombard the American audience with poll numbers along with a bloviated analysis of said poll numbers with a pretentious and misguided sense of accomplishment for delivering the very “news” that they themselves have shaped with their utter lack of journalistic examination. Get ready for hundreds of hours of useless analysis and flagrant political spin; well, until the Vice Presidential debate feeds the horse-race coverage even further.

What changes, if any, would you make to the American news industry to ensure reporting of political events involved more fact checking and less horse-race coverage?



Let the “Battle” Begin–The Targeting of States and Voters in 2012


BATTLEGROUND STATES 08 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The direction of the 2012 presidential election will become increasingly apparent in the days and weeks to come as the candidates and their supporters target important battleground states.  Battleground states are states that are considered to be contestable in the upcoming election; in other words, the state is worth visiting and investing substantial resources in.  Non-battleground states are states that candidates do not expect to win, making them less likely to receive much attention from candidate or their surrogates.  The identification of battleground and non-battleground states begins just as the election results of the previous presidential election are being tallied.  Campaign managers, political scientists, journalists, and others have been studying campaign maps for decades; especially Electoral College maps for presidential elections going back to the 1960s.

Battleground states are more likely than not to be states that have a history of voting democratic or republican.  Battleground states can also be determined by the margins of victory by various statewide elected officials (governors, etc.) in recent elections.  For example, if republican candidates have won recent elections in a state by what are considered wide margins the state is not likely to be considered a battleground state by the democratic party (they will basically write it off).  Once the battleground states are identified the process shifts toward identifying swing voters in battleground states that can make all the difference in a close election.  Hispanics, women, younger voters are likely voting blocks that will be targeted by candidates in the 2012 election.  What do you think about candidates for the Presidency targeting some states and ignoring others?  Should all fifty states receive their fair share of attention?  Is this even possible given the costs associated with national elections?


Video Glossary: New Media

Name Recognition, Number Recognition, and Media Bias

The presidential election of 2012 is on.  On the Democratic side there is _______ _______, the embattled incumbent; down in the polls and trying to escape responsibility for some of the worst job numbers in decades.  On the Republican side there are a number of hopefuls, among them _______ ________, _________ __________, _________ __________, __________ ___________, and we can’t forget _______ __________ the controversial but well known gadfly of the conservative cause.  There are more than thirteen months between now and the election, but the media buzz is heating up.

With a few debates behind us, and weekly if not daily polls, network and cable reporters are already showing a bias toward Republican front-runners ___________ __________ and __________ _________.  The early lead, according to the apparent agreement of network coverage, seems to be based on public opinion polls in the various states that have already hosted debates, an early Iowa straw poll, and national surveys pitting various Republican nominees against President ______ ________.  How can they all be wrong?  After all, Fareed Zakaria reports that _______ ________ is likely to be the Republican nominee because the early numbers tell us about a republican base that is not just rejuvenated but is actually reborn.  Despite the fact that before the summer of 2011 ________ _________ was just another Republican governor in a state that likes to elect Republican governors.  My point in all this is to suggest that one of the most valuable advantages any candidate can have is name recognition among the voting public, and that we live in a time when such name recognition is created not by actual familiarity with a candidate, their record, or even what they say on the campaign trail.  Rather, at this stage of the electoral process, name recognition is the product of media coverage fueled by speculation based on early polls.

I have a suggestion: Report what they say; report what they do.  Leave the numbers out of it; at least until we get to counting actual votes.  The bias uncovered over the course of an election and the media coverage of it seems a lot less liberal or conservative and a lot more in favor of a media imperative that requires a horse-race for the sake of creating interest in the cause of creating ratings.  Ratings sell things.  That’s it!  I’m buying ________ ___________.


Guilt By Sensationalism!

Freedom of the press was intended to protect the people’s right to know what their government was doing. However, the news media of today will either focus on celebrities or hyper-sensationalize relevant and non-issues.  These types of news stories have very little, if any, impact on the average lives of the American people but do increase ratings. Meanwhile, extremely pertinent issues like the rise of gas prices, government debt, the wars inIraqandAfghanistan, all take a back seat to the inconsequential Casey Anthony murder trial. For those who do not know, Casey Anthony was found not guilty of murdering her two year old daughter while it is generally believed by the general public, thanks in part to media coverage of the trail, that Casey Anthony is undoubtedly responsible for her daughter’s death. The issue of Casey Anthony’s guilt or innocent in the court of public opinion is irrelevant.  

Greta Van Susteren of FoxNEWS posted a question on her blog asking “what do you think about the Casey Anthony verdict?” A better and more important question is why is this trial worthy of coverage? Why this trial? Why this murder? How many American children went missing today alone seemingly ignored by the same media that is myopically focused on Casey Anthony and Casey Anthony alone? Nevertheless, the media holds an agenda-setting influence over what the American people will likely discuss and debate. Agenda-setting is the theory that the news media influences their audiences by their choice of what stories to consider newsworthy and how much prominence to give them. As a result, the American people have become emotionally infested with the Casey Anthony trial even though said trial holds very little value or relevance to the lives of average Americans.


The Political Policing of Congressman Anthony Weiner

The Anthony Weiner sexting scandal has taken a new turn as several Democrats in Congress, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, are publicly calling for Rep. Weiner’s resignation. However, if any member of the U.S. House of Representatives were truly offended by the congressman’s actions or sincerely concerned with Rep. Weiner’s ability to represent his district effectively they would call for his expulsion from the House. The U.S. House of Representatives can expel any member as the U.S. Constitution (Article 1, Section 5 (2)) states: “Each house may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds expel a member.” Only 20 members of Congress have ever been expelled and 17 of them were removed because of support for the Confederacy and secession from the United States of America.

The fact that no one in the House is contemplating this option simply reveals this scandal to be one of pure politics as opposed to an actual criminal offense. Tom Foreman posted a blog questioning the true motives behind the recent calls for Rep. Weiner’s resignation and the impact this political scandal is having on the perception of Washington politics by the American people. Nonetheless, should it not be the American people that have the final say concerning the political future of a member of congress? After all, Rep. Weiner does not represent the Democratic Party per se but the constituents  of New York’s 9th congressional district. It is not the responsibility of the Democratic Party, the American news media, or the executive branch to politically police members of congress. That responsibility actually and constitutionally should be left to the relative constituents of the U.S. Congress… or should it?


From Watergate to Weinergate–American Political Scandals

On June 17th, 1972, five men were caught in the act of burglarizing the Democratic Party offices in the Washington, D.C., Watergate apartment and office complex.  The police investigation that followed led to evidence that the burglars had ties to President Nixon’s re-election organization.  In the end, the burglary would lead to what has since been known as the Watergate Scandal—or simply Watergate.  The scandal would later claim the Presidency
of Richard Nixon—the first and only President to resign from office.  Almost as significantly, adding the word “gate” as a suffix to a word has become a staple of reporting on American political scandals—homage to the significance of the Watergate Scandal.

There was “Irangate,” also known as the Iran-Contra scandal—U.S. officials in the Reagan administration conspired to sell arms to Iran using the Israeli government to get around a U.S. arms embargo in the hopes of winning the release a American hostages (and to divert funds to the Nicaraguan Contras who were fighting the communist regime of Nicaragua).  There was “Nannygate.”  President Bill Clinton had two potential Attorneys General nominees brought down by news they had employed illegal immigrants as domestic help.  Now we have Weinergate.  It is alleged that House member Anthony Weiner used Twitter to send a lewd photo of himself to a college student and 45,000 others.  CNN’s Jack Cafferty confesses that watching the man’s handling of the affair is like
watching a Buddhist monk set himself on fire—you feel bad but you can’t help
but watch.

Notwithstanding the seriousness of the latest allegations, it is worth noting how easy it is for the media, pundits, and others to apply the “gates” suffix to whatever political scandal should arise.  I am not sure if it is indeed homage to the significance of the Watergate Scandal or evidence of sound-bite journalism and the cheapening of the mass media.  We are still involved in two wars, a national recession, natural disasters, a looming national debt collision; and the nation is wondering whether Mr. Weiner’s got a problem.  Really?