News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Friday, April 25, 2008

Honey, I shrunk the candidates

The Democratic primaries continue without a clear winner and with each passing day the public images of Senators Clinton and Obama are being noticeably diminished. Early in the contest, when Senator Clinton appeared to be the front-runner, she was described by pundits as confident and strong, emanating an almost regal bearing. Now she’s being called belligerent and shrewish, a woman who won’t step aside for the good of the party. Senator Obama, meanwhile, has seen his glowing message of hope portrayed as eye-candy rhetoric from someone who doesn’t have the political savvy to knock out a weak opponent. In the crossfire, both candidates have also suffered collateral damage at the hands of the media; Clinton with her phantom sniper fire and Obama over his association with the fire-breathing Reverend Wright.

What’s strange here is that determining a party’s presidential nominee before the convention is a relatively recent phenomenon. There was a time when a party’s convention was more than a coronation ceremony. But in this age of sensation-driven media, the longer a campaign lasts, the more vulnerable the candidates become to the constant need to manufacture controversy.

The media’s voracious hunger for juicy sound bytes feeds an industry that can take a single sentence uttered in the most remote location and turn it into a headline that can change a campaign. Forget about a candidate’s stance on the issues. In today’s political environment, issues take a back seat to glorified gossip posing as journalism. Our mainstream journalists are now only a few steps removed from the tawdry fare of supermarket tabloids.

It’s up to each us to realize we are quite literally being sold the news. Once a public service the TV networks offered to keep their FCC licenses, TV news departments have become major profit centers that compete for bigger audiences with their rivals. Newspapers are just as desperate, losing more readers to the internet every day. As a result, reporters and news editors are under pressure to tart up the most controversial aspects of campaigns instead of reporting on the issues. So keep this in mind as the campaign drags on: Most of what the media chooses to cover has been selected for its scandal value.

In the end, we the people get the media – and the president – we deserve.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

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