Letter to the Editor: The Media and the Election

Town Meeting Member Richard Nangle writes in to share critiques on media coverage in the current 2012 election cycle.

The following is a letter to the editor from Richard Nangle:

Mitt Romney and his campaign deserve a lot of credit for a political breakthrough here in the 2012 presidential elections. They have proven that you can repeatedly change your positions, refuse to offer details of your proposals and outright lie numerous times during a period of three televised debates and get away with it.

But this column is not about Mitt Romney. He is doing what he has to do, needs to do, to win the presidency. His handlers know what they are doing. The Republican performance that preceded his candidacy was dismal with policies that led the country to the brink of depression. The combined Bush and Obama bailouts prevented that from happening. They know all that. They also know that you don’t, or have forgotten. In any case, they know that no one is really going to remind you. It is not their fault this is the worst presidential campaign in ever, or at least in the TV age. They are just reacting to what they see and trying to win, as they should.

The blame for this campaign being a joke lies squarely with President Barack Obama who has put forth one of the truly inept efforts by a White House incumbent in modern times.

This should not be a race. It should not be close. All Obama had to do was play back quotes from high ranking Republican leaders like House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to the effect that their most important charge was to unseat Obama in 2012. Not to improve the country’s faltering economy, mind you, but to unseat a president who had just been elected rather easily following that dismal Republican failure to manage said economy. To unseat a president who had just saved the country from a depression. These statements in and of themselves would make for a devastating advertisement during half-time of a Patriots game. Play the quote. Fade to black. “Paid for by the Obama campaign.” But we will not see it.

All Obama had to do was directly quote the many tea partiers who make utterly bizarre comments that should rightly disqualify them from holding any elected office in this country. Instead, the influential tea party, with its rapist apologists, has been all but ignored. The tea party has been responsible for a Congress that has lurched far to the right. What a fantastic ad to run during the two-minute warning. But Obama does not speak of it.

Instead, he marches forward with his strange campaign that seems to this day to be afraid of unleashing the mythical “angry black man.” Meanwhile, white voters have turned away from Obama in droves. Racism is central to this campaign and the political culture of the country right now. But no one will speak of it.

Romney talks about Obama’s record on the economy and Obama does not respond. This happens time after time on national television. All Obama has to do, again, is note the total Republican obstructionism that he has faced from Day one of his presidency. How can he pass any legislation through their obstruction? But his gutless campaign fears the public can’t grasp it and the Republicans would seize on such talk and accuse the president of whining, being ineffectual, unable to actually be a leader. So rather than address these issues head-on and with aggressiveness Obama’s camp massages the polls and convinces itself that it will eke out a victory. It is a gamble with serious consequence.

While all of this is sad and pathetic, it is the failed coverage by the news media that is the real shame of this election. Three debates and not a question about climate change, one of the overarching issues of our time. Since there were no questions, the candidates did not address it. From Obama’s perspective, it doesn’t poll very well. People don’t understand it. And the media, of course, is to blame. It treats climate change denial like a legitimate position based on scientific fact. That’s the so-called balance in climate change news stories. So with that as the backdrop, who could blame the Obama campaign from staying away? That’s just one example of how a lazy and inept media do the nation a huge disservice.

Isn’t it ironic that while mainstream newspapers lose circulation faster than a leper loses flesh and while television news programs continue to lose ratings, it is these very organizations that control so much of the political dialogue? They get to run the debates and have their celebrity moderators ask the watered down questions. The candidates know it’s a relatively safe haven. They don’t have to question each other and they don’t have to be specific. They will be judged on things other than truthfulness. Their statements parsed by reporters who seemingly would be more comfortable as reviewers. The next day stories are absolutely useless. Can’t anyone write a lede anymore? The stories are so safe as to be incredibly boring. Again, there are exceptions. But they are few. My journalism professors would have thrown these stories back at me along with a few insults. But these days it all makes the front page.

The rest of the newspaper election coverage is poll-driven and largely lacking in substance. There are exceptions, of course. There is still great truth-seeking journalism to be read--just less and less of it. Not enough, unfortunately, to sustain a subscription base. And television news, especially on the local level, covers verylittle that is political except both real and manufactured scandal. The political narrative for both newspapers and television is the same, however: “Pay close attention to us, otherwise you won’t know what the bastards are doing.” Forget about actually covering government and the public trust and blah, blah, blah… That’s apparently just so yesterday.

It’s hard to blame people who read the papers and watch the news every day and still can’t decide who to vote for, who to believe. It takes a lot of work to be a citizen these days. There are journals and programs and websites and that do a great job. They are indispensible. And again, to be fair, some newspaper coverage is still outstanding. But it’s all very hard to find and inconsistent. Unless you pull away from the mainstream, you are lost amid confusion.
The election of a president of the United States is too important for all this. But where is the catalyst for change? There really isn’t one. And that is why we may soon watch the election of a candidate in Romney who could well preside over the destruction of the nation’s social safety net and a shift of even more of the nation’s wealth to the already very wealthy. It is a position that the large majority of Americans do not support. But if Romney wins they will have unwittingly voted for it, the media having done precious little to address it.

Richard Nangle
854 Hammond St.
Town Meeting Member
Brookline, Mass.


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