Media coverage of the presidential debates benefits no one
By Michael Henslowe, Contributor
To watch the press surrounding the American presidential debates is to be witness to a spectacle. One which favours the shallowness of debate drama over the importance of policy substance; where the possibility of a good one-liner is seen as a more enticing reason to watch than whether or not the candidates will articulate views to help inform American citizens. It was once said that the intellectual content of the 1980s news press would horrify those examining it. One fears that today’s press is following such a precedent, and acting as its inheritor.
Take for instance a recent presidential debate. At its conclusion, occupying most people’s minds was Romney’s “binder” statement. This well-meant, but misspoken comment, should in normal societies be glossed over or quickly dismissed. But it’s not. Everybody is still discussing it. His comment was spawned from a question about the wide salary inequality between women and men employed in the same position. Most will not remember the president’s answer, which highlights a policy initiative of his—called the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act—or even know Romney’s view on it. I think we are the poorer for it.
[quote]The questions that would help voters vote are always left for later, because they aren’t seen as interesting enough. [/quote]
After the Vice Presidential debate, the pundit panel of CNN could only focus on Joe Biden’s wide and annoying grin. The next day, Anderson Cooper invited on a body expert to decode everything. From this, we learned that Paul Ryan’s raised eyebrows meant he was surprised, and that Biden’s crossed eyebrows expressed his anger. The next few days saw the Romney campaign issuing a political ad focusing on the “Biden Smile,” while Republican supporters tried to console the supposedly bullied Vice Presidential nominee, Paul Ryan. This followed a tactic used by the Obama campaign, when, after Romney promised to cut funding to PBS and Big Bird in their first debate, they released an ad mocking the whole affair.
This is a problem. One watching the news coverage of the debates would think that the only events which occurred were those mentioned above. The questions that would help voters vote are always left for later, because they aren’t seen as interesting enough. As such, we are no closer to knowing how Romney plans on reducing the deficit than we are on understanding why Obama’s first term in office barely reduced the unemployment rate. Most are sick about hearing discourses on why Romney can’t connect to the public, or why Obama wasn’t very energetic in the first debate. Those on the cusp of homelessness can’t force themselves to care about it and neither should anyone else.
One can only wonder what would have been said about the great presidents of America’s past if they were campaigning today. Washington’s most recent biographer spends a good time on the president’s quiet and whispered voice, that surprised those impressed with his great physical frame. Jefferson also had a breathy and tired voice by the time he reached the presidency. And those who didn’t know them considered them both unlikable and distant. President Roosevelt would have surely been collapsing in between questions, needing the help of assistants to get back up and continue. And Lincoln’s appearance terrified many of his supporters.
The possibility that this will all change is an unlikely assumption one would be wrong to make. To most, which nominee looks most “presidential” is dwarfed by the startling rate of unemployment plaguing the country. Voters have a choice on how to change this. They can either believe the president’s claim that to move to lower unemployment, his first term needed to thwart the economic calamity that was awaiting the country. Or, Americans can look to Romney and believe his claim that he has the ability and experience to change everything for the positive. A person’s vote will ultimately rest upon who they believe will benefit the country. The press would do best by knowing this, and trying to further add to the information that voters need, but more importantly, want.