By Andrea Bichan
The media frenzy surrounding the 2008 presidential election is enormous, and often overwhelming. One cannot escape the constant flow of information. As a result, the American public has become intimately acquainted with the candidates, knowing everything from Barack Obama’s relationship with his pastor to the details of John McCain’s divorce.
Surely in an election as televised as this, the issues are well known to every citizen. A follower of the election proceedings should be able to nonchalantly recite the opposing viewpoints of Obama and McCain on topics ranging from foreign policy to homosexual marriage. Right?
The candidates and their running mates, specifically Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Gov. Sarah Palin (R-Ala.) have managed to achieve celebrity status. Even the major news sources are in on the “fluff.” On Sept. 17, 2008, the headlines on The New York Times “Campaign 2008” homepage included, “Obama, the Candidate for Change (of Clothes),” and “McCain’s Daughter’s Book Becomes a Best Seller.” Their responses to the economic crisis were appropriately filed under the “More News” section. The media is trivializing the issues that will have the most affect on our lives and instead are focusing on the tattooed finger of the father of Sarah Palin’s illegitimate granddaughter. It’s the most unnecessary, simple-minded information one could find and the mainstream media is feeding it to a very hungry American audience.
Mark Crispin Miller, professor of media studies at New York University thinks otherwise. “It’s not what the people want to see. It’s what the media want to think the people want to see.” He acknowledges that the general public is interested in healthcare, abortion and economic policies, and alleges that the media masks issues, specifically election fraud, “despite — or, perhaps, because of — its vast important and its shattering implications.”
The subjects of attention have responded in different ways. Vice presidential hopeful Sarah Palin welcomes the attention, as long as it’s about the right topics. A Project of Excellence in Journalism Study stated that her place beside Sen. John McCain on the ballot took the top spot of reported stories the first week of September. The same study also found that her policies were the least reported story for the week. Just the way she likes it.
Palin has graced the cover of Us Weekly, and spoken to People, but refuses to stray from the “soft news.” Recent attempts to push her into a more serious spotlight, such as the infamous Katie Couric interview on CBS, have been disastrous. The New York Times reported on Oct. 1, 2008 that many Alaskans do not know of her policies regarding healthcare, education, and other important topics. And still, Palin hides in the safety of the grocery store magazine aisle.
Obama has been a little less grateful for this type of media attention. He has repeatedly asked the media to stop reporting on banalities, such as the pictures of his family vacation that were printed in People. “You’ve been reporting on how I look in a swimsuit,” he complained. He would rather be on the famously conservative O’Reilly Factor, which he was on Sept. 4, 2008, debating his policies with skeptics. Unlike Palin, Obama is unafraid of a more revealing, relevant media approach; regardless of whether or not he receives that.
While presidential and vice presidential candidates are held to different standards, the fact remains that both their views have the potential to affect America’s future. It is imperative that voters are informed on the policy decisions of both the presidential and vice presidential candidates before they reach the polls in November.
It doesn’t bother the coordinator of the Democratic Headquarters in Ithaca, N.Y., Merry-Jo Bauer. “The only problem I see would be if the news were to be inaccurate,” she says. Good press is good press, whether it be on his plan to save the economy or his impeccable taste in suits. Then again, her profession ensures that she’s well versed in policy, whereas the majority of the public does not have that advantage.
The people turn to the news for just that: news. But somehow, “news” has become a synonym for “entertainment,” a replacement for primetime television, and the public loses so much important information. Whether or not Palin and McCain hug during publicity tours or shake hands (as reported by The New York Times on Sept. 9, 2008) is not going to affect the people as much as their stance on the war in Iraq. But in the end, the former is what we see, and it is up to us to separate the news from the newsworthy.
Andrea Bichan is a sophomore exploratory major. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.