Throughout the 2004 presidential election campaign, I was frustrated with the mainstream media’s reporting (including NPR, which is generally much better than any commercial media in my opinion). The daily reporting on the presidential campaign typically consisted of: Today President Bush was in [insert swing state here] and said this [play 10-second sound bite claim about his record or Senator Kerry]. Meanwhile, Kerry was campaigning in [insert swing state here] and said this [play 10-second sound bite claim about his plans or Bush’s record]. End.
As a resident of a non-swing state, I couldn’t have cared less about where each candidate was and what group he spoke to. What I wanted to know was the validity of the claims each candidate made. Many times (as a Kerry supporter, of course), I thought Bush’s statements were pretty outlandish–both about his own record and about Kerry. But the mainstream news media hardly ever analyzed the claims themselves, thus allowing the candidates to say pretty much anything and get it broadcast as news. In fact, I had the impression that the more sensational a claim, the greater likelihood that claim would be the one featured in the news.
I found it a very frustrating situation, and it’s not very conducive to producing an informed voting populace.
A recent article in the Columbia Journalism Review, Blinded By Science: How ‘Balanced’ Coverage Lets the Scientific Fringe Hijack Reality, shows that even when journalists do the hard-hitting analysis, sometimes bad data is presented in the interest of ‘balanced’ reporting.
I a concern for ‘balance’ contributed to why the mainstream media did so little analysis of the presidential candidates’ claims. The media felt the need to present each candidate’s statements evenly. Analysis of one candidate’s claims would have necessitated analysis of the other candidate’s stance on the same issue. And even such ‘fair’ analysis probably would have resulted in claims of bias. And in the sound bite environment, I think it is easier just to report what each candidate says and not analyze it.

Categories: Politics