Media fixation with GOP presidential race a national embarrassment


Every new presidential election brings new opportunities for the ever-growing number of political journalists to become preoccupied with the horserace — and not the issues. But I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything as worthless as the amount of coverage devoted to a partisan debate a full 15 months before the election.

Just about every news outlet, every blog, every tweet delivered the “breaking news” of which Republican candidates made the Fox GOP debate. The lucky top 10 will join the main debate in the evening while the also-rans will air their views in the earlier junior varsity event.

You would think, from the over-reporting of this debate makeup — and the whines from those who didn’t make it — that someone had discovered a cure for cancer, solved world hunger, or beaten ISIS into submission. But no, it’s just a list of which 10 people will speak on a GOP-friendly network.

“The list is in,” CNN reported breathlessly on a banner on its website, complete with photos of the lucky 10 and the unlucky seven. And just in case you don’t have enough details, the cable network will be glad to tell you “what you missed from Monday’s GOP forum.”

“GAME ON” screamed the Huffington Post, with photos of the big 10.

Fox News, of course, which is hosting the debate(s), blared out the big announcement with five accompanying follow-up stories.

Is there a doubt what any of the candidates will say about President Obama, Planned Parenthood, Hillary Clinton, immigration, the Iran nuclear deal, or the Affordable Care Act? Nope. Instead, reporters, pundits, and hangers-on will report every nuance, every perceived stumble, every attack on front-runner Donald Trump. Will former Florida Gov. Jeb! Bush be asked to explain what he would replace Medicare with, since he wants to “phase it out,” and how that would help rather than hurt America’s seniors? Doubtful. Will Trump be asked for specifics about his seat-of-the-pants pronouncements about Mexico paying for a multi-billion-dollar border fence, or repealing the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with something “terrific”? Unlikely. Will any of them be asked to explain their references to Obama and the Holocaust? Oh, please.

How about the junior leaguers? Even though several candidates fell within the margin of error, I guess Fox thought that America had grown tired of retreads like former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. And maybe North Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham’s video of the many ways to destroy his cell phone, including throwing it into a blender, reminded too many people of a Bass-o-Matic.

Friends from other countries, like the U.K. and France, always react with bemusement at the saturation coverage of U.S. political races. In other countries, of course, elections are limited to months or even weeks. What a concept. I mean, just because the media trumpets coverage of the latest in a series of non-stop polls, that doesn’t mean most Americans know any more about any of the candidates. Because the media aren’t bothering to talk about that.

Once again, the media have fallen into the trap of letting Fox News set the tone and the topic of coverage. Fox will have millions and millions of pairs of eyeballs tuned in, while its ad rates keep getting higher.

I’m as much of a political junkie as anyone, and I’ll pay attention to what candidates are saying, even ones I would never vote for. But would it be too much to ask that once — just once — the media actually covered an election with the aim of telling the electorate about policy instead of just politics?

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