Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Elizabeth Edwards, Media Critic

The most cogent and heartfelt critique of the coverage of this Presidential campaign comes today from the wife of a candidate who was at the heart of the media melodrama.

"Watching the campaign unfold," Elizabeth Edwards writes in the New York Times, "I saw how the press gravitated toward a narrative template for the campaign, searching out characters as if for a novel: on one side, a self-described 9/11 hero with a colorful personal life, a former senator who had played a president in the movies, a genuine war hero with a stunning wife and an intriguing temperament, and a handsome governor with a beautiful family and a high school sweetheart as his bride.

"And on the other side, a senator who had been first lady, a young African-American senator with an Ivy League diploma, a Hispanic governor with a self-deprecating sense of humor and even a former senator from the South standing loyally beside his ill wife. Issues that could make a difference in the lives of Americans didn’t fit into the narrative template and, therefore, took a back seat to these superficialities."

She cites an independent study showing that during the early months of 2008, 63 percent of campaign stories focused on political strategy while only 15 percent discussed the candidates’ ideas and proposals.

But the media circus is a tacit collaboration between politicians and reporters, who assume (with considerable justification) that voters will be more interested in the cost of John Edwards' haircuts than his poverty proposals. If the media are shallow, the public and politicians have been their willing partners in what Mrs. Edwards calls "the Cliff Notes of the news" and "strobe-light journalism."

Only now, in desperation, after months of picayune personal attacks, does Hillary Clinton propose Lincoln-Douglas style debating on the issues without a moderator, as Barack Obama seems headed for the nomination despite the networks' best efforts to make mud fights out of their previous encounters.

"As we move the contest to my home state, North Carolina," Mrs. Edwards writes, "I want my neighbors to know as much as they possibly can about what these men and this woman would do as president.

"If voters want a vibrant, vigorous press, apparently we will have to demand it. Not by screaming out our windows as in the movie 'Network' but by talking calmly, repeatedly, constantly in the ears of those in whom we have entrusted this enormous responsibility. Do your job, so we can--as voters--do ours."

Well said, but don't hold your breath until that happens.

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