Friday, November 30, 2007

By the Interest Vested in Me, I Now Pronounce You...

During the recent YouTube Republican presidential debate, Anderson Cooper brooded into the camera lens and said, "We're not going to just analyze the horse race; we're going to cover the issues." Right. Like they did during the most recent Democratic debate, in which (from what little I saw), Joe Biden and Bill Richardson gave the most complete and interesting answers to the questions, and the "coverage" focused on who got flustered, who stumbled, who sighed, who perspired, who attacked Hillary and how.

An analogy occurred to me. When it comes to something like sports... like when Fox knows it's going to be televising the World Series, the network absolutely knows what it wants to have happen: Dodgers-Yankees, Mets-Yankees... the matchups that have good drama, involving big-market teams, that will draw high ratings and allow it to maximize its advertising revenues.

The frustrating thing for the network is this: It has no actual control over who makes it to the World Series. So if it's Padres-Indians, they're SOL.

A presidential election is the same way. It's pretty clear that all the networks want Hillary vs. Rudy. And why not? The storyline is interesting. Two politicians from big-market New York, different styles, polarizing this, 9/11 that.

But here's the difference: In the case of a Presidential debate, the networks CAN play a role in deciding who gets there. How? By anointing front-runners, by focusing on fundraising prowess, by televising a debate but ignoring the substance of every answer, talking about the "horse race," and treating high-quality (but, apparently less interesting, though I beg to differ) candidates like Joe Biden as if they were invisible.

Is this a conspiracy? No. The networks aren't in some kind of back-room collusion to do this. There's no need. They all need to sell advertising, and they all come to the same obvious conclusion on which storyline is going to get the most attention. Yawn.

There's just one small problem: It's not objective reporting, and it's not good for the country. It's like rigging the game, and the networks are making good candidates like Biden and Richardson into the Black Sox of 1919.

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