U.S. Presidential Elections in the Age of Millenium Media
On November 2nd, 2000, FOX News declared George W. Bush to be the next President of the United States (Moore 36). Within four minutes, CBS, ABC, CNN, and NBC had all decided this was also true (36). The source of this knowledge was none other than the governor of Florida, Jeb Bush (36). When Al Gore saw the news, he decided to concede graciously. However, when he saw that the Florida votes were completely muddled, he withdrew the concession.
This move was met with Republican ire. The New York Times ran headlines that gave Bush supporters microphones for sentiments urging Gore to "'Not to Stand in [the] Way'" (Bruni 1). They also demanded a halt to the manual recounts (1). Any attempt by Gore to stay in the race until the votes were recounted was dismissed as the behavior of a sore loser (Moore 34).
The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago later took the painstaking effort to recount all the votes in Florida and found that Gore would have won Florida and, therefore, the presidency (Miller 8). When these findings were published, they mysteriously ran in the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, The Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal as evidence that Bush's victory was legitimate (8).
George W. Bush was not elected by the American people, he was elected by the American media. Jeb Bush's fallacious claim that his brother had won was spun into truth by all major news networks. Then, the only coverage of the recount consisted of Republicans telling the Gore party to give up, that the recounts wouldn't change anything, and they were a waste of time and energy. Had the media instead favored Gore with this spotlight, there would never have been a second Bush in our country's history.
This is how the media has begun to totally control elections. Since the 2000 elections, things have gotten even worse. Sound bites and character issues have replaced anything of substance. News cycles have become based on themes. Even the worst scandals are only analyzed by “belated critics who then move on as if it hadn't happened; nor do they dare 'connect the dots' between the scandals" (Miller 1). This is the new journalism.
So the media's attention span becomes the American attention span (and vice versa). This paper's goal is to provide a brief overview of the thematic and trivial material now called "news" in our country, with the particular focus being on the presidential elections of 2004 and 2008. The New York Times has been chosen as the source for these headlines, as it is supposedly one of the most liberally-biased papers. After observing what The Times decided was important in the election months of 2004 and 2008, we will enter the forbidden territory of election fraud, the biggest and most unmentioned scandal of all. From here, we will finally explore what President Obama had to do in order to defeat the Republican rumor machine.
Media is a form of entertainment. From Lost to The O'Reilly Show, we tune into television shows and expect them to play with our emotions. The problem is that these expectations drive media to become more entertaining than informative. And some, like The O’Reilly Show, are mutant hybrids of news and opinion. In reality, Bill O’Reilly does to news what Jerry Springer does to domestic turmoil.
Since the newspapers and news stations of our media must compete with each other, and compete compete with sitcoms and dramas, their first goal is to grab the attention of readers and viewers. This enforces an eerie style of objectivity, where issues that are too unpleasant, complex, or controversial become dropped from news cycles for the sake of simplistic sensationalism (Dautrich and Hartley 92).
During presidential elections, we are now accustomed to a barrage of background checks and character inspections. We no longer have elections, we have battles. A cursory glance at the online archives of the New York Times over the past eight years reveals the headlines of all election coverage. Candidates "jab," "criticize," "clash," and "counterattack" while decrying opponents as "out of touch" and "unfit to lead." These are universal remarks. McCain and Obama both headlined with the accusation of the other being "out of touch" in July and September 2008, respectively (Rutenberg 1, Zeleny and Rohter 1).
Rather than dwelling on the ridiculous repetition of these trite accusations and exaggerated verbs, the media examines the basis for the attacks in a guilty-before-innocent kind of way. This kind of dirt-digging, virtue-stabbing mission forgoes an actual analysis of each candidate's campaign promises. We no longer vote for the best candidate, we vote for the better one, the more appealing one, the one who appears to be more trustworthy. We don't vote for a candidate so much as fiercely not vote for another.
John Kerry worried over this style of reporting intensely. He constantly challenged the Republicans to talk about real issues. Unfortunately, the Republicans countered this approach with the use of the group known as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. They also called every single one of Kerry's opinions into question by labeling him as a flip-flopper. Even less fortunate is that, in the public memory, these are the only election themes that can readily come to mind.
Kerry's many Vietnam medals intimidated the Republican Party, so they systematically destroyed the credibility of each one. The media was obsessed with the Swift Boat story of Kerry’s disservice and betrayal, but every article was careful to avoid connecting any dots. John McCain, when running against Bush in the 2000 Primaries, underwent a similar attack on his Vietnam credentials (Davis and Simmonds 1). One Swiftboat veteran, George Elliott, accused Kerry of dishonest wartime service in 2004, but had praised Kerry’s wartime achievements in Kerry's 1996 Senate campaign (1). Worst of all, only one veteran of the Swift Boat Group had actually served with Kerry (1). Somehow, none of these revelations lasted on the media radar. The Swift Boat Veterans' reign of terror went uninterrupted.Continued on Next Page »