Facilitating the Trivial

His cynicism about politics aside–“I don’t blame candidates for doing what they think will win the election”–blogger Matthew Yglesias (10/7/08) makes a good point about corporate media’s facilitation of politician’s efforts to trivialize the contents of election campaigns:

David Gregory…asked McCain campaign spokeswoman Nicole Wallace a question about whether or not John McCain would bring up Bill Ayers at tonight’s debate. He didn’t ask her a question about Obama’s acquaintanceship with Bill Ayers. Nor did he ask her about an issue that’s more substantive than Obama’s acquaintanceship with Bill Ayers. Rather, he decided that a question about Obama’s acquaintanceship with Bill Ayers would be too substantive. So instead he asked a question about the McCain campaign’s short-term Ayers-related tactics. This is an issue, it seems to me, of no public interest whatsoever. McCain either will or will not bring up Ayers in a few hours. We don’t need to waste time on an inquiry about it. My guess is that, like Wallace, he won’t bring it up unprompted, but will bring it up if the press gives him a good opening. For example, had Gregory asked Wallace about the pro-cyclical impact of a spending freeze she would have looked like a moron if she pivoted to Ayers. But since instead he asked her about whether or not McCain would talk about Ayers, naturally she got in some points about Ayers.

The fact that major journalists like Gregory find it more appealing to ask about trivia and tactics–or, better yet, tactics about trivia–than about policies that will actually affect the lives of voters is a big part of why politicians think basing their campaigns on such trivia is the way to win elections.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.