Blogs, websites, polls and celebrities

Blogs, websites, polls and celebrities
The worst of times
By Doug Thompson
The worst election news coverage I’ve seen in my adult lifetime is finally over. Don’t expect the coverage of the next one to be any better.
Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., got the easiest ride of any major party candidate in memory. Conservatives, anxious for a scapegoat for their party’s dismal year, blame liberal bias. Liberal bias certainly exists, but that’s not the real problem. The real problem is that celebrity sells.
Put a picture of Obama on the cover, it seems, and your magazine would sell. Put a picture of Hillary Clinton or John McCain on it and people would pass those old and familiar faces by. They weren’t new or particularly interesting.
(I’m writing this column before Tuesday’s election. If I sound like I didn’t know McCain won, that’s the reason.)
Blogs, websites? Great in their own minds: They’re always preaching to the people who agree with them. They haven’t changed the media nearly so much as the need for revenue and ratings, sales and subscriptions – and fame.
That’s another problem: Celebrity corrupts. The desire of pundits and personalities to be liked, even by a core few, is getting pretty pitiful.
I remember when Walter Cronkite shed tears when the first people landed on the moon. It was the first time I’d ever seen anything like that from the venerable TV anchorman. That’s what made the moment so powerful. The detachment, even the dignity, was broached.
Now cable news anchors tell me about thrills running down their legs over a speech. The real factor that might – might – bring mainstream media back to the facts is the growth of relevant experts who can speak plain English who are widely available on the Internet. These aren’t partisan or pandering blogs with a definite point of view. These are people whose reputations would suffer if they allowed partisanship to skew their view.
Nobody who reads this space will be surprised that I really like in general and major contributor Mark Blumenthal in particular. While major news outlets were desperate to convince viewers there was still a race, Blumenthal repeated the simple fact that a 95 percent level of confidence was exactly that. That means 5 percent of polls, however well conducted, will spin out beyond the margin of error.
While polls that showed the presidential race tightening made headlines, Blumenthal confidently reassured everyone that some polls were going to hit that 5 percent chance when you consider all the dozens – or hundreds – of polls being run.
Gary Langer’s “The Numbers” is another excellent site. His demolition of the so-called Bradley effect was superb.
Congressional Quarterly now runs a website that will show you the trends of polls in every Congressional race, the presidential race in every state and governor’s races.
Polling Report gives the polls themselves, with no filters. You can see the questions and the answers.
Open Secret gives the details on campaign finances. Another favorite of mine is, which debunks campaign claims.
Never in history have reporters everywhere had such resources at their fingertips. The level of bias and outright sensationalism is totally inexcusable under these circumstances.
Part of the reason for the bias is because reporters are like movie critics: They want the thing they cover to be more important than it is. The election of the nation’s first non-old white guy would be historic. Political writers long to be writing about something historic.
Personal longings shouldn’t count, but apparently – sadly – they do.
Unfortunately for them and for the people who would blame reporters and pundits for the election result, none of this really matters.
The blunders of Iraq and one-party GOP rule for six years made the GOP vulnerable. Economic collapse killed whatever hope was left. Not to sound like the Grinch here, but this isn’t an election about hope, change or a new kind of politics. This is an election about foreclosures, layoffs, incredible shrinking 401(k)s and tightening credit, all on top of war, torture and Hurricane Katrina.
It is also about race, and about which will win and which will loose: The aspiration of proving that any kid can grow up to be president of the United States, or whether there will be unspoken barriers.
At least there’s some idealism somewhere.

Categories: Features