Question: Remember what President Barack Obama said about taxes and the rich at the Democratic National Convention? Now, remember Clint Eastwood’s speech to his empty chair at the Republican National Convention?
More than likely, the latter comes to mind much quicker, and it definitely was the story that received more coverage on the national media.
There is a growing trend among political reporters to focus on the superficial issues or fads of the election. This is not only annoying, but it is also a disservice to the American public.
So far this election, including the primaries, has seen reports on Eastwood’s chair, Rick Santorum’s sweater vests, jokes about who Nicki Minaj supports and even the question of whether the character of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises is an attack on Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital. How much do any of these issues affect the United States?
Reporters seem to be more interested in memes and quick jokes, all while making exaggerated comments about the election with no real facts or arguments to back them up.
This isn’t some attack on a liberal or conservative bias in the media — that’s another problem.
It’s one thing if pundits or journalists take sides on an issue, as long as there are facts and reporting — journalism — about the major issues involved. In the sphere of election reporting, journalists are failing to do their job.
Because of this failure, many important issues are being ignored.
Before the DNC, Obama hosted an “Ask Me Anything” on the popular social media website Reddit. In one of his answers to a Reddit user, Obama said he favors a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling on Citizens United, the landmark case in which the court essentially determined the right of corporations and unions to spend freely on election campaigns. This is major news on a policy that, if successful, could greatly affect all future elections. Yet somehow it received only a cursory amount of coverage from the few reporters on the AMA.
Another infrequently heard topic is Afghanistan. The war, which is now more than a decade long, was barely mentioned in Tampa, and neither candidate truly touched on the issues facing it. What about Afghan soldiers firing on NATO forces? What about corruption within the Afghan government? These are the questions the press should be asking, but they’re ignoring the subject almost as much as the politicians themselves are.
And then there are drones. The United States is currently in an active drone war, striking targets in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia. It was reported by The New York Times that Obama has a “kill list” of targets for the drone war. The story has fallen to the wayside and no one has asked Romney if he would continue the plan (he has, for the record, said he would continue to order drone strikes).
Oh, and it has been more than a year since Obama introduced the jobs bill, one that Congressional Republicans continually block. With blame flying around about the economy and poor job growth, it would make sense for this to be brought up. But it rarely is.
This isn’t to say that all political reporting is bad. There are excellent reporters covering the 2012 election, and they deserve to be commended for it. And there is nothing wrong with laughing at the absurdity of the campaigns — they have been very weird, and humor is a beautiful thing.
But this isn’t some bad movie that can be joked about. This is the election of the next president and a new Congress. These things matter. The press has certain responsibilities to meet as the Fourth Estate that must inform the public of what issues and news matter.
There are less than 60 days until the election. Hopefully the press decides to stop with the cheap memes and address the real issues. People will be voting no matter what, but it might be good for them to be informed about the real issues in the race.
Nicholas Slayton is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism.