Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign has been littered with its fair share of political blunders. This week, those blunders reached a peak with a video posted on the website of the magazine Mother Jones. The video captured Romney describing the 47 percent of American citizens who receive aid from the government as “victims” who are “dependent upon the government.”
First, let’s admit the obvious. Romney made a mistake. No presidential candidate should have to insert his foot in his mouth this frequently, and declaring that a whopping 47 percent of the U.S. population is dependent on government aid fails to recognize retirees with pensions, veterans, students and other demographics who have perfectly acceptable claims to federal aid.
But the video itself, while certainly significant, is nowhere near as disturbing as the context surrounding its publication. Starting with an obscure clip posted to YouTube on May 31, the video was found by a freelance writer, who sent the clip to the Washington bureau chief of Mother Jones, David Corn. Corn then spent the next several weeks convincing the owner of the video to send him the uncut version. The magazine released the first part of the video Monday and is waiting to release part two at some point in the next couple of weeks.
The situation calls attention to some of the major problems with the media in this year’s presidential election. Why did Corn spend so much time pursuing one defamatory video? And why is the magazine waiting to release the video in two parts?
This epitomizes sensationalist journalism, plain and simple. The focus of an election should be on candidates’ genuine policies, plans and decisions, not on a few poorly chosen words. The amount of coverage given to this story is disproportionate to its actual significance in the election.
And though Mother Jones claims that it is releasing the video in two parts so it can give the story adequate coverage, the publication might have an alterior motive. After publishing the first part of the video, Mother Jones received almost 2 million page views in a span of 24 hours — a number twice the previous record. By breaking the video into two parts, they increase their hype and keep people returning to the website at the viewers’ expense.
This election has already become a very negative one in terms of media coverage that has focused more on candidates’ gaffes and flaws than their actual platforms. The candidates themselves are no better — there have been some low blows this year as far as campaign advertisements go. The overwhelming exposure of the Mother Jones video only adds to this mood.
While Romney’s insensitive words are certainly worth noting, that’s as far as our attention to the incident should go. He made a mistake, and will face repercussions for it — this does not mean, however, that it should be one of the most talked-about events of the election. Rather than focusing on insignificant, “controversial” events and blowing them out of proportion, the media should be paying attention to the candidates’ policies, decisions and staff. News outlets should also provide prompt and complete coverage, rather than releasing news strategically to increase a viewer count. And we, as consumers of media, must consider the relevancy and quality of the information we receive.
Burke Gibson is a sophomore majoring in economics. His column “Press Pass” runs every other Thursday.