Creative Destruction

October 8, 2007

What Passes for Political Coverage

Filed under: Election 2008,Media Analysis,Politics and Elections — Brutus @ 10:00 pm

It is any wonder so many Americans ignore politics and don’t vote? One of the big stories emerging in the past few days has been dubbed Chucklegate, which is in-depth analysis of Hillary Clinton’s laugh. Um, yeah, her laugh. See just a few examples here and here and here. There is undoubtedly room for some consideration of personal character or characteristics in a presidential race, but the way the media has jumped on this issue is frankly embarrassing, considering actual issues bear greater scrutiny than hairdos, wardrobe, or how someone laughs.

If this pseudocontroversy isn’t lowbrow enough to convince you that journalism is at a particularly low ebb, how about a manufactured controversy about actual wardrobe? Barack Obama is being pilloried for his refusal to wear an American flag pin. See a few examples here and here and here. Who on earth bases political strategy or the decision whether to cast a vote for a candidate on something so entirely mundane? This particular stupidity was parodied in the movie Office Space, where the servers were judged not on their service but on pieces of flair. Simply substitute patriotism for service and it’s the same foolishness.

These cooked-up stories apparently have the power to kill a candidacy and are pathetic examples of political theater. Howard Dean’s now infamous scream comes to mind as a good example. Both candidates are apparently engaged in these utterly meaningless and ephermeral issues, which gives the issues legs and makes them fodder for endless spin, conjecture, and strategizing. And once the jokes and parodies start rolling in on YouTube and Comedy Central and such, we take lots of humorous enjoyment but lose sight of the fact that we’re considering these candidates for an office of far greater importance than the elements on which we apparently prefer to rank and rate them. It’s little wonder, then, that we get what we deserve out of the political process: buffoons, poseurs, and incompetents.


  1. I agree with Brutus.

    (Looks around for Candid Camera crew, dimensional portals, or other Occam’s Razor-compatible explanations.)

    Comment by Robert — October 8, 2007 @ 10:34 pm | Reply

  2. (Not to mention John Edwards’ hair, and Clinton’s cleavage.)

    I agree. I’d also add that even when the mainstream media does coverage that’s not laughably trivial, it’s usually coverage of the horserace and the polls, rather than any substantive discussion of the candidates’ policy positions.

    So: Clinton’s laugh and cleavage, Edwards’ hair, Obama’s empty lapel. Are there any stories this incredibly trivial getting coverage about the Republican candidates, or is it mainly Democrats getting this treatment?

    Comment by Ampersand — October 9, 2007 @ 9:20 am | Reply

  3. Amp, I thought about fanning the flames about the different ways Reps. and Dems. are covered, which is related to the ways those politicians frame their arguments. But IMO it doesn’t really add anything to the issue. Of course the candidates are going to shape their own images and attack those of their competitors. It’s the media that concerns me with this post, and that’s not really a partisan issue.

    Comment by Brutus — October 9, 2007 @ 12:18 pm | Reply

  4. On our side, we’ve had coverage of the greatest issue of our time: when and where Rudy answers his cell phone.

    Comment by Robert — October 9, 2007 @ 12:21 pm | Reply

  5. Maybe what we really need is a hologram candidate: a flickering apparition that projects an image that’s more symbolic of stars and stripes than lapels, hair, teeth, cloth, color, pitch, tone, parties, plates or platforms. Go so superficial that superficiality can’t be argued.

    Comment by Kathleen Maher — October 9, 2007 @ 1:34 pm | Reply

  6. Robert, I agree that should be added to the list. Plus (like Clinton’s cleavage), I think the coverage of Guliani’s cell phone has been a bit sexist in its approach (because the implication is he’s a henpecked husband).

    But this sort of coverage is done noticeably more often to Democrats, and — pace Brutus — I think it adds something important to the issue to mention that the tendency to cover “Gore’s sigh” or whatever as if anyone should give a damn about that isn’t even-handed.

    On the other hand, the trivializing horserace analysis replacing real analysis of policy positions is something that’s done to the entire race, not just to one side or the other.

    Comment by Ampersand — October 9, 2007 @ 3:04 pm | Reply

  7. I’d argue that at least some of that Democratic coverage is being motivated by sympathetic media. The reporters think that if they talk about the different policy positions the Dem candidates take, it will make the party look divided and indecisive. So they talk about Hillary’s laugh instead.

    Comment by Robert — October 9, 2007 @ 3:17 pm | Reply

  8. Robert, the folks who have been pushing “chucklegate” as a story include Matt Drudge, Sean Hannity, and the Republican National Committee. Is the RNC motivated by a desire to make the Democrats look good, in your view?

    I’m sure that if the media started publishing that Hilary eats puppies, John punches infants and Obama blows his nose on bibles, you’d find an argument for why that was an example of liberal bias.

    Comment by Ampersand — October 9, 2007 @ 4:45 pm | Reply

  9. I did say “some”, Amp. But I stand corrected about the etiology of the chuckle story. That one is conservative media stoking Hillary’s unlikeability with the mushy middles.

    Obama doesn’t blow his nose on the Bible; he’s going to use the Bible to bring about Jesus’ Kingdom. Silly liberals, you don’t even know what your own guys want. 😉

    Comment by Robert — October 9, 2007 @ 4:52 pm | Reply

  10. Clinton’s cleavage

    Now, now, that was an important issue. Clinton was demonstrating that she was a mammal, not a lizard like the usual politician.

    Yeah, I know, this sort of frivolity is part of what you’re decrying, but I couldn’t help myself. Besides, I’m only a lowly voter, not a reporter or even a blogger. And I’ll probably end up holding my nose and voting for HIllary “lesser evil” Clinton anyway.

    Comment by Dianne — October 10, 2007 @ 9:00 am | Reply

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