You can just feel the anticipation in the air as pundits and politicians impatiently await the start of the General election campaign. They analyze the latest polls trying to convince us that they have any real predictive value for the upcoming election. They assess the damage done during the primary season and its potential impact on party unity. They discuss favorable/unfavorable numbers and how they play out within each segment of the electorate. They show us maps and numbers and projections and try to connect them to possible future results. The cable news networks have been preparing to bring us wall to wall coverage for months. But in their zealous desire to inform are they not actually misinforming?
There is no denying that this has already been an extraordinary election season. It has resulted in both greater participation and greater interest than any election in recent years. The crowds drawn to rallies and the numbers participating in primaries illustrate this fact. It is not surprising, then, that the media feels compelled to report every detail and discuss every nuance. But by rushing to analyze and dissect every poll, every comment and every meeting is the media presenting premature conclusions? Certainly if they had allowed the Sanders and Trump campaigns to play themselves out for a while, before pontificating on their fatal future, they would have avoided a whole series of incorrect predictions.
We do understand that cable news is a business dependent on ratings. Higher viewing numbers result in higher charges per minute of advertising and thus higher revenues. While in print media there is a standard that separates the news from the editorial departments and both from the business operations, it is not clear that this is the case in cable news. However, the common thread among all cable news networks is the rush to get the story first; yet it is not just the story that is being rushed. It is the analysis coupled with the story that has become equally important. The difference between print media and TV is space. In print media space is a highly prized commodity. Therefore the allotment of space and location for a given story in print media is a careful and important decision. However, in cable news when the overriding story each day is the election and there are 15 hours a day to fill, the story becomes the skeleton and the analysis becomes the flesh to enhance that skeleton. The only thing that breaks this pattern is the occasional Breaking News event that requires special reporting and a whole other set of analyses. All of this has created a whole career path for those who consider themselves expert enough to present their analysis to the world. Never have there been so many talking heads.
Certainly it is not the cable news networks’ fault. We are, after all, watching. We appear to be constantly hungry for the latest information and analysis. Fortunately, we live in an age of the unprecedented availability of information. We get it on our phones, our tablets, our TV, our radios and now our smart watches. But who is responsible for the accuracy and appropriateness of that information? Are we just the passive receptacles in which that information is placed? Are we not responsible for doing our own analysis of the analysis? With so much information and so much “expertise” are we not responsible to sift through it all and draw our own conclusions?
A true democracy is dependent on an informed populace. But today being informed requires more than just listening to the news. It requires attaining a base of knowledge that provides you with the tools to assess the accuracy and validity of what is being presented. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Take what you hear and what you see with a critical grain of salt.