31 January 2008

I Hate the Media

I teach American Government. Every single term. I teach it live in front of living, breathing, (occasionally sleeping) students, and I teach it online. I teach it for two different colleges at the same time. I will teach 8 sections of American Government this calendar year alone. I know American Government.

The media knows shit.

I should be more specific: the blow-dried, primping, smug, self-satisfied, breathless, and cynical prima donnas on Tv don't even know shit. The ones on the radio, even on NPR, don't know shit, either.

There are a few people out there who know something, most prominently David Gergen. David Gergen worked in the Nixon and Ford White Houses, maybe not what you really want on your resume, but he sure as hell learned a lot.

I'm always pissed at the media during campaign season. It's not just that the focus almost wholly on the horserace instead of the issues, it's that they can't even do that well. How often do they fact check what candidates say? A handful of serious reporters do, but it takes time, and the primps on the network and cable news might miss the opportunity for a soundbite if they had to spend time looking up facts.

OK, their general idiocy is the ultimate cause of my disdain, but here's the proximate cause that pissed me off right now. Yesterday on NPR they were talking about McCain's win in Tuesday's primary, and all they could talk about was momentum, and who had won which states.

But here's a news flash: the parties don't count up the number of states won in order to determine their nominees, they count up the number of delegates won, and delegates are based on population, so Florida, for example, has more delegates than Iowa. But that's the easy part (and they even managed to miss that). Because each state sets their own election rules, some state parties give all their delegates to the winner of the primary (winner-take-all), and some divide them up depending on what proportion of the vote a candidate receives. My wife can vouch for the fact that I was yelling at the radio, begging them to tell me how Florida distributed the delegates, and how many delegates each candidate had received. But no, the didn't, and I have my doubts they were even aware of this issue.

OK, yes, I teach American Government, but I didn't know the answer. What I know is that with 50 different states, and frequent changes in state policies, keeping track of what each state is doing on each issue is more than a 1-person full-time job. But at least I know that's the situation, and know it's important. For the record, it appears that Florida usually does allocate delegates by congressional district (win the district, win its delegates), but in response to the Republican National Committee stripping it of half its delegates (again, punishment for moving the primary ahead), it switched to winner-take-all, and CNN.com keeps a running record of delegates won.

They also stated baldly that Hillary Clinton "didn't win any delegates" in Florida, despite winning, because the Democratic National Committee has stripped Florida of its delegates as punishment for moving its primary ahead. Maybe, but I'm always hesitant to predict the future. Imagine Clinton and Obama head to the convention with Obama just slightly ahead. You don't think Hillary and Bill will stage an all-out scorched earth battle to get those delegates, and the ones she won in Michigan, seated?

That's ok, though. All you really need to report politics is a degree in journalism and good hair, right? Right?


Alexc3 said...

Your expectations are too high, that's your problem. If you don't have any expectations, you won't be disappointed. :)

James K said...

I certainly find economics coverage in the MSM (though I'm talking about New Zealand's MSM now ,not yours) terribly deficient. Plus I have caught several instances of journalists flat out copying press releases.

Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever heard a profession praise the media's knowledge when covering that profession.

This leads me to conclude that the MSM doesn't actually know anythign and the only reason we hadn't noticed before is that there was nothign to compare it to.

James Hanley said...

Well, I'm so relieved to hear that New Zealand's media isn't any better than ours. I mean, at least it's not solely an American problem.

Yes, alexc3, that's why I'm usually so pessimistic. I guess I need to stick with that.

James K said...

In The Myth of the Rational Voter, Bryan Caplan talks about the vacuous nature of the media.

His conclusion is that as a whole, people like it that way, otherwise there is a massive gap in the market someone could make a killing trying to fill.

This hypothesis strikes me as very depressing, but probably true.

James Hanley said...

Agreed. I'm not so sure voters are that irrational, though. They're just not very logical or thoughtful.

But I'm speaking from a bias as a rational-choice theorist. Everything is rational! Everything! Or my world-view gets much harder to work with.

Seriously, though. If all I really care about as a political issue is god, guns, and gays, then it doesn't take too much effort, or too thoughtful a media, for me to become aware of which candidate to support. And that may not be praiseworthy, but it's no more illogical than most of my market purchases.

James K said...

Economists nromally operate under this assumption as weel, but Caplan makes a persuasive case in his book that there is a significant bias in the general populace.

Caplan uses a concept he calls "rational irrationality", basically people can't influence much with their one vote so instead of rationally weighing all the options they indulge their biases instead, which feels good and takes little cognitive effort.