Asking the experts: How has the press covered the election so far?
Today’s start of the Democratic National Convention marks the beginning of the end for this year’s presidential contest – the first dip in a roller coaster ride that will gather speed through next week’s Republican convention, October’s debates and the election itself.
So what better time to ask a who’s who of news notables about how media coverage of the election has gone so far, and what we can expect in weeks to come?
First question: When one poll indicates that a sizable number of people think they’ve heard too much about Barack Obama, does that mean we’ve covered the election too much?
Jim Lehrer, host, PBS’ Newshour: “Nobody is sick of hearing about the next President of the United States. In this case, you’ve got John McCain or Barack Obama, and either one of them is going to be the next President. And the American public cares deeply who that person is going to be. Because their home mortgage, their jobs, whether their kids or themselves is going to be sent into harm’s way, is riding on who that person is going to be. Somebody says ‘Oh, I’m tired of hearing about fill-in-the-blank’ – that’s ridiculous. There’s no evidence that I’m aware of that people are tired of this at all. They may be tired of hearing trivial matters about these people. But they want to hear everything substantive about them.”
Dan Rather, anchor, HDNet’s Dan Rather Reports: “In terms of television coverage, it’s been a year of dominance by openly opinionated people who acknowledge that they are for one candidate or another or for one party or another. There’s been a diminution of the honest broker and an increase in opinionated coverage. I don’t think much of anybody is getting fooled. My impression is that the audience considers a lot of the hour after hour coverage to be frankly just blather – wind festivals. That’s rooted in my confidence in the audience.
Michel Martin, host, National Public Radio’s Tell Me More: “You look at the White House correspondents and (they are) no more diverse than when I was a White House correspondent. After I left, Gwen (Ifill) was there and it was pretty much it. I think it’s disturbing and it shows in the coverage – ricocheting from being obsessed with race in coverage and ignoring it….(Reporters’) worldview plays a role and we should own that and stop pretending that it doesn’t.”
David Bohrman, senior vice president, CNN: “Conventions are all about hope. This is really the moment in both parties where there is the most hope. And it’s sort of like the crest of the wave for hope for both of these parties. It’s an interesting moment for people to take a look and see where these parties want to take the country. So it makes sense that we would be there.”
John King, senior national correspondent, CNN: “Obama has been more of a ratings draw, or more of an attention grabber, (but) we run a huge risk if we let that be our sole business. We are conscious of trying to spread the coverage out. You can’t always do it in the same day or the same hour, but we are very careful and cognizant of our responsibility. John McCain is more established brand – If there is more interest in Obama, part of it is because of the newness and the celebrity – but also because the interest is not all awe. People have these legitimate questions about ‘Who is this guy?’ We also need to take a breath and say, as we are being responsible, we cannot do it at the expense of ignoring the other guy. We have a documentary series coming up,we’re spending 90 minutes on each one of them – I think that’s a sign of our commitment to try to be fair in what we do and to be creative.”
Martin on why coverage is trivialized: “I’m always torn by the kind of things people focus on versus the things people say they want to focus on. How many pieces do you have to do on economic policy and then hear somebody (ask) ‘Does he wear a flag lapel pin?. The difference is people for whom specific policies are very important – like pro-life voters, or African Americans, who may be focused on stuff like economic policy from that perspective.”
Rather on the trivialization of election news coverage: “There’s been a trivialization of the news and that has bled over into coverage of campaign news. We’ve had constant and ever-increasing rapidity of trivialization of campaign coverage. I think candidates should be put through the wringer, but put through on substance. What should you do about China’s drive to become a military and economic superpower? What will you do on Darfur? Let’s talk about specifics…And every time you spend 10 minutes talking about the significance of a fist bump, you spend less time talking about things that really matter.”
Lehrer on competing with the cable newschannels's continuous coverage: “I happen to believe that most people don’t watch cable TV all day. A lot of them go to work. We do not produce our program with the idea that people have been watching cable TV all day, because we know for a fact they have not been. I’m not knocking cable television. What cable TV does -- and does very well -- is they’ve replaced the wire machines – but that’s it. In newsrooms all over this country, everybody’s watching cable TV news. But in churches all over this country, in offices all over this country in schools all over this country, they’re not. There’s all this stuff coming to people all the time, they need some place to go where somebody has gone through it for them – professionals they trust – who say here’s what you need to pay attention to over the last 24 hours of news. That’s what we do.”
CNN's Bohrman on the coming tide of presidential election coverage: “This hurtling train is about the leave the station. We’re going to fall down this three or four week hole (during the two conventions) and we come out, and we’ve got the debates and then we’re a few weeks from the election. All of this is happening simultaneously. I’m producing it all from New York. It’s like I’m in a remote truck (control room), but it’s parked 2,000 miles away and it’s a really good control room.”
Rather on the tone of the election: “Let no one be mistaken, no later than shortly after Labor Day, this campaign will get ugly enough to choke a buzzard. We’ve already seen the first signs of negative advertising, tear down attacks, everything from partisan political tracts as books down to campaign ads and things surrogates for the candidates say. I had hoped…that given the records of McCain and Obama we might see a slight improvement in the level of the discourse of the campaign. But I think it will get very ugly before it gets better.”