Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Crossing the Line

When did the media begin running our democracy?

During the 2000 Presidential election the media changed the colors of the electoral map. This reversed nearly a century of the media portraying Republican states as blue and Democratic held states as red. The colors echoed those used throughout Europe for conservative and right parties versus labor or socialist parties. Old videos of the 1980 and 1984 Presidential election coverage show the U.S. all blue for the Reagan landslides. It is why “Blue Dog” Democrats were Congressmen from “blue”, or Republican, states who supported Reagan.

Once the media confused everyone about what was a red and blue state they began using those colors to frame every campaign and commentary. We never had so much “red state” “blue state” references until they unhooked the colors from anything meaningful. Why did everyone else follow suit? Why didn’t conservative and Republican leaning media just ignore this revisionism?

A more insidious media intervention is underway in the 2008 Presidential campaign. The media is trying to dictate when each phase of the campaign begins and ends. Party rules in both parties state that there is no official nominee until delegates cast their votes at national conventions. The media is demanding that this should be abandoned so they can begin covering the general election - right now!

Recent history of Presidential nomination fights show that they end at the national convention. In 1992 Governor Bill Clinton had 1,234 more delegates than were needed of the nomination, yet Governor Brown and Senator Tsongas still retained their delegates and went through the roll call of states. In 1988, Governor Michael Dukakis had 824 delegates more than were needed for the nomination, but Jesse Jackson allowed his 1,219 delegates to cast votes at that convention.

On the Republican side, Nixon had just 26 more than needed for the nomination in 1968, so Governors Rockefeller and Reagan, along with eleven other candidates, went through the first ballot with their delegates intact.

It is hard to imagine Walter Cronkite or Huntley & Brinkley demanding that Senator Eugene McCarthy dropout of the 1968 race before the convention even though Senator Hubert Humphrey had 456 votes more than needed for the nomination. I do not think Frank Reynolds or Ted Koppel would have carped to Senator Ted Kennedy about dropping out before the 1980 convention when President Jimmy Carter had already clinched his renomination with 456 more delegates than were needed.

Democracy and freedom of expression visibly frustrate pundits who want everyone to dance to their preconceived notions and adhere to their seat-of-the-pants predictions. They should go back to reporting and analyzing the news, instead of trying to control it.

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