It’s a little more than a week before the presidential election, and I’m worried about what happens afterwards. I’m not worried about the candidates, the people, or the country. I’m worried about the media.
First, I’m worried about the TV ad salespeople. For more than a year they haven’t had to do much other than sit back and open digital files from the politicians. Now, the salespeople will actually have to go to work to fill airtime.
I’m worried about the owners of TV stations. Since January, politicians have placed more than a billion dollars of advertising. Most of that has gone to TV ads, at least in Pennsylvania and the other swing states. Revenue is bound to be down, and the station owners may have to make drastic changes. We can’t expect them to cut back on their golf club memberships, the leased BMWs, or the daily maid service. It looks like they’ll have to lay off reporters. Some may think that the words “TV” and “reporter” probably don’t even make sense in the same sentence, but that’s for another column.
And, speaking of reporters, let’s look at all the reporters. Print and Broadcast. For as much as two years, they have been hanging onto political candidates, like leeches onto the butts of subtropical hunters. These reporters have had to stay in sleazy 3- and 4-star hotels, eat room service food, awaken early every day, pack their suitcases, and rush to a Press bus that would be their traveling home for 12 or 14 hours every day. On the bus they talked with each other—and some poorly-paid and generally inexperienced campaign press aide. Occasionally, the candidates and senior staff rode the buses and talked with the reporters.
At the speech site, the reporters were herded into a fairly good viewing position, and expected to do whatever it is that compliant reporters do. If they interviewed anyone other than campaign staff, it was usually someone in the audience, grabbing such great lines as “I really like Shmidhouse Jones for President” or “I don’t trust that guy he’s running against.”
Away from speeches, they munched on campaign-provided lunches and drinks, campaign-provided news releases and speech transcripts, and campaign-provided concierge service. If case they missed an important ad-lib, they just had to wait for the next stop, where they’d hear it again. Late at night, if they have any energy left—and while they have plugged in their Blackberries, iPods, cell phones, and laptops to draw new energy for a new day—the reporters and campaign staff had a couple of drinks, “just to unwind.”
The goal of political campaigns is to keep reporters so busy, and so comforted, they won’t ask the critical questions or take the time to find the Invisible People and their very real problems.
For a month after the election, reporters will file “What happened?” stories. After a month, they’ll get “home leave” to be reintroduced to their children, who may have thought Mommy or daddy were sprites locked up in cell phones. And, hopefully, at some time, the reporters will take the time to reflect upon why they became reporters, and actually take the time to meet someone who doesn’t hang around politicians and reporters all day long.
[Walter Brasch’s latest book is the second edition of Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush (October 2007), available through amazon.com, bn.com, and other bookstores. Dr. Brasch has covered several Presidential campaigns, usually away from the “press gaggle.” You may contact Brasch at email@example.com or through his website at: www.walterbrasch.com]