I tend not to give ‘We the People’ a great deal of credit. After all, one of the most talked-about shows on TV recently centered an entire episode around someone named The Situation wanting to leave a nightclub while a smurf named Snooki wanted to stay and drink until she was literally blue in the face.
But worse yet, I am petrified about what many voters actually know and don’t know when they head into a voting booth, assuming they vote at all. And when, only two weeks shy of an Election Day, I see tons of coverage given to a Delaware candidate (who has no chance of winning) because she ran an idiotic ad, it makes me even more nervous that the media makes matters worse by wasting time on easy headline silliness at the expense of covering the issues.
So I called up one of the news media’s most visible folks, a guy who’s logged long nights on both sides of the political media frenzy: former Clinton aide and current Good Morning America host George Stephanopoulos. First, to clear up any bias issues about said Delaware candidate, I asked Stephanopoulos if he was, in fact, a witch. (“No,” he said, laughing, “but my daughter says I am a warlock.”) Then I asked him if the media in general is too caught up in the hopeless newcomer or loudest mudslinger du jour.
“I don’t think so,” he told me. “There are just so many more outlets that are continuously updated that, sure, a lot of silliness cycles thru the system, but I don’t think it overwhelms the coverage. But it is interesting that some of the candidates who don’t appear to have a great chance of winning are getting outsized attention, whether it’s Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, Alvin Greene in South Carolina or [Carl] Paladino in New York. I think that is also part of the story in a year being defined by the outsider; you have some ultimate outsiders who say and do things that are just plain interesting.”
Interesting, sure. But my point is, who cares what they say? They aren’t going to be in office. And shouldn’t the time covering them be better used talking about real issues?
“I just don’t buy your premise,” Stephanopoulos responded. “That’s not what you are seeing now. This is a campaign season—you have to cover the gaffes and the fights and the personalities, but you’ve seen plenty of serious coverage on [important issues like] the economy, the foreclosure crisis, the wars.”
The one thing Stephanopoulos and I did agree on is that coverage of this election is being presented to a very beaten-down electorate. Last week on GMA, Jake Tapper quoted a poll that basically said 85% of the country is pissed off.
Stephanopoulos said that separately, ABC’s “frustration index” metric of the public’s stance on the government, the president, the economy and Congress hasn’t quite hit 2008 levels—“ when we had the most unpopular president in modern times finishing an unpopular war”—but it is pretty close.
And like most folks, he believes that spells a tough Tuesday for many people in office.
“I would be shocked if Republicans don’t come close to picking up control of the House and maybe even the Senate,” he said.
Until that happens, Stephanopoulos will remain an active part of the coverage—and the debate itself—despite no longer anchoring a Sunday show. Having already hosted one debate in Florida, this week he will host Senate debates in both Illinois and Pennsylvania.
And while he says he gets to scratch his political itch plenty on GMA, he sounds like a man who misses the Sunday-morning chair at this time of year: “I gotta tell you—If there were a way to work seven days a week, I’d do it.”
But he—like everyone—will continue to try to cover this election without getting too drawn into all the circus acts that make for easy headlines.
“Everybody is trying to struggle and capture what is a very volatile mood out there,” Stephanopoulos says. “It looks like the third straight election where the overriding sentiment is to throw everyone that is in power out.”
E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @BCBenGrossman
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