The Wet Cycle

There are currently two or three serious candidates still aiming for the Republican Presidential nomination. They've just stepped away from campaign blitzes in Iowa, where the Caucus there is said to portend future Republican nominees. Never mind that Iowa often picks eventual losers (both in its vaulted straw poll and in the caucus). Never mind that we have at least ten or twenty more of these to go before the clear nominee emerges, and scores after that before the process is through. The horse race is what matters now, where viewership is the coveted prize.

On the sidelines of this 'horse race,' pundits, newscasters, candidates, voters, and spin doctors all coalesce and have a circus. Whether it is sensational 'wet news' on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, HuffPo or Politico, or more staid 'dry news' on BBC, PBS, and NPR, all media enables the worst of Washington. This practice is often defended with the claim that 'we're merely reporting things as they happen.' I posit that if the public wasn't just subjected to this play by play but instead afforded a more coherent narrative, more substance, less flack, less soap opera, and more definitive information, they would be better informed rather than frustrated and paralyzed.

The ridiculous number of debates this season, rather than clearing things up, have compounded the madness and confusion. While debates supposedly exist to allow candidates to discuss the issues important to us -  womens' rights, gun control, Government authority, foreign interventionism, international trade, campaign finance, and health care - we're instead getting extended campaign speeches and sound bites, thanks to the debate moderators' inane performance. The media goes positively wild over the possibility of a perpetual three or four-way horse race, and it is absolutely their fault the debates are so banal. The debates merely gives the media fodder with which to prop up lesser known candidates and tear down popular ones in the quest to keep the competition 'even' for sake of drawing out the race. The longer they can draw out the scenario with multiple candidates, the longer viewers stay tuned in.

Adding to the frustration is 'he said, she said' reporting that further enables the steady flow of bullshit out of Capital Hill rather than providing a constructive narrative. This daily chronicle of the back and forth insults, accusations and banter between House Republicans and their Democratic counterparts is maddening and tiresome to witness. Unfortunately, this cycle focuses on the conflicts more than the issues. Sadly, non-independent media is often too dependent on inside sources and contacts on Capital Hill to resist exacerbating the problem.

No doubt, it is entertaining. There is much drama to be wrung from campaigns. The Iowa caucus, for instance, is not so much a story about the candidates' promises to the country, but rather a story about their relationship with the media. In fact, the political cycle, especially as covered by wet news, is caught up in a self referential tailspin increasingly omitting substantive discussion for sake of gossip, innuendo, and reality show drama.

Wet news sensationalism differs from dry in that it leans toward lazy, generalized and under-researched reporting. In wet news territory, especially on partisan Fox and MSNBC, the deepest insight is into candidates' respective abilities to promote their own celebrity and gain the public trust. The real issues rarely get the spotlight they deserve.

Wet news pundits have more in common with politicians than you might think. They're concerned with crafting narrative that fits their worldview. Also, like politicians, they are often running against one another. Their influential positions are, in a way, a bit like political office. Pundits influence policy. They have constituents. They can be voted 'out of office' and into another time slot, or jettisoned like the notoriously difficult Keith Olbermann. Media representatives, just like their political counterparts, need to cram as many bodies as they can into their respective corners in order to maintain relevance. And most importantly, they all answer to a system fueled by the symbiotic exchange between money and popularity. Just this morning, I heard a pundit speculate about what other pundits have been saying. That's right - a pundit covering a story about pundits. Any further and we're looking into an endless mirror.

Wet news media, to a degree, is not even putting on a show for us, but rather, for themselves, and to a larger degree, their Corporate masters, the ones that also have their claws in Washington.

So now that we've spent all that energy complaining about the symptoms of this topsy turvy system... what are the main causes. More importantly, what are the solutions to changing the landscape?

The labyrinthine spiderweb of corruption besetting our political process is best described as an undue Corporate money influence in Washington and the Election process, and an undue Corporate money influence in in the legislative process. This takes the shape of various entities, most prominently lobby firms and PACS, now stronger than ever thanks to the landmark Citizens United ruling, which essentially opened the door for unlimited Corporation donation to campaigns.

The political process is an atmosphere covering a landscape of myriad issues, all with their respective problems, puzzles and needs. This Corporate money influence in the political process, which has grown monstrous and out of hand, has summoned such a thick cloud of dollars flying through that atmosphere that shrouds the land beneath in darkness.

In addition are problems relating to voter representation and voter rights. The voting process is riddled with under-representation - and even outright discrimination and active suppression - against poorer, working class Americans. The very concept of Election Day could stand some overhaul. It is riddled with antiquated logistical problems that could be alleviated by moving the day to a weekend. Think of how many more voters would make it to the polls if the inconvenience factor was eliminated? (I am a permanent absentee voter, which means voting, for me, is a snap.)

The system  - from media coverage to political corruption to voting - needs a major shock, but the very forces that need to be purged, the ones I have outlined above, stand directly in the way. What a conundrum, eh?


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