Media Madness and Campaign 2016
Recent days have continued on with the American Presidential Campaign Scripted In Wonderland. In many ways, the media have become more of the story than the candidates themselves. NBC sponsored a candidates forum for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to discuss national security issues. The main takeaway from this for many was the fact that Today Show host and event moderator Matt Lauer allowed Donald Trump to state bald-faced lies as fact without questioning their veracity. He did not, in fact, oppose invading Iraq from day one. The Trump campaign style thus far has done about as good a job of playing fast and loose with reality and facts as I can ever recall being subjected to in the course of an election campaign.
Soon after the national security forum, Mike Barnacle of MSNBC fired the shot that scored the biggest hit of this sordid campaign to date when he asked a totally dumbfounded Gary Johnson (former governor of New Mexico and current Presidential candidate on the Libertarian Party ticket) what he would do about Aleppo if elected. Like most Americans – including those who depend on MSNBC for their political news – Johnson wanted to know what Aleppo was before responding. How would Donald Trump have responded to the same question at the same time? Clinton, I am sure, would’ve at least come up with a reasoned response with ease. Would Trump bluff his way out of it with his normal bluster, or would he have been as flustered as Johnson?
This is the last American Presidential election for which all eligible voters were born prior to 9/11/2001. Hopefully, subsequent campaigns will include candidates somewhat better informed about world affairs affecting our lives. I certainly hope they don’t make such a mess of the selection process as was done this go around. Perhaps journalists will also ask pertinent questions of all the candidates – and question the responses when they are comprised of pure garbage and made up out of thin air. In this day and age of 24/7 news coverage, the instantly televised media wields an increasing importance in terms of how voters become informed and what they learn regarding the candidates, their policy proposals and personal styles. Shortcomings in this coverage to date, on the part of both the candidates and the media, leave me wondering just how informed American voters will be when casting their ballots (or not, as may be their choice) in November. In depth and accurate reporting of facts us tremendously important in avoiding costly mistakes like electing someone president who fancies themselves a monarch or autocrat.
Minor party candidates, such as Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein, rarely have the financial resources necessary to gain the national name recognition and prominence required for conducting a campaign competitive with those of the two major parties. Free airtime (which is what Donald Trump has been more heavily dependent upon than any other candidate in recent memory) is extremely scarce for candidates other than Republicans or Democrats. CNN had specials showcasing the Libertarian and Green candidates, but that sort of coverage pales in comparison to the huge media entourages accompanying each of the major party candidates – starting with early primaries and moving on through the general election. Chances of them overcoming a weak, bumbling response such as Johnson’s last week are slim to none – despite the fact that Trump has done far worse in nearly every public speaking engagement he has engaged in since announcing his candidacy.
The fact that MSNBC was able to spotlight what it perceives as a shortcoming in the candidacy of Gary Johnson is not so surprising as its unwillingness to see similar or even worse shortcomings in the ideas/policy proposals/moral character of the candidates most likely to end up winning the election. Other than some cursory references to party platforms during their respective conventions, issues have primarily been framed by the candidates themselves. Trump has been the main beneficiary of not being pressured for specifics by the media (refusal to release his tax returns leads the way here, followed closely with the lack of any specifics concerning his immigration, economic and trade policies – if they exist at all other than as figments of his imagination). Clinton, it should be pointed out, has had to deal with seemingly endless Congressional and other inquiries leading to nowhere regarding Benghazi, email security and the Clinton Global Initiative. Unlike Trump, she has not had the luxury of being able to tell somebody “none of your business” when pressed on these issues.
If the Presidential and Vice Presidential Debates, starting later this month, are to be useful as a means by which voters may make an informed decision as to how to ultimately cast their ballots in November, the moderators need to do a much better job than Lauer did last week in keeping discussion rooted in reality. New renditions of the tragic comedies that comprised the Republican debates during the primaries would further insult our intelligence. Being able and willing to call out an obvious falsehood and not letting either candidate get away with preposterous statements may make good political theater, but it does nothing to elevate the level of political debate that has spiraled downward ever since the party conventions concluded.
Clinton has been waging a traditional campaign, complete with numerous policy proposals and paid political advertisements highlighting them. Trump has done little of that, depending mostly on media coverage of stump speeches and contrived events such as his trip to Mexico to gain attention without paying for commercial TV and Radio ads to get his message out. Got to hand it to the guy, he has been playing the media better than just about any candidate I can remember. He has intentionally ticked off more different groups of people with minimal backlash than most pundits ever thought possible. Gaffes more severe than those which have doomed previous campaigns to he dustbin of history seem to have left him unfazed.
Personally, I would have preferred to see candidates more likely to serve the interests of humanity and society as a whole to remain competitive at this point in the campaign. The campaign remaining must be made to address real human issues and present prospective solutions to the dilemmas that face us now and have the potential to overwhelm us in the near future. We’ve heard enough schoolyard bullying and name-calling to last several lifetimes. Get down to telling us what you intend to do if elected and how it will improve our lives. Once the dust settles and a president elected, along with a new (and hopefully more diligent) Congress, our jobs will have just begun. We must then hold the new political leadership accountable and make them work for us, whether that was their original intention upon deciding to run or not.