And the Winner of the Vice Presidential Debate is…
I don’t know. Fox News does. So does MSNBC. And they can’t wait to tell you all about how their guy won. Conservatives have long decried the “liberal bias” of the mainstream media. Not only is this wrong, but it misses the point. Political news coverage is almost unapologetically about entertainment, and occasionally, about fear mongering and pushing a political agenda.
Following last night’s Vice Presidential debate, the initial impulse of the news media was to determine a winner by awarding style points. Who looked stronger? Did Biden smirk too much? Did Ryan seem arrogant? Which outfit is more likely to appeal to women voters? Politics is part sport, part fashion show.
Determining a winner is important, but it should not be the priority for a news network. It would be nice if a news network could focus more on who was right and wrong, rather than who won the debate. It would be nice to hear about what the candidates said, rather than how they said it.
For such substantive analysis, there are typically two options: (1) invite campaign surrogates to spew talking points, or (2) create an entire company designed to promote a partisan agenda. MSNBC, Fox News, Huffington Post and most of talk radio have given up even the pretense of political neutrality.
So there you have it. Our options include style without substance (to call it theater would be an insult to theater) or substance without objectivity (propaganda). The two function in a feedback loop that increases political discord and promotes an endless horse race – in other words, exactly what the masses want.