You’ve heard it before.
No lead is safe in Wrigley Field. Or in Fenway Park; at the Indianapolis Speedway; sitting at a blackjack table in Las Vegas; or in an American Presidential election.
Where have you heard this? On television, of course. Maybe on radio, too. Somewhere, sometime, some broadcaster has told you, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.” No lead is safe in Wrigley Field… because, when the score is 8-0 after six innings, a lot of viewers will turn to something else if they are not being urgently reminded, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.” The announcers don’t really believe the team ahead 8-0 is going to lose. What they do believe is the TV station’s ratings will suffer if the audience goes elsewhere and it’s their job to keep those viewers tuned in. After all, what about the sponsors who’ve bought time in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings? “Hey, folks, we’ll be right back, after these messages. And don’t forget: No lead is safe in this stadium!”
In the broadcasting of political campaigns, the same principle applies: keep the audience tuned in! And what is the time honored favorite device used by TV producers to accomplish this “prime objective?” The Four C’s: Controversy. Conflict. Crisis. Chaos. These are the erotic figments of a TV producer’s wet dream.
It is the nature of media coverage to start with the assumption that “their perspective” automatically becomes “your perspective.” It is essential to their presentation that the viewer believe what they see and hear – and believe it to be the truth.
The real truth is, there is no such thing as broadcast journalism. That term is every bit as much an oxymoron as the phony “catastrophe titles” routinely used by all television networks as labels for just about any story they televise. As with all oxymoron’s, broadcast journalism, expert commentator, noted observer, respected historian, elder statesman and all the other nonsensical titles given to the same old, endless line of TV Talking Heads, it's self-contradictory. Some might go so far as to say the coverage of politics on TV amounts to hyperbole and trope. Whoever did say that might be right, except it’s really much worse. Broadcast journalism, including the so-called serious coverage of this Presidential election, is actually an outright lie. You think that’s too strong, too harsh a judgment?
Have lies become so ordinary in our daily public discourse that we now overlook them, excuse them, pretend they are not what they are, accept them as “acceptable?” What exactly is a lie?
LIE: “A false statement deliberately presented as the truth.”
Think hard about that. The key words are; “…deliberately presented…” Well, what do you know? Isn’t that the very essence of broadcasting, of television, of radio? Of course it is. Broadcast journalism, including the commentary that is the blood and guts of it, is just that… it’s “deliberately presented.” It doesn’t happen by itself. It’s all planned, setup, written out, even rehearsed. You don’t think they just turn on the camera and start talking, do you?
So, let’s look again at the upcoming election and ask the following question:
“What if this election is not close; what if the outcome seems certain; will anyone on TV ever say that?”
Looking back should give us some insight on this. What happened on TV during the primaries?
By now, any rational observer must conclude that after Barack Obama ran off a dozen or more victories in a row – most of them in states like Nebraska, Idaho, Alaska, Utah, North Dakota and other places he was never given a chance to win – after that string of impressive wins, it was practically impossible for Hillary Clinton to come back and win enough delegates to capture the nomination. It never mattered how well she might do in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, West Virginia… or any other state yet to vote. The rules of the Democratic Party were such that the manner of delegate selection dictated that Obama was the obvious victor way back in February and March. Yet, for 5 months – nearly a half-year of TV time – the broadcast journalists kept up the “Battle Between Hillary And Obama.” The “new threat” of a Hillary Clinton comeback was a nightly affair on all the TV channels devoted to covering the election. For five months, Hillary’s already moribund hopes, her dead-in-the-water campaign, was reported as both alive and well, together with millions of dollars in TV product advertising on MSNBC, CNN and FOX NEWS. They “deliberately presented” coverage of a campaign that was actually already decided, as if it was not. Well, of course they did – they are commercial television networks carrying millions and millions of dollars in product advertising. They have programming needs everyday, every week, every month. It never stops – not for them. “And remember, folks, no lead is safe in this election!”
The Democratic Primary was treated like a Cub’s baseball game in Chicago’s Wrigley Field. “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over!” That was the unremitting refrain from TV. Was it an oxymoron? An example of hyperbole? A trope? Well, maybe it was all those – but, most of all, it was a lie. It was something false, deliberately presented as the truth.
Watch out! The same thing is happening now. There are still eight weeks to go – “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over!” Except it is. It’s already over. Here’s what you won’t hear on TV because any Talking Head dumb enough to say it won’t be seen again anytime soon: John McCain has as much chance to win this election as Hillary Clinton had to win the Democratic nomination.