Political coverage now more like sports

By Anita Doberman

You would think that being from Italy I’ve had my fair share of politics, and I certainly have when it comes to outrageous situations. But I was nevertheless surprised by the coverage of our current American political races.

I am not talking about the candidates or political views, Republican versus Democrat etc; I am talking about the media coverage of the primaries.

In Italy there isn’t much need to embellish or create news when it comes to politics. Constant change of government, scandals (and having a mistress is expected, not a scandal) embezzlement, tax evasion — you get the pictures. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like an episode of the Sopranos, but certain scandals that are relatively rare here (or at least, less frequently found out) are more routine in Italy, so the media always has some new and juicy gossip to talk about.

This primary election cycle in the U.S. has, so far, gotten more interest than in recent memory. CNN reported that more people than in the last 20 years voted in the New Hampshire primary and that young people seem to take a renewed interest in politics. That’s wonderful. As someone who had to work hard just to become an American citizen, I take my voting right very seriously and cannot wait to cast my vote. I know that one vote is usually a drop in the bucket, but participation in the vote itself is a thrilling part of democracy.

The one thing that has surprised me has been the sports-like atmosphere that seems to have pervaded the election coverage. Not that I watch ESPN (except when I can’t sleep and than two minutes of baseball commentary puts me right out), but my husband pointed out that coverage seemed more like Sunday morning before football than like the staid reporting of the past. There is a lot of speculation, joking around, strategizing, and talking about possible outcomes way before the actual game — just like they do on ESPN before a big game. And with the overabundance of commentators, at different desks, with different full-color graphics, you could be forgiven for thinking MSNBC was being produced by MTV.

Take the New Hampshire primary. I followed it pretty closely and kept switching from CNN to MSNBC to Fox to hear from the well known journalists how the candidates were doing. Even when only 14 percent had been reported these journalists already had an idea formed as to why Hillary Clinton did better than expected (her apparent show of emotions during questions touched female voters) or why Romney didn’t win and McCain was able to grab New Hampshire. Every few minutes, the percentage of votes in would tick up and a new commentator with a new graphic would have something new (but not really) to say.

It’s like my uncle tells me all the time. Politics can be fun, like a high-stakes gossip session — as long as we keep in mind the serious aspect of it and the importance of knowing who we are voting for and why.

Plus with the writer’s strike and the fact that there haven’t been new episodes of shows to watch, we have to find something to entertain ourselves, right? The interesting part is how close political coverage has become to everything else on TV. Is that a comment about the news media, American politics, or us?

Anita Doberman is a freelance writer, mother of five and wife of an Air Force pilot stationed at Hurlburt AFB in Florida. Contact her at:
anita@anitadoberman.com