Idol Chatter

There’s a new version of an old mini-series that’s sure to be a ratings grabber for the next week or so. The stakes are high, the subplots are numerous, and the cast features old stars and emerging new characters. As a nation, we’ll tune in with interest until it runs its course and ends. And this one is not only on one channel.

There’s something about the drama of the election that creates national interest that goes beyond politics. It’s a story that interests Americans, with its many possible twists, turns, and mysteries:

• Will the Democrats take over the House?
• Will the Republicans lose the Senate?
• Will Hillary Clinton run for President?
• Will Barack Obama run for President?
• How will this election effect the war?
• What will happen in my local congressional district or county commission election?
• How will other races effect the one(s) I’m interested in?

What makes this interesting for me is the degree to which the national news media is perceived as an information-distributor, when in fact they are as much a “player” in the plot as anyone. Ratings and advertising dollars are being fought for, audience share is the prize, and all stops will be pulled out by the news networks to “win” their battles during this high viewership season.

Consider some quotes I heard last week:

On Fox: “You are correct that this is an issue of national importance, and that’s why viewers will need to keep it on Fox, because, indeed, if the Republicans win that seat there is little chance the Democrats can gain control of the Senate.”

CNN: “Thank you for that report, and I remind viewers that CNN was the only national news network to have a reporter live on that scene.”

News anchor to expert commentator in the field: “Usually the off-year midterm elections are sort of boring, but this year seems to be anything but…”

These are classic examples of the self-promotional aspect of the news cycle:

1. The networks assert that this election season is exciting and not boring and that more and more people are interested in it;

2. A certain percentage of the audience believes that there’s something special going on and they don’t want to miss out;

3. Audience share goes up as (whaddya know?!) more and more people get interested in it.

In a poll released yesterday, Barack Obama is in a statistical dead heat with John McCain (41%-38%) for the 2008 election. Am I the only one who notices that the only reason for such polls now is the creation of subplots and stories to juice up an election? Neither McCain or Obama is in a close race in this election, and most Americans don’t really know much about Obama’s leadership record or his stand on every issue. But we know his image, and a bit of his story, and that is how the media drives our election processes and influences the results while posing as a bystander.

It all comes down to this: A spiritually-driven person who wants to cast a responsible vote needs to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to watching TV news, to identify what is of relevance and close to factual, and what is really just the media’s efforts to win in its own piece of the drama that is Nationally Televised Election Season.

Like the Olympics, this ratings-grabber will be gone in two weeks, but the repercussions of our votes will last much, much longer.

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