Voter Ignorance / Media Bias
Within days of Obama’s victory I received emails and saw Facebook profiles linking to a Howard Stern video depicting the inability of Obama’s supporters in Harlem (read: black supporters) to answer basic questions about their candidate of choice. (Doesn’t merit a link.) I didn’t really think much about it at the time, figuring it was just post-election sour grapes. The grapes, it seem, are not getting any sweeter. They have gotten a bit more subtle to the taste, though.
You’ve no doubt heard about Zogby International’s recent study of 512 Obama supporters, purporting to show decisively that Obama supporters were “incredibly poorly informed about major issues that occurred during the campaign.” On the surface, this is no different than what we had with Stern. Depicted in the poll’s accompanying video are mostly black Obama supporters, once again being presented as foolishly ignorant. According to John Ziegler, however, not only was the racial element of the video purely a product of happenstance, the intention of the study “was not to show that Obama supporters were idiots — there are plenty of idiots on both sides of the aisle — but what information they got from the media that they were able to consume.” Consequently, he concludes, Obama supporters were simply fed a more hearty diet of anti-McCain/Palin news than anti-Obama/Biden news.
Now, completely ignore the fact that Obama’s candidacy survived a very brutal primary season, during which Hillary Clinton threw at him almost every conceivable slur and innuendo, exposing him both as a rabid Muslim and a black-liberationist liberal Christian (so conflicted he was in those days!) Also ignore the fact that McCain’s most obvious political failure, his participation with the Keating Five, was hardly brought up by the media or Obama. Ignored all that? Okay. Having somehow achieved that feat, let’s now venture further and grant Ziegler his entire point — that, yes, during the general election the news was harsher to McCain than it was to Obama. We don’t have to be so gracious, but Ziegler obviously has rage issues that we should at least respect.
All that conceded, and what does Ziegler have? The most common reaction would be that press was in the tank for Obama. That’s such a tired line, though, that it’s hard to take it seriously. I’ve conceded a lot, so at this point I think it’s fair that Ziegler & co. grant me that at least. That leaves us with the following question: why would there be more anti-McCain/Palin news than anti-Obama/Biden news?
Well, for starters, the former was simply more newsworthy. Nowhere was this more evident than in the choice of running mates. Biden was an intentionally boring choice. Is it surprising that a plagiarism scandal would not take hold in the public consciousness, particularly in the wake of a Bush adminstration where we had torture, or, hell, with a blow job scandal far in the rear-view mirror? McCain, on the other hand, wanted a compelling, news-worthy figure as a vice-president. He got what he wanted, albeit in a perverse way. What was it that made Palin such a spectacularly bad choice? Bush-exhaustion. In picking Palin, McCain picked somebody who appealed to the tiny minority who actually still liked Bush. By doing so, he more or less welcomed a large segment of the population to aggressively believe the worst: namely, that a McCain/Palin win would effectively look like and affirm a discredited Bush administration.
In short, when we concede that there was more scandalous news for McCain/Palin than Obama/Biden, we’re not saying that there was more air-time for anti-McCain news, or that the word-count is clearly weighted toward killing McCain. One could do a study to determine each of these, and indeed probably already have, but it seems less interesting than me writing about the consistency of my craps. Having conceded nearly everything Ziegler posits about the media, out of the kindness of my heart, I would venture to say, maybe very simplistically, that there was more scandalous McCain/Palin news because the majority of Americans were more willing to internalize scandalous news about McCain/Palin than they were about Obama/Biden. (Consequently, if there was any media bias at all it, it would hardly be ideological. Given the nature of our corporate media, would not any bias be toward the profitability of news that reflected poorly on McCain, versus news that was bad for Obama?)
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