I can hear it now. I’m walking my dog this Saturday morning along the creek near my house, listening to my iPod as I go. I’ve clicked up the latest On The Media from NPR. And so it starts:
“Despite what most of the media-reported polls predicted, Hillary Clinton beat out Barak Obama in the New Hampshire primary. That’s what we’ll talk about here on On the Media this week as we try to understand “how they got it so wrong.”
I understand how the polls “got it wrong.” I used to design and manage surveys myself. I understand completely how things can change so dynamically from minute to minute.
What really happened, though, is that “the media” were totally complicit in setting up a “winner” vs. “loser” scenario. The mainstream media (network TV news and major newspapers, mostly) insisted on treating these early primaries as horse races. Editors and reporters have been chomping at the bit for months and months now and have been itching to report something substantive given our artificially elongated electoral process.
Once the primaries actually started happening, evening news could finally report not on issues and nuance but on who came in first, who came in second, etc. —- even though the minuscule number of voters actually participating in these primaries cannot possibly be viewed as representative of the country as a whole. In other words, the media demanded to report polls, polls were conducted, and results were reported. Hence the question, “how could they have gotten it so wrong?”
For a lot of people, I suspect, this question will be totally irrelevant. I’m talking about the people who are following electoral and political events not via the evening news but via the fractious, decentralized, and much more differentiated media on the internet and the blogosphere. There’s no shortage of information out there — factual and otherwise — and people are not waiting for the evening news to make up their minds.
I realize that some commentators have complained about the potential divisive nature of such sources, but I prefer to focus on the variety and the availability of different viewpoints that cannot possible be represented in a 2 minute evening news segment.
I’m not saying that Iowa and New Hampshire primaries and caucuses aren’t important. I do resent the way so many news services are, directly or indirectly, reducing the input those of us in other states have in the run-up to this next election. I want to have my say in who gets to clean up our current domestic and international messes, and I don’t appreciate others saying the selection processes are over even before they’ve begun.