Substance scrapped for spin, sound bites

October 28, 2004|By Terence Hagerty

AS A YOUNG and enthusiastic voter, I have listened intently to both political parties have told me that for myself and other young voters, this is the most important election in our history.

But in my brief term as a politically conscious citizen, it seems that for all the talk of importance, this election has been so poorly covered and inadequately presented by the media that its relevance is veiled by a lack of substance.

This election will not be remembered as the passionate struggle between two sharply different plans for America.

It will be remembered for what it was: sound bites and news clips, thoroughly wrapped in spin, packaged with rhetoric and delivered by as many sharply dressed, closed-minded partisans who can be crowded onto our competitively uninspired news programs.

It will be remembered as the election campaign in which the media's guest "economic experts" were no longer economists but campaign advisers.

Following the third debate on economic policy (the issue that unquestionably affects the most Americans directly), the best the media could offer us was in-depth analysis of the comments about Mary Cheney's sexuality and its effect on the "horse race."

Rather than discussing the economic value of the ideas presented by each candidate, we debated how much Lynne Cheney should object, how much Sen. John Kerry should apologize and how much Elizabeth Edwards should weigh.

This election likely will go down in history as a series of overly hyped and scrutinized disputes that only rival one another in their unimportance: Michael Moore vs. the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth; "Bring it on" vs. "Global test"; idealistic Hollywood actors vs. ideological Nashville musicians; another terrorist attack vs. a January draft; stubbornness vs. strength; label vs. label; fear vs. fear.

While the winner of this contest still is up in the air, the loser is clear - the American public.

More disheartening is the possibility that this is not entirely the fault of closely guarded campaigns or the media that follow their lead. As a recent undergraduate student majoring in economics, I can't help but argue that perhaps the media and campaigns are responding to what Americans are demanding.

Have we become so divided, so closed-minded and so partisan that we want all of our news to conform to our rigid beliefs? If there are "undecideds" left in this election, I have yet to come across one. Each political party seems content to wallow in its own spin and rhetoric so long as it improves the chances for the desired result.

On Tuesday, the American people, with the help of unproven polling systems, trial attorneys and perhaps the U.S. Supreme Court, will decide between two well-defined but equally preposterous labels: the "Flip-flopping Massachusetts Liberal" and the "Born-Again Corporate Frat-Boy." No wonder the Middle East is so envious of our democracy.

Terence Hagerty, 22, lives in Columbia.

Columnist Linda Chavez will return Thursday.

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