Monday, July 07, 2003

Damned if you're interesting, damned if you're boring: why to stay out of politics:Poor Howard Dean. He was sucked in by one of the most reliable currents of the news media: the punishment of freethinkers for every minor imperfection. Identifying this phenomenon is a step to understanding our sorry state of today's campaigns. The problem is that candidates must be mind-numbingly predictable in order to raise funds and not commit "slipups" or "mishaps" which will be punished by the press. (Even though the more boring you are, the more hungry the press is for mishaps in order to write about something interesting.) But on the other side of the boringness spectrum, the press punishes outspoken and interesting people like Howard Dean for not being more scripted, by focusing on how their outspoken style leads to--you guessed it--"slipups" and "mishaps" (as the Washington Post did with a story called "Misfires from the Hip Create Problems, Dean Discovers").

In other words, if you are boring, the press will focus all the more on your mishaps as a way of trying to stay awake. If you are too interesting, the press will focus on your mishaps as a way of smugly saying, "We're wiser than this know-it-all outsider." (Only John McCain was able to avoid this trap by kissing the press' ass in 2000.) The result? Boring campaigns, meaningless but endless press coverage of "mishaps," and citizens left with no compelling reason to vote one way or another.

In an earlier B&C blog, I wrote about the problem with press coverage that limits itself to campaign strategy rather than ideas and issues.

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