It is difficult to escape the wall of election coverage inherent in any presidential election year. Candidates blast the airways with scathing attacks and ambiguous policy proposals, while media outlets of varying sorts closely follow these politicians’ every move. Even those Americans most apathetic about matters of politics find it difficult to avoid the firestorm of information and misinformation that plagues our nation every four years.
While the press often appears cranky about covering these elections, the truth is that these races provide the press corps with an extremely easy source of news for almost an entire year. Media outlets need not spend time hunting down unique stories or spending resources reporting from around the globe when the comedic, dramatic, and undoubtedly important presidential election gives them an out.
Yet, the progression of history throughout the rest of the world and in those corners of American life untouched by partisan politics does not cease to exist. Hundreds continue to die each week in the Middle East, where instability has arguably reached a level unprecedented in recent decades. American soldiers and Marines continue to die every week in Afghanistan. The Washington Nationals continue to dominate Major League Baseball and are headed towards the post-season.
Many of these events, particularly those involving strife and conflict around the globe, hold stakes for our future equal to the high stakes of the presidential election. The widespread killing of civilians resulting from massive civil unrest in Syria received a huge amount of media attention earlier this year. And while the death toll there has reached as high as 19,000 this week, news outlets have refocused their attention on the political conventions of our national parties with near exclusivity.
Certainly, the recent apathy of the press in regards to this tragedy has been reflected by the lack of discussion about Syria in the election, where it has not been recognized as a major issue by either candidate. The international community expects more of the United States. As one of our greatest allies recently pointed out, it is imprudent for the United States to simply tune out of international issues whenever an easier source of political gusto or media profit is available.
In an interview with CNN this week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan directly stated that the United States was failing to meet the expectations of the international community in a time of dire need: “Right now, there are certain things being expected from the United States. The United States has not yet catered to those expectations.”
Erdogan suggested to CNN that the United States is lacking initiative in the matter perhaps as a result of the upcoming election and implied that he would like to see the United States play a more active role in supporting the opposition groups fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
CNN’s coverage of the conflict in Syria presents an appreciated, if unusual, departure from what’s covered in mainstream media during an election year. Public opinion in regards to which issues are the most important relies heavily on the media’s promotion or lack thereof on specific issues. The actions of our nation’s leaders are particularly driven by this public opinion during an election year. For most politicians, the drive to maintain or gain elective office likely exceeds their drive to act responsibly, even in matters of international security.
Accordingly, media holds a large responsibility to promote the most pressing issues of the times to their consumers. To inspire action on the part of national leaders, media must provide incentive by convincing voters and influential citizens that potentially devastating issues like the unrest in Syria actually matter.
This year, the candidates for President are already discussing many important issues and national media outlets cover this dialogue extensively. In no way does this article suggest that conflict in another part of the globe is a more pressing concern than the state of our economy, the rights of women in this country, or widespread access to quality healthcare. However, the issue in Syria and others of similarly pressing concern must take precedence over the incessant coverage of gaffes, internal campaign drama, and hours of repetitive guest interviews with the same familiar campaign operatives who appear each and every week.
The outcome of the conflict in Syria or the failing War in Afghanistan will have a much greater effect on the lives of every American than will banter about Obama’s competitive attitude or even the release of Mitt Romney’s elusive tax returns. Powerful allies clearly recognize this fact, and as a nation we must force our leaders to acknowledge it as well. This push for accountability to issues actually relevant to the state of our nation must start with the media, even if it requires more effort and resources to be expended in the name of good coverage.
Media is a for-profit enterprise in the United States. The massive companies that provide it will naturally be drawn towards finding and reporting stories in the most efficient way possible. In this sense, focusing on a narrow range of issues from a narrow number of sources makes a great deal of sense. However, this push for efficiency and profits ceases to be fruitful when the final product is compromised. News reports that exclude the critical information people expect to receive through them are not good products, and the companies producing them must recognize this.
Undoubtedly, the consumers of this product are growing sick of it. Most Americans are generally uninterested in politics, and accordingly tire quickly of the 24-hour campaign coverage that has become standard in election years. Many of those individuals who wish to never hear another word about Mitt Romney’s dog or the beer that is brewed in the White House would likely be quite interested with the fact that 19,000 people have been killed by their own government in one of the most influential nations in the Middle East.
Media’s approach to covering presidential election years can greatly be improved. News outlets should find and report the stories with the greatest consequences for our nation. These outlets should then press the candidates to respond to these stories, and report their responses. Consumers of media would be better informed to make a choice in the election, and would likely be more satisfied with the quality of coverage that companies were producing.
Positive effects would be seen in the rhetoric of Presidential campaigns that would suddenly be held constantly accountable to the issues of the day. At the end of the day, media outlets may benefit economically from an increase in enthusiasm among viewers. With a bit of effort and short-term sacrifice, today’s media is in a position to drastically alter the way leaders, everyday citizens, and the market interpret and act upon the constant progression of events that form our lives.