Sunday, October 26, 2008


It is simply astonishing how long the US Presidential elections run. Campaigning for the major candidates in this year's election are said to have begun more than 20 months ago. They gathered momentum towards the end of last year and received copious coverage on the national and international media. The primaries and the Caucuses kicked off sometime in February after a series of long, aggressive rallies in different states and some very decisive debates that were widely publicized. The nomination process dragged along painfully from state to state for well over 3 months. It went all the way down the wire even after a flurry of results are declared following Super Tuesday for the Democatic nomination amidst great drama and excitement. Each of these primaries made headlines on every media outlet in the country, and there are thousands of them if you include the radio stations and local broadcasters. It is not just the final outcome that is reported, but the events leading up to the vote, the impassioned speeches, the sentiments of people, opinion polls, pre and post analysis , statistics and a slew of other things aimed at expanding the viewership. Remember this is nearly one full year before the incumbent bigot would leave the White House.
In this intervening period, Russia, Italy, Pakistan,Canada and Austria have all gone to the polls and elected their leaders. Those countries are from the top of my head and I bet there are dozens more that went ahead without creating more than a ripple in the international media . I also bet that the majority of people, including myself, who were aware of US primaries knew little or nothing at all regarding the results of the general elections in any of these countries. What can possibly explain this drastic difference in awareness? Media is the culprit surely. It seems that the more apropos question would be to ask why ? Why is there such a staggering excess of focus on electing someone to the Oval Office when others are almost ignored. Is it because journalists believe in the overwhelming importance of the elections? It is beyond question that the Chief Executive of United States has unparalleled power and privilege, but the sheer volume of campaign news makes most of it utterly devoid of new content. Or is it because the American media is the largest and also the most advanced? Could all this simply be the direct consequence of news reporting being a for-profit enterprise that just turns the race into a thrill ride for those following it closely, not unlike football games. Perhaps, but it certainly cannot explain why these elections are followed in other countries and by foreign networks. I can clearly recall watching a news report on BBC in 2006 about a small rally held by Hillary Clinton. Yes, that was 2006, less than 2 years after Bush was sworn in again. Remember how well Barack Obama was received when he traveled to Europe and gave a speech in Berlin? Most in Europe, both governments and people alike, seem quite definite in their choice of Obama for President. In India, The Hindu which usually does not concern itself with foreign affairs and internal politics has been carrying articles on the various candidates right from the start of the campaign. The only conceivable reason for this disproportionate interest is do with the unfortunate reality that what is important is decided by the extent of coverage given to it by the major media networks. While undeniably high quality and content is often rigorously maintained in newspapers like New York Times, it appears that there is always the pressure to feed reader's obsession with information surrounding events such as elections. Take a look at Washington Post or Slate during the last few weeks and you will find countless opinions on the campaign. And these are some of the best news sources in the world. It strikes me as an utter waste of journalistic talent especially when that talent can be put to use in dozens of other crucial issues around the world that desperately cry out for some media attention. Such issues exist in this nation itself and there are several more in other parts of the world, particularly in areas of constant conflict and instability.
To be fair, for many of these media organizations, the ultimate source of money comes from circulation/viewership and being completely oblivious of their audiences' expectations cannot make their business very successful. They are forced to maintain a balance between high standard and satisfying their patrons. I could have made a good case defending this unproductive excesses were it not for the extraordinary amount of space devoted to Sarah Palin. It did not take me more than a few hours following the announcement of her candidacy to conclude that she was the most incompetent ignoramus to be on the verge of sitting in the White House. Lampooning her is inevitable and it is hard to resist the temptation. But despite all that, it is quite unfortunate that such a huge chunk of all articles and opinions in major newspapers have been devoted to flaying her tirelessly. Even the financial crisis did not receive as much attention. I suspect it is because it is so much easier to bash Palin than even reckless corporate executives.
As I write, there is a very serious crisis in Congo where the lives of thousands of people are under imminent threat. Most people in the developed world have little awareness of it since it is unlikely to make the headlines anywhere. And even if it did, not for too long. There is plenty of more exciting things to be covered.

Finally, I cannot help but imagine the magnitude of travesty, if after 20 months of campaigning, worldwide following, several panels of experts , hundreds of statistics , thousands of smart, capable journalists and millions of dollars spent, John McCain becomes President and Sarah Palin a breath away from the Office.

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