Author: Benjamin DeLuca
President Barack Obama clinched reelection with at least 303 electoral votes Tuesday night, and one of the most common reactions was shock at the apparent ease with which he sealed electoral victory. With projections that the national results would be contested long into the night, why wouldn’t people be surprised when the race was called before every poll was even closed?
In the weeks leading up to the final push before Election Day, different polls had different data. Gallup’s data differed from Rasmussen’s, which differed from the New York Times’, and so on. So what does it mean that all of these sources, each professing that their methods and results were honorable and accurate, came up with such a perplexing variety of data? This strongly suggests that such tracking polls, while entertaining, do not in fact hold as much weight as the media gives them. Anyone tuned in to CNN any day or night in the last few weeks likely saw Wolf Blitzer or another television personality breaking down the data from their latest poll.
Today’s media personalities, particularly on television, spend an inappropriate amount of time and brainpower analyzing tracking poll data. We are in an age of instant gratification with regards to news, thanks in part to the internet and to the 24-hour news cycle. With more TV time to fill, the networks must find more things to say. This lends to the problem of the media hastily feeding Americans overanalyzed and overemphasized stories, like the numbers of the latest survey.
What surprised voters and pundits the most perhaps was how quickly the networks called the election for Obama. In the days leading up to the election pundits from all networks saw the slimmest of margins separating Obama and Romney in national polls. Right up until Election Day, polling data had Obama and Romney neck and neck. Why, then, were the major networks projecting an Obama victory hardly later than the West Coast voting booths had closed? It turned out Obama had a stronger fix on the electoral vote than television news networks led their viewers to believe.
Herein lies another fatal flaw in the foundation of today’s news media, especially in television news. In the endless quest for ratings, advertising and profits, news networks like Fox, CNN and MSNBC had to spice up their programming. After Obama’s acceptance speech at the DNC he held a much larger lead in the polls than he did a few days before the election. That original lead was likely a closer reflection of Americans’ opinions. But this reality doesn’t work for television. Like a Sunday night drama, the election needed tension and conflict and uncertainty to draw attention. Media outlets, as it turns out, have a vested interest in painting a picture of an election where the candidates are running dead even. Heightened drama leads to more viewers, which leads to higher ratings and higher profits.
It is our duty as citizens to reject the constant flood of “news” as a natural occurrence. We must recognize that this phenomenon is a product of the endless news cycle created by advances in technology. I’m not a Luddite, but there’s merit in recognizing that a lot of what comes from our nation’s television news networks is largely designed for their own gain.
Obama hinted at this in his acceptance speech last night, when he said “we’re not as cynical as the pundits believe.” Maybe we’re not as “anything” as the pundits believe. Maybe the pundits have got it wrong about us. Hopefully four years from now we won’t fall prey to the same ceaseless tidal wave of so-called news, and it will be because we demanded more substance and less filler.
Ben DeLuca is a junior ECLS major. He can be reached at email@example.com
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