inessential by Brent Simmons

Defending TV

You might imagine how much it excites me to see candidates use weblogs and RSS and so on in their campaigns. I love it.

But today I’m going to do something perhaps unexpected: I’m going to defend TV.

The first thing is, I register campaign coverage, no matter what the medium, as pure pleasure.

I’m a media omnivore. I enjoy reading magazines (the New Yorker ran a profile on Dean a couple weeks ago which was quite good). I enjoy reading weblogs for every candidate and point of view. I enjoy listening to the radio.

And I enjoy watching the coverage on TV.

Some of the reasons to watch TV are obvious. The candidates are not actually in Washington state, so the only way I can see them is on TV. I love to watch the debates especially, but I also like to see them talk to Judy Woodruff, Tim Russert, Charlie Rose, and others. Since I don’t get the chance to talk to the candidates every day, journalists have to stand in for me.

One of the knocks against TV is that it’s tough on candidates in seemingly bizarre ways. The talk about the “Dean scream” for instance seemed to go on and on. But there’s a point to this: I want TV to be tough on the candidates. It’s a test. It’s part of the process. I want to know how the candidate handles pressure.

The media will (or should be) tough on the President too, and these candidates want to be President.

And it looks to me as if TV reporters are equal opportunity sharks. If they smell blood, there’s a feeding frenzy. It doesn’t matter who the candidate is. (Exception: once it comes to the general election, Fox News will be clearly in favor of Bush.)

I think I detect a subtext that bothers me. It goes like this imagined conversation:

A: Hey, TV is stupid, all sound-bites, no substance.

B: Yes, well, you know you can read about the candidate on the Internet, go to meet-ups, read some great stuff in print magazines, and so on. It’s up to you find good information.

A: Oh, sure, I do all that. It’s not me I’m worried about, it’s Joe Sixpack who just watches TV that I’m worried about. He’ll just believe whatever he’s spoon-fed.

All I can say is, I know Joe Sixpack, and he’s better than that.

And if Joe doesn’t vote the way you do, it’s not because of TV, it’s because he preferred the other candidate for his own reasons.

Blaming TV is like blaming the wind for losing the football game.