Matt Taibbi, verbal destroyer of Goldmans, thinks that the media-election complex has gone too far. To end it, he says, the government needs to force reporters to cover the real issues -- say, the corruption surrounding a too-big-to-fail bank -- not aim for the quick hits.
"It should be illegal to publish poll numbers," Taibbi, contributing editor for Rolling Stone, wrote in a Rolling Stone blog post on Tuesday. "Most of us suck so badly at our jobs, and are so uninterested in delving into any polysyllabic subject, that we would literally have to put down our shovels and go home if we didn't have poll numbers we can use to terrify our audiences."
Taibbi argued in his blog post that the media drags out the presidential election process to make more money. That, combined with a more partisan media landscape, creates more viewers, sell more ads, and, indirectly, weakens America's democracy, Taibbi says.
Some countries have tighter controls on political campaigns. In France, for example, paid political ads are outlawed during the three months before the election; instead, each campaign gets an equal amount of free air time on TV.
This isn't Taibbi's first criticism of the media's election coverage (he made similar remarks in a recent interview with HuffPost Live), nor is he the first to hammer the media on its dependence on polls. Jay Rosen, a New York University journalism professor, has frequently criticized the political media's emphasis on the "horse race," saying that media's frequent articles about what candidates are doing to try to win do not serve the public interest.
Indeed, polls showing that Romney is ahead often throw Obama supporters into a panic, and polls showing Obama on top do the same for Romney fans. But any one poll only can say so much, since they all have a margin of error and can be subject to the whims of voters.
Such horse-race coverage even can doom candidates, as Gawker's John Cook has noted, since voters can be less likely to vote for candidates that the press consistently portrays as losers (see: Kerry, John).
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