What's Strangling You, America?
Before I begin, I have to mention that the picture I'm about to show you was taken at work. CNN just happened to be on; I'd never have seen it otherwise. After the debacle that was CNN's coverage of the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act (the nearly half-hour of reports that the individual mandate had been struck down which were, well, just flat out wrong), I swore off Chicken Noodle News. I simply can't support a network that so egregiously emphasizes being first over being right. Not to mention that I've had about all the ridiculous zooming, circling and giant TV screens on TV that I can take. But unfortunately this election cycle, it became unavoidably clear that the sickness affecting CNN has spread. Really I mean metastasized; maybe even gotten into our blood. The American media is desperately ill, and no one has a word to say about it.
A week ago Tuesday, the nation woke up in a cold sweat. It was Election Day, Gallup was telling us the race was neck-and-neck yet, camera crews were dutifully hovering over poll workers in battleground states, and pundits everywhere were in a tizzy. I wish I were kidding when I said that the countdown clock to the polls closing started that Monday afternoon. Thankfully I had somewhere else to be for most of Tuesday night and got to avoid most of the sniveling and drivel. But as I refreshed my phone every hour or so and the electoral math began coming in, it didn't take long before the ending became clear. The race was called early in the night -- though at least an hour before Romney's concession -- and although Florida felt like making life difficult for the nation, we had a clear President for 2013 before long.
I have to back up and say that this is what I expected would happen all along. Amidst the hand wringing and promises to move to other countries if such-and-so candidate won, regardless of what news outlet you paid attention to, the electoral math was never looking good for Romney. The New York Times put out a graphic the week before the election showing that out of 512 possible outcomes in the battleground states, only 76 ended in Obama being defeated. To re-state that a little differently, by this math the Republican candidate only had a 14.8 percent chance to winning. We could also call that "not a chance." And no, I don't take Karl Rove's pseudo-math into account.
Yet while everyone but the baldest and hammiest of Super PAC pimps could have seen this coming, the never-sleeping undead creation that is 24-hour cable news kept us fretting. Of course they weren't alone -- the networks played along nicely. After all, when your competition is weaving a fantastical fabrication of suspense, you've got to keep up with the Coopers, right? So keep up they did -- over days, weeks and months, building a frenzy of information and opinions so loud that no voter could possibly think. Finally on Tuesday, the election stopped this sick cycle with the ending that was always coming anyway. Four more years. That was the end, right?
Here's an image from the patient zero of new Hearst-ism taken on November 8th:
48 hours after the election, CNN was still fabricating a story. "Why the race was closer than it seems" is an apt headline, because I really didn't think that the 100-electoral-vote margin sounded all that close. And as for the Florida comment underneath, they had to know it really didn't matter... right? We had a winner, a concession speech, an acceptance speech... the fat lady had sung. Especially since by that point all news outlets had Florida leaning for the incumbent with 99-100 percent of votes being on Wednesday. But leave Florida out for a minute; not only was the electoral spread far wider than most races in recent memory, but it was clear by this point that Obama had won the popular vote as well -- an ending almost no one expected. The fat lady sang, Sheldon Alderson lost every one of the races he put money into, and Karl Rove melted down on Fox News. It was over. So what was CNN doing?
It's troubling to me that I have an easier time understanding the highly partisan mind magic of Fox's coverage than CNN's these days. Fox at least has an agenda (certainly never thought I'd say that) -- CNN is just making drama for drama's sake. When not reporting on 10 life-threatening things your kids are doing with household item, this is their norm; drumming up stories with big graphics and flashy logos, endlessly trying to justify their outrageous existence by being more and more outrageous. Focusing on smaller and smaller things. Adding more and more noise to the landscape.
It's hard for me to know where to go from here. I've already boycotted their station but still they sit and rile the people, creating stories from nothing and desperately trying to hide the fact that they do no earthly good anymore. And to be fair to them, I wish I could say CNN was the only offender. But every network has become bad. How else would the entire country have come to the common delusion that this race was going to be tight -- or even a "landslide for Romney"? What planet are we living on these days? What reality are we entertaining ourselves with through the news?
As the election fades into history and memory, the coming weeks are going to be filled wall-to-wall with news of the "Fiscal Cliff." With no big election drama anymore, that will be the story paraded around, in spite of the fact that it's been an issue for many moons, massively ignored by the media in favor of sexier stories. Assuming our really-do-nothing Congress can extricate their craniums from their colons, maybe we'll go back to hearing conspiracy theories about the Benghazi attack or more one-off comments run into the ground to ruin political careers. Don't worry: none of those last ones will really be out of outrage or indignation, or for any agenda, but like I said, for entertainment.
Right now, news outlets are harping on how the financial crisis in this country is disturbing, and I do agree. But I think that our crisis with the truth is far greater. The fact that we can no longer trust the most prevalent sources of news in America is disheartening at best. The fact that we apathetically do anyway is disgraceful. And in my mind, if we as a country continue to bend our ears to indulge their gossip-laden lips, the road we head down will absolutely be damning.
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