The latest installment of my Blog Blog Project, where I publish student voices from the University of Delaware, focuses on the impending 2016 election and its cadre of candidates. Elena Sassaman's blog was voted best by her peers. She is a Junior Honors student with a major in Political Science and minors in German, Legal Studies, History, and Political Communication.
On Tuesday May 5th, Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, announced his intent to run for President. This made him the sixth contender joining Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina in the competition for the Republican nomination. Huckabee ran for president in 2008, and--along with fundraising issues--he was unwilling to take firm stances on any policy. It is unclear at this time, however, how Huckabee will fare against his Republican counterparts, and subsequently the Democratic opposition if he receives the nomination. There is something, though, that Huckabee has that no other candidate can lay claim to: Mike Huckabee has received, for the second time, the endorsement of Chuck Norris.
Norris, the legendary "martial arts maven," endorsed Huckabee during his Presidential campaign in 2008, and it appears that he will be reprising his role as of one of the former Governor's biggest supporters in the upcoming election. Norris says he believes in Huckabee's ability to lead and extend a hand across the partisan aisle, stating, "I still believe Mike Huckabee is the most qualified....[and he] has the moral clarity and experience to lead our great country forward." Of course, "moral clarity" and gubernatorial experience is all one needs to be qualified for the Presidency.
There is no telling exactly how Chuck Norris' involvement in Huckabee's campaign will affect the outcome of the race, however, Norris' endorsement efforts clinched a victory for Greg Abbott's gubernatorial campaign in 2014. Perhaps Chuck Norris' endorsement of Huckabee means more. Maybe "Chuck Norris doesn't endorse...[perhaps]...he tells America how it's going to be." Do we already have our President-Elect?
The media focus on Norris is a great example of what Lance Bennett would call fragmentation bias in the media. Right now, the politically conscious minds of America are on the edges of their seats waiting to see who will be the next candidate to throw down the gauntlet and enter the race. They want to know who will run, where candidates stand on hot-button issues, and who deserves their vote. They want to know who will win.
For example, rather than focus on Mike Huckabee's platform, this article examines an exciting aspect of Huckabee's campaign. It focuses on his association with a celebrity rather than on the issues. It also brings to the forefront Huckabee's assumed success in being endorsed by the so-called legitimate and influential figure, Chuck Norris. This article feeds into the personal and dramatic qualities of Huckabee's announcement, and delivers only exciting fluff, devoid of larger political meaning.
The coverage of Norris' endorsement further serves as an example of fragmentation bias because it over exaggerates what was probably a thumbs-up by Chuck Norris into a full blown endorsement of the campaign. Because they are profit-driven, the main goal of many media is to suck readers into a story, especially one that is personal and dramatic. And a story involving Chuck Norris and Mike Huckabee gets the job done. It is short, sweet, and entertaining.
However, this type of bias, especially in this context, isn't benign; there are numerous potential negative consequences. Because stories like this are so far removed from the political stage to which they relate, readers are not being properly informed. Such stories often only mention, in very generic terms, what kind of man the candidate says he is: committed, apt, and capable of communicating with others. The lack of specificity and context coming out of this article, and in many others, is detrimental to our society as one that consumes media for political information in order to make an informed vote.
In an ideal world, the media would serve to educate the public on political issues, but instead, informational biases like fragmentation bias are affecting the kinds of information that we are receiving. A plea to journalists everywhere: with your help, we will be able to decide for ourselves who to vote for! But then again, we could just let movie characters decide for us.