Yes, the media is to blame for the GOP primary mess

November 18, 2015
Republican Presidential candidates Donald Trump takes interviews in the spin room after the debate held by Fox Business Network for the top 2016 U.S. Republican candidates in Milwaukee, Wisconsin November 10, 2015.REUTERS/Darren Hauck - RTS6EQX

Republican Presidential candidates Donald Trump n the spin room after the Republican presidential candidate debate held by Fox Business Network in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, November 10, 2015.REUTERS/Darren Hauck

The presidential nominating process has become a reality television show: Political Survivor. It’s no longer controlled by political parties or primary voters. It’s controlled by the media.

The essential features of the process are debates and polls. And money? Not really. Look at former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. He raised more than $100 million, enough to scare off most competitors in the old days. Now he’s struggling to remain viable.

Two contestants, Texas Governor Rick Perry and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, were voted off the island before a single primary took place. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie were banished to the Isle of No Return to dwell among the low rated.

Republican Presidential candidates Ben Carson takes questions from the media in the spin room after the debate held by Fox Business Network for the top 2016 U.S. Republican candidates in Milwaukee, Wisconsin November 10, 2015. REUTERS/Darren Hauck - RTS6EQS

Ben Carson in the spin room after the GOP presidential candidate debate held by Fox Business Network in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, November 10, 2015. REUTERS/Darren Hauck

In a contest controlled by the media, personality beats policy. Candidates with colorful and attention-grabbing personalities have the advantage. Even candidates with abrasive personalities, like Donald Trump. And goofy personalities, like Ben Carson.

The process also rewards candidates with well-honed debating skills like Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Even though debating skill may not be an essential quality of a great president. Things like a solid record of achievement, practical ideas and endorsements by one’s peers get discounted in today’s media-driven process. Bush’s new slogan – “Jeb Can Fix It” — does not seem to be catapulting him into the lead.

Governors used to do well in presidential contests because voters valued executive experience: Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush. This year, however, governors and former governors — Bush, Christie, Huckabee, Ohio Governor John Kasich, former New York Governor George Pataki — are languishing. Their policymaking experience often includes deals and compromises. Even governors with strong records don’t necessarily do well in debates.

The media claim to be an impartial arbiter in the process — but that’s become a joke. To survive in a digital world, the press has become more sensational and opinionated. When they stage presidential debates, the networks have a different objective than the candidates. The candidates want to win supporters. The networks want to make news.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks at a news conference before he delivers the keynote speech at the Black Republican Caucus of South Florida's scholarship gala at the PGA National Resort and Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida November 6, 2015. REUTERS/Joe Skipper - RTS5VQZ

Ben Carson speaks before he delivers the keynote speech at the Black Republican Caucus of South Florida’s scholarship gala in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida November 6, 2015. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

In the CNBC debate last month, we saw what happens when the process gets out of control. The moderators tried to expose personal weaknesses and bait the candidates into attacking each other. Anything for ratings and tweets.

Ben Carson at a news conference before he delivers the keynote speech at the Black Republican Caucus of South Floridain, in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, November 6, 2015. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

But the candidates outsmarted them. They made the media the issue. That’s how Carson wiggled out of the charge that he has misrepresented his past. Asked in the most recent debate whether he was having a problem with press scrutiny of his background, Carson replied, “What I do have a problem with is being lied about and then putting that out there as truth.”

The media claim that voters really do have a voice in the process. National poll standings determine which candidates are invited to participate in the debates and how they are ranked on stage. It’s an incredible abuse of poll data.

For example, the false precision used to rank the contenders is ridiculous. Drawing a line between Huckabee (not invited to the prime-time debate because his national polls averaged 2.4 percent), and Kasich (invited because he averaged 3.0 percent) is statistically meaningless.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz files his declaration of candidacy to appear on the New Hampshire primary election ballot while standing next to New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner (2nd R) in Concord, New Hampshire November 12, 2015.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder - RTS6OA3

Senator Ted Cruz files his declaration of candidacy n the New Hampshire primary election ballot, standing next to New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner (2nd R) in Concord, New Hampshire, November 12, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

There isn’t any national campaign, yet. Voters know little about the candidates, except for celebrities like Trump and Carson. All they can judge on is fleeting personal impressions from the debates.

How did we come to this?

It started in the 1970s, when reformers took control of nominations away from party bosses and turned it over to primary voters. But how are primary voters supposed to get the information they need to make a knowledgeable decision? Most voters today don’t pay much attention to the advice of party leaders. But they do follow the media. So the media took control of the process. And used it for their own ends — sensationalizing the process to generate ratings and page clicks. And profits.

Voters in Iowa and New Hampshire are furious. They claim they have the right to winnow the candidates and separate the starters from the nonstarters. What gives them that right? The fact that they are small states. Candidates don’t have to spend a lot of money to compete in Iowa and New Hampshire. But they do have to spend a lot of time there, meeting voters face to face. The voters of Iowa and New Hampshire say they have the experience and skill to know what makes for a good president. They claim they give thoughtful deliberation to their choice.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) announces his bid for the Republican nomination in the 2016 U.S. presidential election race during a speech in Miami, Florida April 13, 2015.  Rubio, 43,  announced his bid at Miami's Freedom Tower, where thousands of Cuban exiles fleeing the communist-run island in the 1960s were first registered by U.S. authorities. REUTERS/Joe Skipper   - RTR4X7GL

Senator Marco Rubio announces his bid for the 2016 Republican nomination in Miami, Florida, April 13, 2015. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

Maybe. But look at Christie. He has attended more than 40 events in New Hampshire over the past three months. But he’s running eighth in the New Hampshire polls. Maybe the voters there just don’t like him. But look who’s leading in New Hampshire: the national media favorites, Trump and Carson.

Insiders expect the final survivors to be Rubio and Cruz, mostly because of their debating skills. Both are first-term senators. Neither has much of a record of achievement. An ad being aired by Cruz supporters asks, “What’s Rubio ever done? Anything? Other than his Gang of Eight amnesty bill, can anyone think of anything Marco Rubio’s ever done?’“ The Bush campaign is telling donors that Rubio would be “a GOP Obama.”

A lot of people nourish the hope that the frivolous and distracting spectacle will soon end. The press will darken the debate stage and focus attention on the voters who will actually be making the decision. As one New Hampshire voter told the New York Times, “When the tent comes down and the circus leaves town, maybe we’ll elect a president.”

7 comments

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This isn’t about the press. This is about grannies old farts on facebook, getting each other whipped up with more ignorant racist slurs to themselves, preaching to their bigoted choir…. and bypassing the news media altogether. Observe the fight that Trump had with FoxNews on how to portray him. “The Fox Girl was too mean, too smarty-pants.”

They can no longer shape candidates the way they used to. The problem for Trump and Carson is, they’re delusional. This social media zealot support is like 20% of the general population.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

I have to agree with this writer’s opinion. I finally have the time in life to study the candidates, and, am finding most of the debates lack information on the candidates’ policy details. Most of the other media snapshots of candidates are too disorganized for comparison and analysis.

If no publication comes out with a good matrix of the candidates policies and the issues before the primary, I’ll have to create my own from the candidates websites. Of course, students and working parents who wish to vote won’t have the time to do that. It would be great if Reuters would work with the two parties to put such a policy matrix together not only for the primaries, but also for tracking the winner’s performance when they’re in office.

Posted by hometown | Report as abusive

The media has successfully shaped this authors opinion on Ben Carson and his “goofy” personality essentially equating him to Donald Trump. Unfortunately this media narrative is far from reality. Dr. Carson has some very thoughtful and substantive debate responses that should be examined before dismissing him so abruptly. Also see Thomas Sowell’s recent article on Ben Carson and the media’s portrayal.

A quick review of this authors previous opinion pieces reveals his very liberal bias.
I suppose my comments here reveal mine.

Posted by rwboxing | Report as abusive

How can you blame the media but not mention Fox News?
1 Fox News is the most watched channel in the country.
2 It is the primary source of media information for Republican primary voters.

Additionally, Fox News never openly declared their criteria for determining who was going to be in their televised debate to showcase the candidates. If you want your article to matter at all you should probably ignore the 2 hours the candidates were on CNBC. Those were the only 2 hours of that primary voters were exposed to your version of the “media”.

Posted by qellian | Report as abusive

Please nominate Ben Carson or Donald Trump.

It will save us Democrats of lot of war chest spending. Just hand the micophone to the wingnut teabagger…. watch them lose. Again.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

The “U.S. general media” has become so obscenely Left-Slanted in everything shown or reported that I have to go to European media or Specialty Media for unbiased and factual reporting…. It’s horrible what they have put the Republican Party nomination through…. It has only strengthened the Resolve of True Americans to make serious and long lasting change …..!!!

Posted by GSS123 | Report as abusive

RE: Yes, the media is to blame for the GOP primary mess
http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/20 15/11/18/yes-the-media-is-to-blame-for-t he-gop-primary-mess/

“personality beats policy”
This has always been the case
Obama
Clinton
Reagan
Kennedy

Boring is a contest
LBJ
Nixon
carter
GHWB
GWB

“Things like a solid record of achievement, practical ideas and
endorsements by one’s peers get discounted in today’s media-driven
process.”

Solid Records:
Cruz
Trump
Clinton
LBJ
Reagan
Carter
GWHB
GWB

No solid record whatsoever
Hillary (no significant accomplishments in 12 years)
Obama (when running for President)
Kennedy (his military service was excellent)

This year governors are languishing because the public
no longer trusts the government. Obama’s constant threats
to veto a bill threatening government shutdown, Boehner’s and
McConnell’s constant caving to Obama’s threats means Obama never gets
new laws and no one trusts Obama, Hillary, the Senate or the House. The
public likes Carson and Trump because they are not professional
politicians. Same for Cruz, though, over time he will become one. Rubio
is not a professional politician. He is either going to win the
nomination of be out of office.

“To survive in a digital world, the press has become more sensational
and opinionated”.
The “press” has been opinionated since I was young. It has always
firmly supported the left. Walter Cronkite was best at concealing
his bias, but when all is told about him, one finds the stories he
suppressed — all of which were offensive to his left leaning bias.

The internet has neutered ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, CNN, NPR and so many more
left-leaning *news* organizations.

The world should be thankful for the Internet.

“The candidates want to win supporters. The networks want to make news.”
True, but they only attack the right with irrelevant nonsense. They do
not do that to the Dem debate participants.

“Most voters today don’t pay much attention to the advice of party
leaders. But they do follow the media. So the media took control of the
process.”

They follow a left leaning media that is a propaganda PAC for
the Democrat party. FoxNews is the one exception. ABC,CBS,NBC,CNN,
MSNBC, NPR and more are all propaganda PAC’s (for profit PAC’s I might
add) for the Democrat party.

The authors of this article simply don’t get why Trump and Carson are
doing so well. It is not the media. Most thinking people can get around
the bias’ of ABC,CBS,NBC,CNN,NPR,DailyKos,HuffPo,Thin kProgress,AlterNet
and FoxNews. The problem is the low-information voters that still listen
to 30 minutes of news per night and think they are getting THE NEWS.

They are not. They are getting a 30-minute propaganda message from their
source of choice. Left sources outnumber right sources by 10x or more.

Ben and Donald are high in polling because people no longer like professional politicians. They especially don’t like them when they threaten to shut down government. Obama, Reid, Boehner, and McConnell have repeatedly done that and all of them, including Nancy Pelosi, are professional politicians — people who are in the political game solely to get re-elected.

Posted by egbegb | Report as abusive