Photo from abc7.com
By Carrie Parker
“Be it resolved that THE PRESENT SYSTEM FOR CHOOSING PRESIDENTIAL PARTY NOMINEES IS BROKEN.” But for some voters, so is the news media’s coverage of the entire political process.
On the eve of Election Day, those at Stony Brook University’s biannual “The Great Debate” event came to watch experts go head-to-head over the efficacy of the system that chooses presidential party nominees. But after 40 minutes of carefully delivered cases and rebuttals, audience members seemed keen to point out the brokenness of a different entity: the news media.
It was junior journalism major Kayla Lupoli-Nolan of the opposition team who first raised the issue as part of her argument. “News should be transparent,” she said definitively. “We often think of its role as the Fourth Estate, but it has been obsessed with pseudo-events this season.”
She explained that historian Daniel Boorstin described “pseudo-events” in his 1961 seminal book, “The Image,” as occurrences fueled by ambiguity that are manufactured mainly to generate media coverage. Some say that Trump’s candidacy is a made-for-TV phenomenon is a prime example and should not be taken as reality.
It has been all but impossible to escape the tumult of the 2016 presidential race, and many voters are just as disenchanted with the news media’s coverage as they are with the candidates themselves. So, in a packed Humanities lecture hall on Monday night, the point of the debate became a point of departure for a conversation about the role that reporting has played in this election.
“I’ve never been through anything like this,” attendee Marion Glandorf sighed. “I’ve turned the news off. To be honest, I’m really upset.” The quiver in her voice rung in the same tenor of the debate: filled with urgency and a desire for change. But it is unclear whether a return to party bosses or an upheaval of 24-hour election coverage is more unlikely.
“Tomorrow, the issue is that networks will start declaring winners early in the day, which some say is unfair,” said moderator and journalism professor James Klurfeld, provoking some murmurs and adamant nods of consensus. He raised the question of whether the press has too much power, too much influence in the election.
“Who thinks the press has done a great job?” Klurfeld challenged the spectators. Uneasy rustling answered his call. He proffered another idea: “Who thinks the media created Donald Trump?” The majority of hands shot up.
A woman in the crowd distinguished paper and TV news, saying that “TV created Donald Trump.” To her point, political strategist Michael Dawidziak of the government team added that cable is the “most unintelligent” form of news, explaining how mudslinging is encouraged in order to draw in channel-surfing viewers.
But instead of being sucked in, many feel repulsed by the relentless election coverage. “The entertainment element of our news in the United States is really different from international news stations,” Lupoli-Nolan told me. “If taken too far, the entertainment value makes people stop watching.”
“It goes on for too long,” Glandorf complained of the presidential race. Klurfeld confirmed her sentiment at a reception following the debate. “It’s becoming a four-year campaign,” he said. “So there’s more attention on that than the policies the current administration is putting through.”
Klurfeld said change was possible for the electoral system, though it would be difficult. He thought having four regular primaries and rotating the states seemed possible, but he spoke about the media with more certitude. “Fox is going to undergo a revolution,” Klurfeld predicted. Fox News has been at the helm of election coverage and has provided largely right-wing perspective.
Former Suffolk County Legislator Vivian Viloria-Fisher said she was also turned off by most media sources. “Honestly, I mainly listen to NPR,” she told me. “It’s not an argument but a conversation from all different facets and perspectives–Conservative, Republican, Democrat, Green…”
It was boys versus girls in this parliamentary style debate. The government team– political science professor Harold Withers and Dawidziak–went up against the opposition team–Viloria-Fisher and Lupoli-Nolan. Both were rather civilized as they raised countless historical points, sound arguments and future projections.
Dawidziak’s hand pumped up and down like a gavel, punctuating the rhythm of his sentences. “Nothing can better illustrate a broken system than these two candidates,” he said. But Viloria-Fisher used her turn to speak to say that the notion of a rigged system is “erroneous” and that polarization needs to be addressed with transparency. “The primary vote provides one antidote to the mischief of ‘smoke-filled rooms,’” she said.
Withers spoke “as a former party boss” to explain that they and their infamous smoke-filled rooms don’t exist any more. He suggested a hybrid of superdelegates and primaries to select more pragmatic candidates, unlike this year. But it was ideas about the nature of the media that seemed to rouse the most reaction.
“Sensationalism has taken over,” Lupoli-Nolan said. “It has led people to switch from CNN and Fox to Comedy Central.” However, Pew Research Center found as many people name late night comedy shows as most helpful as do a print newspaper. Still, the low rates of young people who watch TV for news do suggest future shake-ups in how the industry will operate.
“She is good, she makes sense,” said Glandorf of Lupoli-Nolan. “We’re going to have to rely on you younger people to fix what’s broken.”