2020: Will the mainstream media make a difference?

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There’s a lot of tortured handwringing going on among the mainstream media about how they covered the 2016 presidential race and what they need to do to fix things for 2020.

“…we have a chance to do things differently than we did the last time around – to redeem ourselves,” columnist Frank Bruni opined in The New York Times on Jan. 13, 2018. “Our success or failure will affect our stature at a time of rickety public trust in us.”

Bruni’s column focused on the role of the “mainstream, establishment media” and its responsibility to clean up its act, to avoid writing about the spectacle and cover, instead, substance, fitness for office and competing visions of government.

Sounds all very serious and high-minded. But Bruni’s angst is too late.

The fact is, what the mainstream, establishment print and television media have to say about politics simply doesn’t matter as much anymore because people are going elsewhere to find out what’s going on and what people think about it.

“The conversation that should concern everyone, in both media and politics, is not about what gets covered,” Peter Hamby recently wrote in Vanity Fair.  “It’s about what gets attention.”

“At a time when technology is transforming voter behavior at unprecedented speed, this is a problem that the mainstream media, even on its best behavior, cannot possibly solve without a drastic reimagining of what journalism is and how it reaches contemporary audiences.”

Diminishing influence

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In 1950, almost every American household read a daily newspaper

In 1950, almost every American household read a daily newspaper. By 2000, only 50 percent of Americans read a printed newspaper on a daily basis.

As I write this in Jan. 2019, I’m sitting at a large, bustling coffee shop. A couple dozen people of all ages are busily engaged at their laptops. Not a single person is reading a newspaper.

The fact is fewer Americans read a daily newspaper today than in 1950, while the U.S. population has more than doubled. And the prognosis isn’t good. With just 2 percent of teenagers reading a newspaper on a regular basis, few are developing a newspaper reading habit.

Unlike the individualized, algorithm-determined, constantly updated news delivered to consumers online, print newspapers offer identical mass communications to their customers. And by the time the news in print newspapers reaches the intended audience, not only is it stale, but it has been superceded by newer news.

During the 2016 election, a survey of U.S. adults by the Pew Research Center revealed  that print versions of both local and national newspapers were named as key sources for election news and information by only 3% and 2% of respondents respectively. Late night comedy shows did just as well as sources at 3%.  (Maybe that explains why Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced she was forming a presidential exploratory committee during a Jan. 15 appearance on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”)

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And even if you did read print newspapers during the election, policy issues — what the nominees would do if elected—got little press coverage in print outlets. In the 2016 general election, policy issues accounted for just 10 percent of the news coverage—less than a fourth the space given to the horserace between the candidates, according to a Shorenstein Center study.

And even if you did read print newspapers during the election, policy issues — what the nominees would do if elected—got little press coverage in print outlets. In the 2016 general election, policy issues accounted for just 10 percent of the news coverage—less than a fourth the space given to the horserace between the candidates, according to a Shorenstein Center study.

All this has translated into a drastic reduction in the influence of newspaper editorial endorsements.

“Once upon a time, a newspaper endorsement for a political candidate was about as good as it got,” Philip Bump wrote in the Washington Post  a couple weeks before the 2016 election. “In the era before the internet…big, important newspapers could shift the fortunes of people seeking the presidency. Nowadays, that’s … less of the case.”

Of the 269 U.S. newspapers that dispensed their wisdom by endorsing a presidential candidate in 2016, 240 endorsed Hillary Clinton and just 18 endorsed Donald Trump. Libertarian Gary Johnson secured nine endorsements and independent conservative Evan McMullin got one.

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Of the top 100 largest newspapers in America with the largest circulations, just two endorsed Trump,

As Politico media reporter Hadas Gold tweeted when Trump’s stunning victory became clear, “… newspaper endorsements DO NOT MATTER.”

That may be partly due to slipping public respect for the mainstream media.  In a Pew Research Center survey taken shortly after the November 2016 balloting, only one in five respondents gave the press a grade of “B” or higher for its performance. Four of five graded its performance as a “C” or lower, with half of them giving it an “F.”

Declining newspaper circulation

Much of the waning influence of print newspapers can also be attributed to circulation declines (or the reverse).

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In 1960, nearly 120 percent of households bought a daily newspaper (i.e. there were 1.2 papers sold per household). By 2017, fewer than 30 percent of households bought a daily newspaper.

In 1990, circulation of U.S. daily newspapers totaled 62.3 million weekday and 62.6 million Sunday. By 2009, circulation had sunk to 55.8 million daily and 59.4 million Sunday.

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2016, despite the excitement and turmoil of the national elections, weekday and Sunday circulation for U.S. daily newspapers – both print and digital – fell 8%, marking the 28th consecutive year of declines. Weekday circulation fell to 35 million and Sunday circulation to 38 million – the lowest levels since 1945.

The following year, the first of Tump’s term, was equally discouraging. Estimated total U.S. daily newspaper circulation (print and digital combined) in 2017 was 31 million for weekday and 34 million for Sunday, down 11% and 10%, respectively, from 2016.

Some of that decline is because the United States has lost almost 1,800 papers since 2004, including more than 60 dailies and 1,700 weeklies, leaving 7,112 in the country, according to The School of Media and Journalism at UNC.

California lost the most dailies of any state. In one case, the 140-year-old, 500-circulation Gridley Herald used to serve Gridley (population 6,000) in the central California county of Butte, 60 miles from Sacramento. On Aug. 29, 2018, the paper’s staff and the community were notified by the paper’s owner, GateHouse Media, that the final issue of the twice-weekly paper would be published the next day.

Daily newspaper circulation in California totaled about 5.7 million 15 years ago. In 2018, that was cut in half to 2.8 million.

If print circulation continues to drop at current rates, as many as one-half of the nation’s surviving dailies will no longer be in print by 2021, predicts Nicco Mele, director of the Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University..

One of the most striking examples of decline is in Silicon Valley. The San Jose Mercury News, rebranded as The Mercury News in 2016, was once an influential publication with about 400 reporters, editors, photographers, and artists.

According to The Columbia Journalism Review, the Mercury News was one of the first daily newspapers in the U.S. with an online presence, the first to put all its content on that site, the first to use the site to break news, and one of the first to migrate its growing online content to the web.

Its commitment to innovation and hard news led to daily circulation of 200,258 in 2009 making it the fifth largest daily newspaper in the United States.

But subsequent years of bad business decisions, declining classified advertising (including job listings), layoffs, McClatchy’s purchase of the paper’s owner, Knight Ridder, in 2006, and the subsequent sale of the Mercury News to the MediaNews Group caused the paper to slip. “…sadly the San Jose Merc is a mere shadow of its former self,” commented one online reviewer.

Not that long ago, the San Jose paper proclaimed itself “The Newspaper of Silicon Valley,” media business analyst Ken Doctor wrote in Newsonomics. “Silicon Valley has done quite well, becoming the global economic engine and driving great regional affluence. But the economically fecund region has become — in less than a decade — a news desert.”

Here at home, The Oregonian, a paper with a long and storied history, is a story of decline, too.

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The Oregonian Building, at the corner at the intersection of S.W. Sixth and Alder, occupied by the paper during 1892-1948.

In 1950, when Advance Publications bought the paper, its daily circulation was 214,916. For quite a while, things looked promising.

I joined The Oregonian as a business and politics reporter in 1987. It was a robust, well-respected paper, with a proud past and a much-anticipated future. Daily circulation was 319,624; Sunday circulation 375,914.

When I left the paper 10 years later in 1997 to take a corporate communications job, daily circulation was 360,000, Sunday circulation 450,000. It looked like the paper was on a roll.

But good times were not ahead. By 2012, daily circulation had sunk to 228,599, only slightly higher than in 1950. In subsequent years, daily circulation continued to slump, despite robust population growth in the Portland Metro Area.

Meanwhile, talented reporters have fled in droves, some pushed out, others motivated by buy-outs. At the same time the once powerful paper’s clout has diminished as it has abandoned rural Oregon and 7-day-a-week print distribution.

By 2018, The Oregonian had a print circulation of just 158,000 and distributed  to 15 fewer counties in Oregon and Washington than it did in 2004, when it had a circulation of 338,000, according to a UNC report on The Expanding News Desert.

A few smaller local Oregon papers are thriving, but most are suffering, too. And all of them have a tough time covering state and national politics consistently and with any depth.

Oregon Public Broadcasting OPB recently reported that Western Communications, which owns seven newspapers across the West, including the Bulletin in Bend, the Baker City Herald and the La Grande Observer, “is on the brink of foreclosure.” The company hasn’t paid nearly $1 million owed in local property taxes and interest and is between three and five years behind on taxes in counties across Oregon, OPB reported.

Comprehensive political coverage by the Eugene Register Guard is threatened, too. On March 1, 2018, GateHouse Media, the same company that closed the Gridley Herald, acquired the Register Guard, which had survived more than 90 years of independent, family ownership.

GateHouse publishes 130 daily newspapers. It has a reputation for tightfisted financial management accompanied by staff layoffs. It’s impact on the Register Guard has fit that pattern. In Dec. 2017, before the GateHouse takeover, the editorial and news staff at The Register-Guard totaled 42, according to the paper’s staff directory. Today the directory lists 27, of which just 12 are identified as reporters..

Not only has the Register Guard staff shrunk; so has its daily circulation, dropping from 54,325 in 2011 to 41,280 today.

“What’s happening with the Guard isn’t unique to the Guard,” Tim Gleason,professor and former dean at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, told the Eugene Weekly. “It’s what’s happening all over the country as these venture capital firms buy newspapers and then largely gut them.”

Of course, newspapers are being gutted whether or not they are investment targets.

In early January 2019, the Dallas Morning News eliminated 43 jobs, according to the Columbia Journalism Review, half of them in the newsroom, with the cuts  hitting reporters covering immigration, transportation, the environment, and the courts.

On Friday, February 1, The McClatchy Company, which owns properties such as the Miami Herald and the Kansas City Star, emailed staffers to announce that 450 employees would be offered voluntary buyouts as part of a “functional realignment,” essentially signaling that the jobs have been marked out of the budget. The news was first reported by the Miami New Times.

If print newspaper circulation across the board continues to drop at current rates, as many as one-half of the nation’s surviving dailies will no longer be in print by 2021, predicts Nicco Mele, director of the Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard.

None of this is good news if you want an educated, informed public in a position to make wise judgments about public policy.

“The way to prevent irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs through the channel of the public papers, and to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1787.

That is as true today.

How about network television news?

Given the decline of local print media, local network TV news is one of the few remaining sources of locally-focused journalism covering political issues, but local TV news has been experiencing declines as well.

Just from 2016 to 2017, the portion of Americans who often rely on local TV for their news fell 9 percentage points, from 46% to 37%, according to the Pew Research Center. Still, local tv news shows have multiple opportunities to cover educate their audience. The problem is that covering public policy is rarely their forte and it’s not what their audience is seeking.

Instead, local TV news is the outlet of choice by adults for weather, breaking news and traffic reports, although young adults are more likely to turn to the Internet, according to Pew Research.

Public policy and politics coverage is also suffering with a decline in the audiences for the national network news shows of NBC, ABC and CBS, although some scholars believe television news viewing has little effect on issue learning. In other words,  watching increasing quantities of television news will not lead to greater knowledge about political issues because of the paucity of real issue information. You may know more about polls and personalities, but not so much about political issues that affect your life.

Remember when the family used to gather in the living room every night for the evening news, either the Huntley-Brinkley Report, CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite or ABC Evening News with Frank Reynolds and Howard K. Smith? That was so long ago.

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All three network evening news shows have been losing audience steadily since then. By 1998, the three network evening newscasts reached a combined average of only about 30.4 million viewers in a country with a population of 276 million.

In 2016, even with a turbulent presidential campaign, the average viewership for the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts was 24 million, according to a Pew Research Center  analysis.

Compare that to the ratings of a single showing of 2016’s number one primetime TV show, The Big Bang Theory, which averaged 19.9 million viewers, or with Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7, 2016, which got 112.6 million average viewers, according to Nielsen.

By the 2017-18 television season, ABC’s evening news had an average of 8.6 million viewers, NBC Nightly News 8.15 million and CBS Evening News 6.2 million. That’s a total of 22.95 million.

 

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Lonesome Rhodes, a master manipulator.

In Elia Kazan’s classic movie “A Face in the Crowd,” Lonesome Rhodes, played brilliantly by Andy Griffiths, rises from an itinerant Ozark guitar picker to a local media rabble-rouser to TV superstar and a political power. “I’m not just an entertainer. I’m an influence, a wielder of opinion, a force… a force!”, he exclaimed at one point.

Newspaper publishers and TV news anchors may once have felt the same way, but their days are numbered.

This doesn’t mean, however, that the demand for news is going to collapse. It just means there’s going to be a need for more imagination in formatting and delivering it in ways that grab an audience and rewards them for their attention.

Vanity Fair’s Peter Hamby cited a twice-daily news show produced by NBC that runs on Snapchat. According to Digiday, the brief show, Stay Tuned, was created specifically for the vertical-screen mobile experience. In 2018, Stay Tuned averaged 25 – 35 million unique viewers per month on Snapchat, according to data provided to NBC News by Snap. Only one-third of that audience also watches, reads or listens to NBC News content on other platforms, so two-thirds are a new NBC audience.

To top it off, about 75 percent of the “Stay Tuned” audience is under 25 and 90 percent is under 34, according to Snapchat, a significant accomplishment given that reaching younger audiences has provers to be a challenge for traditional print and network TV.

So the future isn’t all grim. It will just be different.

 

 

 

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A “Throw the Bums Out” Election? Not exactly.

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Despite all the current cultural and political turmoil, a lot less has changed with the election than you might think.

Nationally, after Tuesday’s election, despite Trump’s surprising win, Congressional delegations in most states in January will look pretty much almost exactly like they do now.

Similarly, in Oregon, despite the crushing defeat of Measure 97, backed by unions and Democrats, and Republican Dennis Richardson’s success in the Secretary of State race, the make-up of the next state Legislature will hardly change.

At the national level, races were competitive on Tuesday in only 40 of the 435 seats in the House, according to the non-partisan Cook Political Report. Many seats were so safe for one party or the other that there was only one candidate.

Some of that may be due to skillful gerrymandering of congressional districts, but it may also be due to the increasing tendency of people of a like mind congregating in the same geographies, the birds of a feather flock together trend.

Americans may say they prefer living in diverse communities, but the Pew Research Center says people don’t practice what they preach.

“Americans are increasingly sorted into think-alike communities that reflect not only their politics but their demographics,” Pew said in a January 2016 report.

That’s certainly true of Oregon.

The Republican Legislative Campaign Committee (RLCC), a state-oriented national organization that seeks to elect Republicans to state legislatures, identified the Oregon State Senate and House of Representatives as targets in the 2016 elections. You’d never know it.

Senate

A total of 16 seats out of the 30 in the State Senate were up for election in 2016. Of the 16 seats, Democrats fielded unopposed candidates in five and Republicans fielded unopposed candidates in two. In other words, voters really had no choice in almost half the seats.

Meanwhile, 4 incumbents—one Republican and three Democrats—didn’t run for re-election. Only one of those seats had competition between a Democrat and a Republican in the general election.

That meant there were only 9 Senate seats where there was competition between Republican and Democratic candidates. Incumbents won seven of those races. The other 2 seats were open races. In one case, Republican Senator Doug Whitsett decided unexpectedly to leave politics. In the other case, Democrat Senator Alan Bates died.

According to Ballotpedia, incumbents almost always win re-election in state legislative elections. Since 1972, except for one year, the win rate for incumbents hasn’t gone below 90 percent.

House

 All 60 seats in the Oregon House were up for election in 2016. Democrats fielded candidates unopposed by Republicans in one district and Republicans fielded candidates unopposed by Democrats in five districts. So voters really had no Republican vs. Democrat choice in 20 percent of the seats.

That meant only 24 House races involved competition between Republican and Democratic candidates. Incumbents who ran won every single one of their races. In the seven districts where no incumbent ran, the winner was from the same party in every case. No revolution there.

———

What does all this mean? In Oregon, there will be some new faces, but the ideological split will likely remain pretty much unchanged. Maybe that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Democrats will still control both chambers of the Oregon Legislature. However, they lost their chance to pick up an extra seat in the House to secure the three-fifths majority necessary to potentially pass bills to raise taxes without Republican support.

With the defeat of Measure 97, that hobbles the Democrats’ ability to go it alone on taxation alternatives.

As Martha Stewart would say, that’s a good thing.

 

Should the two major parties make the rules? It’s debatable.

thirdpartychoiceAnother reason why so many Americans are frustrated, despondent, and bitter this election year.

Both parties have lost ground among the public. Independents now outnumber either Democrats or Republicans, with 40% of Americans choosing that label, according to the Pew Research Center.

But the private, Democrat and Republican-created and -controlled Commission on Presidential Debates announced on Friday, Sept. 16, that only Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will be allowed on the stage for the first presidential debate.

This when:

  • In a recent Quinnipiac University poll that asked likely voters, “Do you think that Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for president, should be included in the presidential debates this year, or not?”, 62% answered “yes.”
  • Johnson is going to be on the ballot in all 50 states and the District of Columbia
  • A new Washington Post/Survey Monkey poll shows Johnson is in double digits in 42 states. In 15, he’s at 15 percent or higher, including 25 percent in New Mexico, 23 percent in Utah and 19 percent in Alaska, Idaho, and South Dakota.

So here we have a Commission that’s a creature of the two major parties setting the ground rules for who gets to be on the debate stage, securing free airtime for its choices on C-SPAN, ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC, as well as all cable news channels including CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and others.

Not exactly a reason to celebrate our political system, is it?

Think third party: your vote will not be wasted

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It doesn’t have to be a choice between an evil queen and a bombastic clown, two toxic, fatally flawed candidates.

About two-thirds of prospective voters consider both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton dishonest and untrustworthy. That’s millions of Americans who hold both candidates in high disregard, but appear ready to just hold their noses and vote for one of them, unwittingly helping to preserve the status quo. That’s insanity.

The idea that a third party candidate can’t win will then become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But there is another option in this presidential race. Support, and then vote for, a candidate from another party, such as  Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson or Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Your vote won’t be wasted and America will be the better for it.

As Eugene V. Debs, five-time presidential candidate of the Socialist Party of America, observed, “It is better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don’t want and get it.”

The potential receptivity of Oregonians to a third party is reflected in the fact that about a third of Oregon’s three million registered voters don’t belong to the Democratic or Republican Party.

Some of that is surely a clear decision by voters refusing to align themselves with one of the major parties. Some may be tied to Oregon’s new policy of automatically registering voters when they visit a Department of Motor Vehicles. Under that process, voters are automatically registered as “unaffiliated” and later given the option of picking a party choice, but most do nothing.

Nationally, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center recently reported that the share of independents in the public, which long ago surpassed the percentages of either Democrats or Republicans, continues to increase. In a 2016 report, based on 2014 data, 39% identify as independents, 32% as Democrats and 23% as Republicans. This is the highest percentage of independents in more than 75 years of public opinion polling, according to Pew.

In a 2014 Gallup poll, 58 percent of U.S. adults also favored having a third party because the Republican and Democratic parties “do such a poor job” representing the American people. Only 35 percent said the two existing major parties do an adequate job of this.

Your willingness to express support for a third party candidate will have one immediate impact. In 2000, the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), a private company, approved rules stipulating that, besides being on enough state ballots to win an Electoral College majority, debate participants must clear 15% in pre-debate opinion polls.

At a minimum, if you express your support for another party’s candidate, that person will have a better chance of joining the presidential debates, making Americans more aware of their positions and enhancing the possibility that they will emerge as a serious contender.

Don’t cop out by endorsing write-ins instead. If you agree that voting is about expressing a political preference, write-ins only signal a defection from the two-party system, not support for another person and agenda. Voting for a third party conveys endorsement of a recognizable set of principles, a public platform.

Even if your third party candidate doesn’t win, your vote will have an impact. Willie Sutton reputedly replied to a reporter’s inquiry as to why he robbed banks by saying “because that’s where the money is.” Politicians follow a similar principle. They go where the votes are. If voters reject the history, values and solutions of Clinton and Trump, other politicians will become more open to alternatives.

Americans will not be throwing away or wasting their votes by casting them for people and policies they support, rather than for the lesser of two evils.

As John Quincy Adams said, “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”

The only wasted vote is one that’s not cast at all.

(Postscript: The Chicago Tribune agrees: Editorial: Let Libertarian Gary Johnson debate Clinton and Trump, http://trib.in/2b6FGv4)

 

“Stupid is as stupid does.” – why so many Americans are ignorant about politics

Watch the Republican debate last night? Learn much about economic issues, the supposed focus of the debate? Didn’t think so.

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The substance of the debate was equivalent to this Onion news item: “Eerie: These Two Strangers, Thousands Of Miles Apart, Have Almost The Exact Same Initials”

The inanity and vacuousness of so much political news coverage today is frightening and candidates are part of the problem.

Consider these shallow, uninformative stories that ran recently in major media:

“Mike Tyson wants to see Trump in the White House”

“Supergirl” star responds to Jeb Bush calling her hot”

“GOP is like ‘Grumpycat’, Obama says”

Then we have politicians of all stripes all the way up to the president presenting their views on incredibly complex issues with 140 character tweets and Americans making voting decisions based on those misleading, one-sided tidbits.

Add to this noise the editorials and news stories about non-issues or that are so one-sided and without context that they are a waste of time to read.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, for example, just ran an editorial calling on Senator Rubio to resign because he has missed a lot of Senate votes during his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. The Washington Post ran a follow-up article on what it called the “ferocious” editorial. Nightly network news highlighted the issue last night, too, but none of them bothered to provide any context for the reader or noted that voting record accusations are a common campaign tactic of little relevance.

Had any of the media bothered to do any research, they would have found that Senator Barack Obama missed votes TWICE as often during the 2008 campaign’s early going, and Hillary Clinton ended up doing even worse!

In the final quarter of 2007, leading up to the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire Primary, Obama missed 89.4 per cent of his opportunities to vote, while Clinton, in hot pursuit for the Democratic presidential nomination, missed 83.5 per cent.

Then there’s the issue of whether anybody really cares about missed Senate votes.

As Politico reported today, “Going after Rubio that way was just a mistake,” said one of Bush’s donors. “No one cares about missed f–king votes in the Senate. Washington cares about that. The media cares about that. And losing candidates care about that. Jeb sounded like he was losing. And Marco made him pay.”

And, of course, there are the endless horse-race stories showing this candidate up or that candidate down in the polls and offering nothing more of substance.

In the early months of the 2008 presidential campaign, for example, a study released by the Pew Research Center found that the media offered Americans relatively little information about the candidates’ records or what they would do if elected, with 63% of the campaign stories focused on political and tactical aspects compared to just 17% that focused on the personal backgrounds of the candidates, 15% that focused on the candidates’ ideas and policy proposals and just 1% of stories that examined the candidates’ records or past public performance. It has likely gotten even worse since then.

And of course there’s a mind-numbing amount of “gaffe” coverage, particularly online. When a candidate says something that could be portrayed as a gaffe, critics of all stripes jump on it, trying to magnify its importance and reach and generate public alarm about it.

And even if you try to take politics seriously, the media and the candidates often treat it all as mere entertainment, more like the contest on The Voice or the Great Race.

For the media, and too many politicians, it’s all theater, all razzle-dazzle, as Billy Flynn, the silver-tongued lawyer in “Chicago”, so aptly put it.

“It’s all a circus, kid,” Flynn said. “A three ring circus…the whole world – all showbusiness.”

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With the news diet that’s fed to them, it’s no wonder Americans are so ill-informed about politics. The result? We get the politicians the 1 percent pay for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brian Williams is gone. So what?

For all the sturm and drang about Brian Williams’ banishment from NBC Nightly News, who really cares?

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Brian Williams

When Walter Cronkite anchored the CBS Evening News, about 28 million viewers tuned in on average.

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Today, fewer viewers tune in to CBS, ABC and NBC all together on a typical night.

The most recent State of the News Media study from the Pew Research Center reported that an average of just 22.6 million people watched one of the three commercial broadcast news programs on ABC, CBS or NBC in 2013, only 7 percent of the country’s 316.5 million population. And NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, the most-watched program, had an average of only 8.5 million viewers.

Even recognition of nightly news anchors has fallen precipitously. Another Pew Research study reported that in 1985, 47 percent of people polled recognized the face of CBS News anchor Dan Rather. In 2013, just 27 percent recognized Brian Williams.

The age of network evening news viewers is slipping, too, according to Pew Research. While a slight majority (56%) of those 65 and older say they watch nightly network news, only 26 percent of those age 30-49 do and just18 percent of Americans under 30.

Morning news is in trouble, too, with average viewership of 13.4 million. Even the leader, ABC’s Good Morning America, averaged only 5.5 million viewers

The networks’ Sunday morning political news shows aren’t exactly barn-burners either. In the last six months of 2012, Face the Nation on CBS averaged just 2.97 million viewers, NBC’s Meet the Press 2.94 million viewers and ABC’s This Week 2.57 million viewers.

So where are Americans going for their news?

Not print newspapers. Their circulation has been dropping like a stone. And even though many of the top online news sites belong to print newspaper companies, online ad revenue is far from replacing lost print ad revenue.

“As the digital revolution continues to erode the print newspaper business, the only ones likely to survive will be those backed by the almost unlimited funds of billionaires…,” observes Accuracy in Media. The only problem is that the number of struggling newspapers far outnumbers the billionaires willing to save them.”

In other words, the present and the future are digital. So much for evening network news anchors. Sorry, Lester.

Vote? Fuhgettaboutit

A bunch of folks won in Oregon’s May  20 primary elections, but that doesn’t mean they enjoy the enthusiastic support of Oregonians. In fact, far too often a small number of Oregonians are determining the winners and losers in Oregon politics. Only about one-third of registered voters bothered to vote in the May primaries.

And this doesn’t take into account the fact that significant numbers of eligible adults 18 years and older are not even registered to vote.

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In the hotly contested Republican primary for the U.S. Senate race against Jeff Merkley, candidate Monica Wehby captured 132,501 votes, 49.99 percent. That allowed her to overcome her principal challenger, Jason Conger, who pulled in 99,706 votes, 37.61 percent.

Wehby’s victory sounds impressive until you realize that there are 650,176 Oregonians registered as Republicans. That means Wehby won the primary with the votes of just 19.77 percent of registered Republicans. Those are the only people who can vote in Oregon’s Republican primary in the state’s closed primaries.

Votes in Washington County Commission races were similarly low. There are 284,138 registered voters in the county.For the nonpartisan Commissioner-at-large position, Andy Duyck won with 43,837 votes. That’s 15.4 percent of registered voters.

The fact is, despite Oregon’s much-vaunted vote-by-mail system, the May primary had one of Oregon’s lowest voter turnouts ever and turnout has been falling for years.

Why?

In races where there seems to be no real contest, motivating voters to turn out is damn hard. Jeff Merkley won the Democratic primary for U.S. Senator with 271,344 votes, just 33 percent of registered Democrats.

In other cases, it’s hard to get excited when there truly is no contest. For example, in three Metro races the incumbent candidates, Carlotta Collette, Shirley Craddick and Kathryn Harrington, had no opponents.

In some cases the ideological split in a voting district is so unbalanced, with Democrats or Republicans firmly in control, that going to the polls if you’re in the minority seems like a total waste of time. A Republican in Multnomah County may feel that way as may eligible voters in most Congressional districts in the U.S. According to the Pew Research Center, political scientists and analysts disagree on why so few House districts are competitive; some blame gerrymandering, while others say the district maps reflect a politically polarized America where people are more likely to live among those who think like they do.

Then there are the races that just don’t engage voters, where few voters feel any connection to whoever wins and probably couldn’t even name the incumbent if asked.

Of course, Oregon’s closed primary system is also a guilty party. With 648,146 Oregonians registered as Nonpartisan (nonaffiliated, minor parties & others), a number that’s been growing steadily, none of them can vote in a Republican or Democratic primary.

There’s also the growing disenchantment with politics and politicians in general in Oregon and across the country. In Kentucky, for example, turnout was only 26 percent in a nationally covered intensely competitive primary between U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Matt Bevin.