The Media's Daily Search for a 'Game Changer'

It's generally the case that presidential campaign coverage is dominated by brainless non-issues. This is of course largely the fault of the candidates, but the media share some of the blame. Because of networks' ratings-bias, there is no such thing as a minor controversy -- everything is of earth-shattering importance and any little slip could destroy a candidate's chances at the presidency.

As a result, the media portrayal the campaign news of the day and reality are two entirely different things. Minor issues and trivial embarrassments get blown entirely out of proportion -- not because the media misunderstands what constitutes "big news," but because they hope to inflate fumbles into flaming wrecks.

In a piece for FiveThirtyEight on spring polling and their ability to predict nothing, Micah Cohen brings up exactly this problem:

Already, partisans and pundits are criticizing individual polling samples and pollster methodologies. Entire “-gates” – Rosen-gate and dog-gate, for example – have erupted, been fought over and then forgotten in mere days, and each poll is scrutinized to see how the latest controversy has affected the race.

Oops, guess we're not supposed to notice that the big, all-consuming stories-of-the-day tend to go absolutely nowhere. Hilary Rosen disses Ann Romney and everyone's supposed to be outraged. It totally shifted the "War on Women" dynamic -- except it didn't. The needle on the public outcry meter didn't so much as quiver. Mitt's big counter-offensive in the War on Women was a bust and Republicans in general find themselves just as unpopular with women as they were before -- if not worse off.

The trick is finding some "game changer" that has a shelflife longer than a couple of days. Maybe this will be the one:

President Barack Obama isn't just playing politics - he may be committing fraud on the taxpayer's dime, the Republican National Committee charged on Wednesday.

In a letter to the Government Accountability Office from RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, the committee requested an investigation into Obama's recent travel - including trips this week to Iowa and North Carolina - alleging those trips were more political than official.

...Obama's recent speeches, the RNC said in the letter, were "events widely reported to be equivalent to campaign rallies." The committee's case sees supporting evidence in a list of the states Obama has visited this month, including the general election battlegrounds of Florida, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina and Ohio.

As Hart Williams points out, "Gee. Less than two weeks ago, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan committed a felony on camera in Wisconsin. How come nobody seems concerned about that, if 'abusing the system' is such a big deal?" It's a rhetorical question, but I'll answer it: because both stories are trivial.

So, after that fails to take off, we can start freaking out over this Breitbart revelation:

Last night, President Obama appeared on Jimmy Fallon’s unwatchable show to “slow-jam the news.” By this, Fallon meant that Obama would read a campaign speech about student loans, Fallon would utter a few lines to back him up every so often, and his lead band singer would warble in support of Obama’s propaganda.

Only one problem, aside from the fact that this was possibly the worst “comedy” segment in the history of mankind: it violated campaign finance law.

Except of course, it's not.

The desire for campaigns to see these non-stories become huge scandals is obvious. And the media wants them to drive ratings. But the big scandal in this campaign season so far is that in 21st century America, women's rights are an issue. The media may find the War on Women old and stale and Team Romney hopes you forget all about it.

But so far, it's the biggest issue of the year. Barring disaster, I don't see that changing. The game stubbornly refuses to be changed.


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