The media's obsession with political gaffes: 4 downsides
It seems like 2012 has given us a relentless supply of supposed gaffes from President Obama, Republican challenger Mitt Romney, and seemingly every other candidate for elective office. Indeed, the "media's preoccupation with each inartfully phrased or impolitic remark" has come to define the election, and not in a good way, say Michael Calderone and Sam Stein at The Huffington Post. "Gaffes get tweeted, blogged, and reported. Cable pundits declare them game-changers," and rival campaigns pounce. Then the next political story "becomes whether the campaign gaffed in cleaning up its gaffe." Ugh. Here, four ways this often-contrived "non-stop gaffe-a-thon" is ruining American politics:
1. The media is training the public to subsist on gaffes
It's about time for a "post-gaffe-a-thon media self-examination," says Eric Wemple at The Washington Post. You might not know it, but news organizations are doing some "seriously substantive" coverage of the campaigns. But "broccoli" like Romney's education policy or Obama's tax plan is harder to digest than dessert-like gaffes. So the public gobbles up the gaffes, the media produces more, and they start to overwhelm the coverage. As a nation, we need fewer empty political calories, says Carla Marinucci in the San Francisco Chronicle. "Even veteran political operatives worry that that the increasing tendency of media, bloggers, and the Twitter-sphere to focus on the candidates' missteps distorts and minimizes coverage of serious policy differences and campaign issues."
2. And it turns politicians into boring robots
"Reporters complain that Romney's too robotic and Obama's too detached," say The Huffington Post's Calderone and Stein, but it's largely the media's own fault. "The chances of unscripted moments or off-the-cuff question-and-answer sessions" are increasingly remote, because campaigns fear that journalists are only looking to seize on gaffes. "The energy of the press corps is to find the silliest and most twistable thing said on any given day and run with that," says GOP strategist Steve Schmidt. Of course, smart candidates "are going to be more closed off from the press."
3. The gaffe label is often applied dishonestly
"I'm not against gaffe coverage," up to a point, says Ruth Marcus at The Washington Post. But there's no excuse for "covering only gaffes," and even worse is this year's "full flowering of the faux gaffe, in which a candidate is skewered for saying something that he clearly did not mean but that the other side finds immensely useful to misrepresent," generally out of context. (Take, for example, Romney's "I like being able to fire people" or Obama's "you didn't build that.") Tell me about it, says Jennifer Rubin, also in The Post. The political press creates "a feeding frenzy over nothing, actually building an entire narrative on its own ignorance."
4. Gaffe coverage creates a cycle of negativity
One reason this presidential race has been so negative is that each candidate's "less-than-artful remarks serve[e] as chum for the feeding frenzy of attacks ads and media coverage," says the San Francisco Chronicle's Marinucci. That feeds a vicious cycle in which an unfairly maligned candidate gets nervous and tongue-tied, generating even more supposed gaffes.