Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Again, with the Narrative

Once more, the American commercial news media have created a story and then reported it as “news.”


How long, just how long can this go on?


Polls, the day before the New Hampshire primary, show Hillary Clinton suddenly dropping far behind Barack Obama. Clinton has an emotional moment before the primary. She wins the primary. Suddenly, we have a story, a narrative the news media can get their teeth into. Rather than simply reporting the news, they can create it.


If there is a story at all, here, it is in the unquestioned acceptance of the polls. Looked at rationally, no one in their right mind could have believed that Clinton dropped from a lead to a double-digit deficit in five days, days during which she performed well and during which Obama did nothing spectacular. The polling data should have raised alarm bells, leading the news media to start asking why the polls were proving so volatile in what was—for all the media hoopla over Obama’s win in Iowa—a reasonably stable political situation.


It didn’t. Instead, the news media have latched on to the easy story, the one they can project forward and back in a nice, simple form. The New Hampshire voters are ornery, I heard one commentator say, and refused to be buffaloed by the Iowa results.


Say what? People don’t vote just to send that kind of message. To claim so is to be ridiculous on the face of it. But that’s the kind of narrative that the members of the commercial news media like to build, for it is simple and understandable—silly though it might be, on serious examination.


By uncritically accepting the polling data, the news media were deliberately setting up a number of stories, the one used depending on the actual results. Had Clinton lost, the story would have been of a fall from grace. That she won becomes a “comeback.”


But she was never falling, and had never gone away.


When, oh when, will the commercial news media begin to simply report the news, rather than twisting it into stories that it can manipulate over a series of days or weeks? When, rather than taking on the entertainer’s role, will they recognize that their job should be to find and share information, not to tell stories?

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