E! News or Election News: How Politics Became Another Gossip Column

Awards Issue 2016

With the general election less than 6 months away, media outlets are overflowing with the latest news about the shrinking number of candidates. Whether it be news on Trump’s latest outburst or Bernie and Hillary’s latest spat, the media are quick to broadcast it and the public is quick to consume it. We love hearing the latest stories about the election because, at the end of the day, most of what we read about these candidates is merely gossip disguised as political news. Meanwhile, many real political stories are not getting out to the public. Political news has come to be synonymous with news on the election, and this is unacceptable.

Whereas it could be thought of as a waste of time to talk at length about Kim Kardashian’s latest hairstyle, it is completely acceptable to spend hours discussing the opinions, lives, and even hairstyles of these public figures. And in many ways, it makes sense that we should be having conversations about the people that may one day lead this country;

But where do we draw the line between valid discussions about the character of a candidate, and an endless stream of ‘news’ reiterating what we already knew about these people months ago?

The problems arise when candidate gossip is broadcast instead of other, equally or often more important, political news. Merriam Webster Dictionary defines politics as “activities that relate to influencing the actions and policies of a government.” This suggests that political coverage should include not only news on elections, but on other political processes as well, such as new laws being passed, protests; anything that influences the policies of this country

While mainstream news is quick to discuss a candidate’s spending, there is little talk from these sources about how money is spent elsewhere in politics. I’m talking about the corporations that routinely use their big bucks to influence members of government. However, last April there was a very large protest in Washington D.C. that addressed this very issue, a protest backed by thousands of demonstrators and over 300 organizations. Over 1,400 people were arrested to send a message.

democracy awakeningNot surprisingly, this event, called Democracy Awakening, was not able to get its message out to many. The protests received virtually no mainstream media coverage. I could find only three major US news sources who covered the event in any detail, and I had to dig. So unless you’re tuned to the same news sources as me (such as those involved with organizing the event), you probably heard nothing about this important rally.

In many ways, this makes sense. Discussing politics — that is, political gossip — is low-hanging fruit as far as current affairs go. It does not require a lot of time and energy spend reading the news to be able to hold an intelligent conversation about the topic, because we all know the story: three candidates, two extremists, and one man stricken with verbal diarrhea who is now attempting to mop up his mess.

This mess was strategic on the part of Trump; whether you agree with his rhetoric or not, you were certainly talking about it. His extreme and brash message has been regularly reported on as political news, and the abundance of coverage on this topic has lead to it being virtually impossible to have a conversation about politics without the mention of his name.

‘Trump’ is the ultimate buzz word of this election season, and the mere mention of his name will immediately elicit a response, whether is be a groan, an eye-roll, or perhaps a cheer. The media has done an excellent job in this manner: they broadcast Trump’s message, not just for all the country, but for all the world to hear. And as if Trump wasn’t clogging the arteries of the news enough, throw in talk of Hillary vs. Bernie, and there remains virtually no room for any other kind of political coverage. Herein lies one of the problems.

The other problem is that the nature of this particular election season has lead to an emphasis on the candidates instead of the issues. It is not hard to get a sense of what each candidate stands for, but for the longest time, debates between both the Republican and Democratic nominees were clogged with drama which, again, left no room for actual discussion of the issues.

Voters are being swept up by a wave of gossip, and many simply chose the candidate who they hate the least rather than picking the candidate to support based on the issues. And this wave does not only distort the actual nature of the election, but of the political scene in the country, and even the world.

When reporting on political news, the media needs to take care to paint a picture of the entire political scene and not just of the election. The policies of this country are affected by more than any single election, and the media must recognize that is it irresponsible to only report on one aspect of politics, especially if the only reason for doing so is to boost ratings. The proximity of an election should have little effect on how other political events are being reported on. The media has a responsibility to provide people with well-rounded news, or, at least, it should have that responsibility.