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Friday, March 14, 2008

When Will the Issues Trump Innuendo?

Ann-Marie Luciano

There are many real issues affecting voters today, none of which seem to be the focus of the media's reporting on the presidential campaign. The mortgage meltdown, the falling dollar, ever-increasing gas prices, soaring health care costs, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan – all of these issues are affecting the every day lives of Americans.

But listening to the news this election year, one would think that allegations of racism, sexism (and, in case of Eliot Spitzer – sex) are the only matters of concern on voters' minds.

The focus of the media's attention has been to make stories about words – mere words – and to speculate as to what those words mean about a candidate's true beliefs (as if anyone genuinely suspects that Clinton is racist, Obama is sexist or that McCain is both).

Both the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates have had their campaign speeches, press conferences and even the debates derailed by having to make forced apologies for their own misstatements, and increasingly, for those of their surrogates.

(The list is long: starting with Senator Joe Biden's apology for calling Obama "clean and articulate"; Clinton's New Hampshire Co-Chair Bill Shaheen's resignation for stating that Republicans would ask Obama if he sold drugs to anyone; Obama having to "reject and denounce" Louis Farrakhan's support during a debate; Clinton's apology to black voters for Bill Clinton's remarks; McCain's apology for Bob Cunningham's frequent reference to Obama in a speech as "Barack Mohammed Hussein Obama"; Obama adviser Samantha Power's recent resignation for calling Clinton a "monster" off the record; and now Geraldine Ferraro's resignation for claiming that Obama was only successful because of his race).

Is this just an omen of what is to come in the general election – news reduced to the least common denominator?

Where does all of this get us – the voters? Since McCain became the Republican nominee, there has been little substantive back-and-forth on the issues between him and the Democratic candidates. Rather, the media has focused (with unprecedented interest) on the statements and actions of Obama and Clinton's surrogates, fanning the flames of "gotcha politics" and forcing the candidates to first defend, and then fire, their staff.

Who is to blame? Does the blame lie with the media, who choose what stories to write and what questions to ask the candidates? Or, does the blame also lie with the candidates, who allow themselves to be thrown off message rather than insisting that the focus of the debate surround ideas rather than innuendo?

Maybe part of the blame lies with us. Most of the media feeds the consumer whatever brings big ratings, and big ratings usually occur whenever there is a story that involves sex or race. I don't think the media will start covering the real issues until the public demands that the media focus on stories that affect them rather than the candidates.

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