The news media is full of it these days. The Republican presidential primaries, that is. But thanks to the short attention span of most news organizations, by the time you read this, the New Hampshire primary will be a distant memory, the Iowa caucuses ancient history. So it’s on to South Carolina, for yet another show business extravaganza masquerading as democratic politics.
A bottomless schedule of television debates interrupted only by an endless stream of spin and speculation ought to satisfy even the most avid political junkie. It’s news workers themselves who can’t get enough of this stuff. At times, it seems the entire U.S. press corps is suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder.
"U.S. news workers dutifully ignored charges by civil liberties and human rights organizations that the indefinite detention provision is illegal and unconstitutional."
Between an unnatural fixation with public opinion polls and the horse race coverage that passes for political journalism this election cycle – from Michele Bachmann’s early win in the Iowa Straw Poll and Newt Gingrich’s implosion to Rick Santorum’s last minute surge – it’s no wonder more substantive news stories fail to get much traction.
In the annals of censorship, the 2012 presidential election is shaping up to be a next-generation WMD: weapon of mass distraction. In no particular order, here are a few stories that haven’t made much news lately.
President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law on New Year’s Eve while vacationing in Hawaii. Mainstream news outlets dutifully reported the partisan debate over budget priorities that preceded the president’s action.
But the law’s far more controversial and ominous element – an indefinite detention provision that allows Obama, and his successors, to detain American citizens without charge or trial – went virtually unnoticed in the U.S. news media.
In an action alert, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) noted that the new law “has no time or geographic limits. It can be used by this and future presidents to militarily detain people captured far from any battlefield.”
With the notable exception of Texas congressman Ron Paul, Obama’s presidential overreach hasn’t raised many objections among the GOP contenders – despite the candidates’ deep-seated distrust of Big Government. For their part, U.S. news workers dutifully ignored charges by civil liberties and human rights organizations that the indefinite detention provision is illegal and unconstitutional.
Conspicuously absent from round-the-clock coverage of the New Hampshire primary was the name Buddy Roemer. The former governor of Louisiana and four-term congressman was on the Republican ballot in the Granite State, along with Mitt Romney, John Huntsman and the rest. But Roemer’s candidacy was MIA in the incessant coverage leading up to Tuesday’s first-in-the-nation primary. What’s more, Roemer was not invited to participate in either of last weekend’s debates – bringing the total to 16 such debates he has been excluded from.
"What’s up with the media blackout of Roemer’s candidacy?"
When rank-and-file Republicans and U.S. news workers continue to lament the lackluster field of GOP candidates, why shouldn’t Roemer get an invitation to the dance? More to the point, what’s up with the media blackout of Roemer’s candidacy?
After all, Roemer’s campaign is unique among Republican contenders. As Democracy Now! reported, Roemer “has refused to accept campaign contributions more than $100, rejected all donations from political action committees, and has made campaign finance the key plank in his platform.”
News accounts of the GOP primaries routinely mention Super PACs and the enormous sums Republican candidates and their surrogates are spending this campaign season. And yet, when a respected and experienced lawmaker like Roemer limits the dollar amount of campaign contributions and forgoes donations from PACs, the American news media is silent.
In the annals of censorship, Roemer’s unconventional campaign – a textbook example of what journalists call a “man bites dog” story – simply isn’t unusual enough to merit press coverage.
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) has created a firestorm in cyberspace. But you wouldn’t know it if you get your news from broadcast and cable television. Meanwhile, big name tech companies, including Tumblr, Twitter, Yahoo! and Google have joined the likes of Internet rights groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation in a campaign to stop SOPA.
Should the House measure (H.R. 3261) and its companion bill in the US Senate (S. 968) – the Internet Blacklist Legislation or PROTECT IP Act – become law, the Internet would be subject to all manner of censorship. According to the nonpartisan, media reform group Free Press, SOPA “could rip apart the open fabric of the Internet. People could see their websites disappear from the Internet for a ‘crime’ as innocent as posting a video of themselves singing along to a favorite song.”
"Without missing a beat, occupiers recently dispersed from their encampments by paramilitary forces descended on Iowa and New Hampshire, challenging the entire GOP field."
In contrast to the media blackout on broadcast and cable television, print journalists are joining the online chorus against SOPA. In the annals of censorship, it’s no coincidence that the public interest takes a back seat to the financial interests of ABC, CBS, FOX, and MSNBC and other big media companies that support SOPA.
Occupy the Primaries
When the mainstream media finally got around to covering the Occupy movement, reporters and pundits seized on a media narrative that suggested the movement lacked coherence. After all, critics charged, the Occupy movement was leaderless. Worse yet, the Occupiers have a laundry list of complaints, but they haven’t made a single demand.
Without missing a beat, occupiers recently dispersed from their encampments by paramilitary forces descended on Iowa and New Hampshire, challenging the entire GOP field. In the spirit of bipartisan protest, Occupiers appeared at Democratic Party headquarters as well.
However, these actions rarely get much press attention – a stark contrast to the extensive coverage tea party activists received during the healthcare “debate” of 2009, when they disrupted town hall meetings in congressional districts across the country. What’s more, the U.S. press is turning a deaf ear to a provocative demand emerging from the Occupy movement: a constitutional convention to end corporate personhood.
The Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling Citizens United – a decision that equates unlimited corporate political spending with free speech – is the target of such calls. And as the consequences of Citizens United become clear, lawmakers from coast to coast have issued similar calls to repeal it. But you won’t hear much about that from the mainstream media either.
In the annals of censorship, such a fundamental challenge to the corporate dominance of electoral politics is strictly off limits.
Kevin Howley is associate professor of media studies at DePauw University. He is editor of Understanding Community Media (Sage, 2010) and the forthcoming Media Interventions (Peter Lang). He writes regularly on media, culture and politics at e-chreia.