The election is one week away. Pundits are talking about the "home stretch," or saying that the candidates are "rounding third," and using similar sports analogies. These analogies, while they appear to be used purely to make an article sound exciting, are important to our world of American politics. We live in a society where political discussions are usually associated with heterosexual masculinity and male-identified sports. Candidates don't just defeat their opponents by a wide margin, they "slam dunk" them. A good line in a debate is the "touchdown pass." These metaphors play upon the central notion that a politician must be tough to serve in office. Hence, generals like Eisenhower have an advantage, because they don't need to assert their masculinity. George H.W. Bush needed to overcome his image as a "wimp" in order to take the presidency. This rhetoric also defines women out of the political domain. We don't picture a WNBA player on the court; we picture Michael Jordan.
So what does all this academic drivel mean? If you're skimming through this opinion to avoid the intellectual side of the argument, here's the point: this entire general election has been much glitter and little substance, just like the 1972 and 1988 elections. The media, because of a desire for a story, focuses so much on the strategy and game aspects of the election that actual substance is lost in the translation. Masculinity takes away intellectualism and engaged political discussion. Just as you won't find anyone discussing Sartre after three games of pong, you also won't find The New York Times reporting on a crucial change in the Gore plan for social security. If Bush puts the emphASis on the wrong syllABle and Gore says he can broker peace in the Middle East, who gets on the news? This "horserace" coverage strategy of the media creates a game to simplify the election into something easily understandable, to put the sensationalism of inflammatory types of media (When Buildings Fall Down 2, etc.) into a campaign. Suddenly, campaigns aren't just military expeditions waged by the voter; they are fast paced games of baseball, football, or any other sport we like to watch.
While academics say that there is no political bias concerning the ideology of the media, I have noticed that certain publications with ideological bents seem to be consciously trying to sway the vote. There may be no "vast right wing conspiracy," but certain journals like the National Review change their media presentation as the election comes to an end. The current issue (online at wwww.nationalreview.com ) features four articles that view Gore or Lieberman negatively and two articles that show off Bush. In contrast, the ultra-liberal www.salon.com has two headlining articles against Bush and two headlining articles that are decidedly pro-Gore. While I don't have much of a problem with partisanship, I do take offense at the increasingly negative portrayals of the opposing candidates in these magazines. In the summer, when I first started reading these two sites, the articles were much more informative and more driven on insight than blind partisan support. The horserace of the campaign strikes again now, and as a result, the final few weeks contain many highly partisan and less informative articles.
The media may not be biased as a whole, but a bias within a media source may reflect the interest of the people and make money for that source -- that does not make us debate issues like Kennedy and Nixon in 1960 or Reagan and Carter in 1980. In fact, the media's ideological and self-interested bias makes for less political discourse and a less-informed electorate. Candidates become mere caricatures in the face of the media. We vote for George Bush, the simpleton, the oil tycoon, or Al Gore and his 1001 faces. We don't know the candidate, just the carefully planned campaigns where every public appearance is scripted and every speech filled with vague terms designed to appeal to the "average person." We have a homogenized democracy.