Amy Goodman uses this op-ed in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to take television networks down a notch, accusing them of gauging campaigns for air time, and failing to devote adequate time or attention to actually reporting on the campaigns as they unfold. She points to the Fair Elections Now Act in the Senate as a good measure to shift some of the money lining broadcasters' pockets into other voter education and involvement measures.
Candidates -- particularly on the national level -- need television exposure to win, and broadcasters take every advantage of that, turning, as Goodman describes, campaign fundraising into a funnel between a donor's wallet and a television network's pocket:
The costs of running for federal office have been skyrocketing. More than $880 million was raised by the 2004 presidential campaigns. The 2008 election is predicted to cost more than $1 billion; 60 percent will be spent on advertising.
Citizens are the losers, and the broadcasters and elite political consultants are the winners. We ought to turn this around. The public owns the airwaves that are being used by the big corporate broadcasters. The broadcasters, such as NBC, ABC and CBS, have an obligation to use those airwaves "in the public interest, convenience and necessity." These profitable corporations take the public airwaves for free, then peddle them for exorbitant advertising rates.
I wonder how much voter disengagement in elections is a result of the poor quality of most television coverage of the subject. While the internet has created an environment for deeper engagement with candidates and in elections by interested voters, broadcast media is still where most people get the bulk of their information, and for the most part its pretty meager stuff. You get quick coverage of campaign stops, sound bites, maybe a story on the latest inflammatory campaign ad, and the occassional broadcast of a major speech or debate, all of which seems easily pre-empted by the lastest flashy tabloid story.
Wouldn't it be refreshing to see a Fair Elections policy, with its emphasis on ideas and not money have a corresponding influence on the emphasis of the news media on campaigns?