Paul Krugman: Networks prefer puff over policy

Paul Krugman complains of US media’s near obsession with puff rather than hard policy facts. He also points out some interesting differences in how some politicians are represented differently, usually along party lines. Kevin Drum also talks about it, and gives more links to related stories.

Well, I’ve been reading 60 days’ worth of transcripts from the places four out of five Americans cite as where they usually get their news: the major cable and broadcast television networks. Never mind the details – I couldn’t even find a clear statement that Kerry wants to roll back recent high-income tax cuts and use the money to cover most of the uninsured. When reports mentioned the Kerry plan at all, it was usually horse race analysis – how it’s playing, not what’s in it.

The same things seems to play out on this side of the Atlantic. Always about how its playing rather than what is playing. Having read a large amount of transcripts Krugman made some discoveries, such as:

On the other hand, everyone knows that Teresa Heinz Kerry told someone to “shove it,” though even there, the context was missing. Except for a brief reference on MSNBC, none of the transcripts I’ve read mention that the target of her ire works for Richard Mellon Scaife, a billionaire who financed smear campaigns against the Clintons – including accusations of murder. (CNN did mention Scaife on its Web site, but described him only as a donor to “conservative causes.”) And viewers learned nothing about Scaife’s long vendetta against Heinz Kerry herself.

And points out amusingly:

Somewhere along the line, television news stopped reporting on candidates’ policies, and turned instead to trivia that supposedly reveal their personalities. We hear about Kerry’s haircuts, not his health care proposals. We hear about President George W. Bush’s brush-cutting, not his environmental policies.

Or this:

A Columbia Journalism Review Web site called says its analysis “reveals a press prone to needlessly introduce Senators Kerry and Edwards and Kerry’s wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, as millionaires or billionaires, without similar labels for President Bush or Vice President Cheney.”

As the site points out, the Bush campaign has been “hammering away with talking points casting Kerry as out of the mainstream because of his wealth, hoping to influence press coverage.” The campaign isn’t claiming that Kerry’s policies favor the rich – they manifestly don’t, while Bush’s manifestly do. Instead, we’re supposed to dislike Kerry simply because he’s wealthy (and not notice that his opponent is, too). Republicans, of all people, are practicing the politics of envy, and the media obediently go along.

Krugman leaves us with some juicy post scripts:

Jeb Bush, the governor of Florida, insists that electronic voting machines are perfectly reliable, but The St. Petersburg Times says the Republican Party of Florida has sent out a flier urging supporters to use absentee ballots because the machines lack a paper trail and cannot “verify your vote.”

Ah e-voting, my favorite subject. Of course they are ‘perfectly reliable’ as Bush says. And monkeys might fly out of his ass. And the second PS:

Three weeks ago, The New Republic reported that the Bush administration was pressuring Pakistan to announce a major terrorist capture during the Democratic convention. Hours before Kerry’s acceptance speech, Pakistan announced, several days after the fact, that it had apprehended an important Qaeda operative.

What a coincidence.