The Media and the "Second-Tier"

I have been following the Ron Paul presidential campaign for literally a couple of weeks, so not that long. Still when I finally paid enough attention to get interested in his campaign I discovered how frustrating the media can be when you are interested in hearing and seeing the "second tier" candidates.

In spite of being approximately a year out from any major nominating convention the media has already determined who does and does not have a chance of getting the nomination. Of course this is pretty standard for political pundits however, they are also actively reinforcing the candidates positions as front runners or "second tier candidates."

For example the front runners in debates will get asked nearly every question and are typically allowed extra time to answer it even after the official time has ended. While they move on quickly from the long shot candidates and often do not offer others the chance to debate what has been said.

The lesser candidates are lucky if they get to answer 2-3 questions during the whole event. Meanwhile it seems the "second tier" notion is being emphasized on the local level as well. From the Austin-American Statesman (the article is about the upcoming Texas straw poll):

 

Sydney Hay, Hunter's campaign manager, predicted that conservatives
will "again prove that this is not just a race between a couple of
so-called 'front-runners' whose current lead in the national polls is
based on pure name ID alone and is in steady decline as Republican
voters begin to learn about the candidates."

GOP consultant Chad Wilbanks warned against activists favoring a
lesser-known candidate because actual voters in the March primary will
be unlikely to follow their lead, rendering the poll results
meaningless.

Participants "are going to have to choose someone who has a
realistic chance of winning, even if they're not there," Wilbanks said.
"They cannot pick a second-tier candidate. You want to have some sort
of credibility."

 

So Texas Republicans are being discouraged from picking a candidate in a non-binding vote that has not already been determined to be a frontrunner by the media and the traditional polls. Meanwhile the strong finish of second tier candidates in other local and state straw polls has not inspired the media in the least to reassess the "second-tier" label of any of these candidates, and of course an internet following doesn't count for anything.

Thus mainstream media is turning "second-tier" status into a self fulfilling prophecy. In fact the republican CNN-YouTube debate has seemingly been called off because of the refusal of the front runners to participate. First it was postponed, and now it is being called the "Florida debate." It is unclear if youTubers will get to participate or if it will just be another canned frontrunner media spot.

Yet if the frontrunners do not want to field questions from youTubers while the second-tier lesser heard candidates do isn't the solution to let all parties have their wish? It would be really nice to hear a debate that was not 90 percent Rudy and Mitt. Those two not showing up would make for a far more interesting hour of television, and we might actually get some straight answers for once.

Of course CNN cannot have a debate with only second-tier candidates, that would, after all scar its credibility as a debate venue. Front-runners it turns out hold within their magnanimous talking heads the entire legitimacy of the whole process.

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Inevitable

Some things are inevitable, given certain constraints. The broadcast medium imposes a tight bottleneck on what people are able to see through any given channel, and this will in turn force the administrators of that channel to make choices about what to include and how much of each thing to include. Those choices will reflect their human judgment which will not always be identical to what I, random viewer, would consider clearly to be the optimal choice, or the fairest choice, by whatever criterion I choose that is to my eyes clearly superior to whatever deeply biased and cretinous method of selection that they doubtless use.

This may be why I do not watch the news. I am simply not interested in most of what I see. If I want to know about something - say, Ron Paul - I Google it. I check Google News, Google Video (which covers Youtube), and Google Web, and possibly some others (I've started using Google Blog Search). I also browse my blog aggregator. I can usually find many people much more obsessed than I am and use them as guides to whatever else is available. I can - and do - obsess about certain things while ignoring others, so in a way I am like a channel. Only about one thing is getting into my head at a time. I've tried absorbing two things at a time but I notice a marked degradation in what I'm able to absorb (for example, I cannot listen to music and pay serious attention to an article or book at the same time - if I have the music playing I end up either ignoring the music or getting stuck on a paragraph in the article).

But it's my choice, not a broadcaster's choice.

If you've noticed that broadcasters aren't making the choices you would have made in their shoes, the best suggestion I know of today is to use the web and essentially ignore television. It's what I do.

If, however, you are concerned about what other people see, if you wish that broadcast showed other people the kinds of things you would like them to see - and this seems to be a primary concern when people complain about the media - then there isn't really much that you can do about that. As long as people choose to watch the TV to receive their news, and as long as the TV is not controlled by people just like you, I think you will always be deeply disappointed.

My point was just that the

My point was just that the mainstream media was reinforcing the poll positions of the candidates. Not only through the amount of air time they allow to candidates in debates but also by their choice of who to consider "front-runners" or not and which polls to consider newsworthy. In other words if a lesser known candidate does well in a state poll they fault the poll and consider it flawed or a fluke of some sort.
Like when internet voters said Ron Paul won the May republican debate Fox went to great effort to explain away the phenomenon as being created by some sort of online bot. Sean Hannity went so far as to claim that a liberal blog had encouraged their readers to vote for him in order to undermine the republicans.
Meanwhile when the front runners do well there are no reported theories about stray bots and liberal masterminding. Of course it is hard for someone to "win" a debate when they were barely even heard from.
So basically they are saying "this person couldn't have won because we know we didn't give them the chance."
This isn't about me wanting to control what other people see. I saw all but one of the debates via YouTube. This is about the fact that they (mainstream journalists and presumably their producers/networks) are intentionally biasing their presentations of candidates, and coverage of political news and polls in favor of a certain few candidates and against others.
Journalists are supposed to just report the news. Certainly it makes sense that more popular candidates would naturally get more air time. It does not make sense that even with John McCain's campaign falling apart they consider him a front runner while Mike Huckabee is still a "second tier candidate" even after placing second in Iowa's straw poll.
This is relevant because the Iowa straw poll is considered to be a stronger indicator of how a candidate would do in the Iowa Caucus than the traditional polls (this is why Romney spent so much cash to win it). Meanwhile McCain, Guiliani, and Fred Thompson all did poorly scoring well behind the so-called long shot candidates.
Also it turns out I cannot watch a debate on YouTube that doesn't actually take place. So yes I would like to see CNN produce the republican YouTube debate if for no other reason than I would like to hear Ron Paul and Tom Tancreado field questions from persons with a little more sense than George Stephanopolis, they could maybe even debate each other (imagine that).

Still inevitable

My point was just that the mainstream media was reinforcing the poll
positions of the candidates.

That is merely the inevitable effect of the choices they make, and that they make choices is itself inevitable. So it is inevitable from beginning to end. Sure, they do not make the exact same choices you would have made in their shoes. That is also virtually inevitable. We're not carbon copies of each other.

Not only through the amount of air time
they allow to candidates in debates but also by their choice of who to
consider "front-runners" or not and which polls to consider newsworthy.

Everyone makes judgment calls, and those calls tend to be different from the judgment calls that other people make. Just a few days ago Patri Friedman wrote a blog entry here in which he made a judgment call against Lott and for Levitt, where other people would, and did, make different judgments about Lott. That's not his fault - he has to do it, we all have to do it, we have to make decisions based on incomplete information and my decisions are not going to be the same as someone else's decisions.

In other words if a lesser known candidate does well in a state poll
they fault the poll and consider it flawed or a fluke of some sort.

I don't know whether they do that (since I ignore them) but what you've described is precisely what scientists do when some bit of supposed evidence challenges their fundamental ideas about the world. If a scientific type hears new alleged evidence that poltergeists exist, he's likely to subject it to heightened scrutiny and even to trot out some pre-emptive skeptical remarks. In fact this is an aspect of how perception itself works. If people look at a picture that has an ambiguous interpretation, they tend to lock into one interpretation and often have a hard time switching to another interpretation even though it is allowable. It takes some effort to escape the locked-in view. Nor is it necessarily the wrong thing to do. The latest bit of evidence does have to be weighed against previous evidence. It is often a mistake to behave as though one has amnesia, responding only to the latest supposed poll results. Of course, different people will do it differently, and some people more successfully than others. Some people will be a bit too dogmatic, others a bit too influenced by the latest polls.

Sean Hannity went so far as to claim that a liberal blog had encouraged
their readers to vote for him in order to undermine the republicans.

Sean Hannity? Bad example. He's not paid to be a reporter, he's paid to be an opinionated talking head, same as Rush Limbaugh.


Journalists are supposed to just report the news.

Sean Hannity isn't paid to report the news but to give his opinionated opinion.


Meanwhile when the front runners do well there are no reported theories about stray bots and liberal masterminding.

But that's exactly how scientists act when they hear reports that fail to contradict their worldviews. Scientists are far less skeptical of new evidence that the Earth is round than they are of new evidence that the world is actually flat. You have to expect that inequality in treatment of evidence.

People just are that way. They have to be that way. It's how the mind works. So when the medium is a broadcast channel then the channel administrators - which includes the staff of news shows - will be able to do nothing better than do what they, as humans, do, and apply their human methods to making the decisions that they have to make as administrators, as gatekeepers. It's not their fault that they have to do this, it's the fault of the bottleneck which is inherent in the medium. The only way past it is to replace the medium with something that does not have such a narrow bottleneck.

This is about the fact that they (mainstream journalists and presumably
their producers/networks) are intentionally biasing their presentations
of candidates, and coverage of political news and polls in favor of a
certain few candidates and against others.

They are making choices about who to pay attention to and by how much. These choices are not based on precisely the criteria that you think they should be based on in precisely the way that you think they should be based on. This was predictable, because the channel administrators aren't the same person as you.

Certainly it makes
sense that more popular candidates would naturally get more air time.
It does not make sense that even with John McCain's campaign falling
apart they consider him a front runner while Mike Huckabee is still a
"second tier candidate" even after placing second in Iowa's straw poll.

All you're doing here is giving expression to the criteria that you would use, claiming that these criteria are evidently superior to the criteria that they have used. That was inevitable. It is inevitable that one person will judge differently from another person, and it is inevitable that each person will consider the other person's basis of judgment to be inferior to their own (otherwise they would adopt the other person's judgment).

So yes I would like to see CNN produce the republican YouTube debate if
for no other reason than I would like to hear Ron Paul and Tom
Tancreado field questions from persons with a little more sense than
George Stephanopolis, they could maybe even debate each other (imagine
that).

And I would like CNN to forget about news for a few days and show Barbara Stanwyck movies back to back, starting with something early like Ladies They Talk About. I have a thing for that actress. But instead of doing what you would ideally like, or what I would ideally like, CNN does what CNN chooses to do. That's a problem with channels.