Political ‘news’ is now the ads

Lesley Toth
At Random

When my husband and I made the decision nearly seven years ago to cancel our cable subscription it was due to financial circumstances. I was just finishing up with college, he was just returning from Iraq. That extra $75 a month was better used elsewhere.

The decision also effectively ended broadcast television viewing in our rundown apartment with blaze orange walls (which still make appearances in my nightmares). Like most apartment dwellers, no cable meant no TV.

Since then, we have had ample opportunities to restore the hundreds of stations of channel surfing bonanza. We have long since attained a modicum of financial stability. In fact, we could currently have cable television piped directly to our TV for free, thanks to a generous upstairs neighbor. Somehow, through all these years we have resisted the urge.

Before people start to think we’re some kind of weird, hippie luddites, we still own a television, several in fact. We rent movies and play video games and participate in all kinds of digital entertainment.

But what we don’t have is the 40,000 advertisements the average American viewer is bombarded with each year. We don’t have the dozens of “reality TV” programs feeding us a warped sense of life with their weekly drama-fueled antics.

We receive our news from public radio and newspapers and with content that requires a bit more than a 30-second sound bite to be used over and over again on nightly broadcast news. We read more books and play more games as a family. The kids aren’t fighting over which show to watch, a catalyst to many a fight between my brother and I during my childhood.

And the best part? This time of year, I don’t have to watch the endless supply of political ads parade across the screen with their promises, rhetoric and lies — or so I thought.

The reprieve from political commercials was short-lived. It’s been a great six years, but this year I’m afraid my respite is being replaced with annoyance. And it’s aimed at my own kind — the media. Not only do these ads overwhelm the airwaves from July until November, but now print journalists and news radio hosts have decided to place themselves in the action.

Although newspapers have been running print political ads for generations, I have always been able to skim past them. Like the ability to skip the brownies and cupcakes at a potluck, I can go straight to the meat and potatoes of the candidates and read an actual article about them. Not anymore.

The ads aren’t just bordering the neat columns of newsprint, now we’re writing stories about them. Not too long ago, my favorite radio news anchor’s segment may be interrupted with a few political ads. Now, the entire one-hour show is a dissection of a particularly juicy ad candidate X’s political action committee prepared and followed up by a counter analysis provided by candidate Y’s own PAC.

The news is no longer inspired by events, statements or even prior votes and actions taken by the candidates. The news is now the ads. Whose ad is the most controversial? Whose ad told the most lies? Whose ad is using some celebrity’s name?

Call me naive, a cynic or an idealist — but the “Fourth Branch” can do better than this. But it needs motivation, and nothing makes media move like money. If my favorite news mediums can’t course-correct, I may have to resort to a tried and true method and tune out.