Many of us who call ourselves journalists had Sen. Hillary Clinton dead and buried before the New Hampshire primary. The media was writing her obituary and claiming that the Clinton dynasty was over because we took the polls but accepted their results as gospel. Too many of us got on board the Barack Obama bandwagon.
We were caught up in the Obama hysteria and convinced that he was on the verge of becoming the Democratic nominee. We got so far ahead of the actual election in New Hampshire that many media organizations and reporters couldn’t even conceive of the possibility that New Hampshire voters would want the campaign to continue and give the nod to Clinton.
Not only were the polls wrong, but they once again graphically demonstrated that our use of polls is not calculated correctly because many voters change their minds at the last minute. We become so caught up in the horse race that we often don’t pick up on the nuances as well as the unpredictable makeup of voters. We realize that many voters both in New Hampshire and across the country are on some level trying to send a message to the media that they are simply too powerful — and that we in the media are too impatient with the voting process.
Covering the campaign is one thing, but predicting the outcome with absolute certainty is another. Instead of helping voters better understand the issues, obstacles, and challenges at stake for the next president, we treat the campaign as nothing more than a sporting event where all that matters is handicapping: who is up and who is down, who is on the ropes, and who has the momentum.
There is something genuinely wrong with the way we are covering this campaign. We are not showing voters enough respect, and frankly not having enough respect for the importance of electing our next president. It is similar to when the networks would project a winner well before the polls closed in the central and western part of the country. The media was disenfranchising many voters by telling them that their vote really didn’t really count because we knew who the winner was. Many of us were wrong in 2000, when we were convinced Al Gore would be the next president; remember Florida? We said we would learn from that experience, but I’m not convinced we did at that point in time.
Hopefully, the New Hampshire experience will be a sobering one for producers, programming executives, and those of us on air. The message should be that in the effort to analyze providing pithy and entertaining commentary because we don’t simply “run with the pack.” We don’t prematurely bury candidates, we don’t write candidates’ obituaries and anoint others king or queen before the voters have had their say.
I understand the allure of the horse race. Everybody loves a good fight. I’m just suggesting that we in the media show just a little restraint and respect for the electoral process and the candidates involved. But most of our respect should go to the voters, who the last time I checked were the most important players in this electoral equation. Contrary to what many of us in the media may think, we are not the story.
Write to Steve Adubato at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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