Politics as Entertainment

James Fallows watched the O’Donnell-Coons debate on TV and concluded that Christine O’Donnell is a true creature of the 21st century:

Sarah Palin was wounded by Katie Couric and Charlie Gibson in their 2008 interviews because she seemed at some level aware of what she didn’t know…..[But] in this debate tonight, O’Donnell has not seemed uncomfortable for one second — even in her most obvious dodge, about whether she really thinks evolution is a “myth.” The difference is, she is a talk show regular. Among the many things wrong with talking-head gab shows, which have proliferated/ metastasized in the past generation — they’re cheap to produce, they fill air time, they make journalists into celebrities, they suit the increasing political niche-ization of cable networks — is that they reward an affect of breezy confidence on all topics and penalize admissions of complexity, of ignorance on a specific topic, or of the need for time to think.

Paul Waldman pleads for the media to fight back:

One of the simple tactics I used was to ask my opposing number to get specific about whatever sweeping claim they were making. Simply saying, “Can you tell us what exactly you’re talking about?” was often enough to win the argument, because as often as not there really wasn’t anything in particular….Christine O’Donnell got stumped on a question like this at a debate yesterday when she was asked what Supreme Court decisions she disagreed with, which presumably came because she had given the standard Republican line about the tyranny of liberal judicial activists.

This isn’t just a plea for campaigns to be more focused on policy. Every candidate makes choices about what he or she believes the important issues are, and focuses the campaign on those issues. They regularly get away with making vague yet wildly overstated claims about them, and they ought to tell voters just what they’re talking about.

But Paul, details are boring! And elitist. And besides, if you start asking about them then people won’t come on your show anymore. Politics has always been as much entertainment as anything else, and today the entertainment comes in glorious, 24/7, high-def color. Why would anyone want to interfere with that?

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