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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Pot: meet kettle

The media are shocked, just shocked at the tone of the presidential campaign. Maybe reporters should look on the mirror.

Politico, the website of 24-7-365 political news and gossip, interviewed reporters who lamented over the "toxic" nature of the campaign between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in the wake of Joe Biden's comment that Republicans wanted to put people back "in chains."

The irony is too deep to ignore.

The political media have long subsisted on three things: polls, gaffes and attacks. They are the life blood of journalists on the trail, particularly television which is required to tell its story of increments of 90 seconds or less. Way less.

Way back in the old days, the average sound bite could go for 43 seconds in 1968. Twenty years later it was down to 9 seconds. Today? Don't sneeze or you will miss it.

That's prompted campaigns to build the message around short, snappy and provocative words -- the more pointed the better.

And that in turn has caused opposing sides to hang on those words in tailoring their retorts.

Who is ultimately to blame for this short-attention span war? The media -- print or broadcast -- who lap up the words to fill their stories or packages.

There have been all sort of pious pronouncements that Mitt Romney's selection of Paul Ryan will elevate the tone of this election, prompting the candidates and the public to engage in an "adult conversation" of Medicare and the two parties' visions for America.

Don't believe it.

The nature of the news cycle, not to mention the millions of dollars available to the candidates and the super PACs, virtually guarantee a race to the bottom in defining the campaign. Can you intelligently talk about Medicare and government spending in 10 seconds? Didn't think so.

The only thing worse than the sound bite war we are witnessing is hearing journalists lament the practice, which is their lifeblood.

Until you join Soundbites Anonymous and become a recovering political reporter.

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