Published on

Ballots and Democracy: Big Media Is Just Not That Into It

Last Saturday, we witnessed what has been regularly touted as one of the first big events of the 2012 campaign for the White House: the Iowa Straw Poll. The results of the poll were the following: Michele Bachmann (4823, 28.55%) Ron Paul (4671, 27.65%), Tim Pawlenty (2293, 13.57%), Rick Santorum (1657, 9.81%) Herman Cain (1456, 8.62%) Rick Perry (718, 3.62%) Mitt Romney (567, 3.36%) Newt Gingrich (385, 2.28%) Jon Huntsmann (69, 0.41%) Thad McCotter (35, 0.21%).

I don’t know about you, but when I look at those figures I see a virtual tie for first place, one that is particularly surprising given the fact that the “just by a hair” second place finisher, Ron Paul, received very little mainstream media coverage in the weeks and months leading to the event.

During this time, the “experts” on our screens have told us lots of stories about Palin, Bachmann, Romney, Pawlenty, Huntsmann, and more recently, Rick Perry. But they told us very, very few about Ron Paul. Yet here was Ron Paul in a virtual dead heat with the much talked about Bachmann.

From a journalistic perspective this had to be seen as a great story. No? You know, an event with endlessly fascinating David vs. Goliath story lines. Right?

Well, not really.

The New York Times reporter on the case, Jeff Zeleny made quick work of Paul saying, “Ron Paul of Texas, whose libertarian views put him at odds with many Republicans, finished slightly behind Mrs. Bachmann in the straw poll.” He then went on to speculate at length about the candidacies of Bachmann and two of the notable laggards in the voting, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, concluding with the following:

“The race, at least in the short term, will focus on this trio: Mr. Romney, who is seen as next in line for the nomination, if the traditional rules of Republican presidential politics apply; Mrs. Bachmann, whose insurgent style has captured the imagination of many conservative activists; and Mr. Perry, who has held elective office his entire adult life, but has tapped into passionate small-government, anti-Washington sentiment within the party.”

In other words, never mind the outcome of the straw poll, the very vote that we journalists have endlessly hyped as being a good indicator of the “popular sentiment” of the people of Iowa, and from there, the nation. Those of us (wink, wink) who ride around on the bus with the candidates know certain things that the credulous dopes who actually went to the polls don’t yet understand.

The most important of these is the fact that no matter how many votes Ron Paul gets, he will never be considered a “serious” or “electable” candidate because he openly challenges the imperial foreign policy consensus embraced by 90-95% of the US political class.

Reporters who spend their time around policy makers know this. But, rather than pointing this out to readers and asking out loud whether it is “right” “democratic” or even “pragmatically advantageous” that it be so, rather than doing stories that deconstruct the many methods used inside the elite opinion-making apparatus to get people to view those like Paul who challenge consensual orthodoxies as “crazy” “ridiculous” or “unserious”, courtiers like Zeleny pre-emptively fold before their masters.

He and the many others who act like him say, in effect, “We know that you, the institutional power brokers, don’t want these dissident people in the limelight and that, should the need arise, you will invent any possible pretext to bring them down (Howard Dean scream anyone?). This being the case, and given the fact that we reporters want to remain in your good graces for reasons of personal ambition, we will help you out by simply pretending such people do not exist. When, after a fashion, no one hears about them, they’ll simply go away. Deal?”

It seems the people in big media, who never miss a chance to issue bathetic praises of our uniquely “democratic” system, one that is, they like to tell us, the “envy of the world”, aren’t really that into piddling little concepts like ballots and registering the people’s demonstrated preferences.

When those voting their consciences make the “mistake” of choosing candidates with ideas that the high command of the empire will not tolerate, aren’t we are lucky to have the sophisticated Zelenys of the world there to remind the rubes how, and toward whom, they must now refocus their attention?

FRIENDS: Now More Than Ever

Independent journalism has become the last firewall against government and corporate lies. Yet, with frightening regularity, independent media sources are losing funding, closing down or being blacked out by Google and Facebook. Never before has independent media been more endangered. If you believe in Common Dreams, if you believe in people-powered independent media, please support us now and help us fight—with truths—against the lies that would smother our democracy. Please help keep Common Dreams alive and growing. Thank you. -- Craig Brown, Co-founder

Support Common DreamsSupport Common Dreams

Thomas S. Harrington

Thomas S. Harrington

Thomas S. Harrington is professor of Hispanic Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and the author of Public Intellectuals and Nation Building in the Iberian Peninsula, 1900–1925: The Alchemy of Identity (Bucknell University Press, 2014).

Share This Article

More in: