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Campaign 2012 as a Classic Conflict-of-Interest Story

If I hear one more radio or TV journalist or pundit tell me what Mitt Romney must do, I think I’ll scream.  Election 2012 is still 14 months away and yet the nattering commentators, the Iowa straw poll -- we were told it was meaningless and to prove it 800 reporters showed up from a downsizing media -- the first “debates,” the instant rise and fall of possible candidates (and the ignoring of others) have already been part of the scenery for months.  If the job of journalists is now to tell us what Mitt Romney or any other candidate must do, then we, the viewers or listeners or readers, essentially become millions of mute political advisors in an endless campaign.

I mean what do I think Mitt Romney must do, now that what’s-his-name is on the rise and Michele Bachman’s advisors are jumping ship like so many proverbial rats, and what about that crowd in the Ronald Reagan library cheering Rick Perry’s Texas execution record, or the idea of social security as a Ponzi scheme, and -- sorry to harp on it -- but really what should Mitt do about the Tea Party, or evolution, or Obama-rama-care?  Or really, at this point, who cares?

And don't think you can find relief by visiting oppositional websites online.  They're already geared up 24/7 to feed off mainstream “reporting,” while discussing what Mitt and his pals have done -- their gaffes, stupidities, idiocies, etc. -- presumably for the next 14 months.  And here’s the shameful thing: they’re not even making real money off it!

For the mainstream media, especially TV, it’s another matter.  In fact, it’s one of the great, unmentioned conflict-of-interest stories of our time.  If, in a different context, someone was selling you on the importance of a phenomenon and at the same time directly benefiting from it, that would be considered a self-evident conflict of interest.  For campaign 2012, TV alone is likely to have close to $3 billion in ad money dropped into its electronic lap -- especially if news shows can drum up attention for the eternal election season as the political event of a lifetime.  So whenever those pundits go on about Mitt and his musts, they are functionally shilling for their owners’ bottom lines, though no one in our world bothers to say so.

Focused on picking and handicapping candidates, the media version of the political campaign is a process which now begins the day after the previous campaign ends.  As a result, elections have become the political equivalent of our ever-expanding, increasingly overlapping sports seasons.  If you don’t mind logrolling at three in the morning, sports is never absent from our onscreen lives, and it looks like the same may soon be said about electoral politics.

These days, of course, every crisis or alarum in American society -- take the most recent terror alert that coincided with 9/11 coverage as an example -- can be transformed with remarkable ease into eyeball-gluing screen fare and so into a money-maker for some complex or other (military-industrial, homeland-security, media-industrial, etc.).  So endless months before the first vote that counts, we get polls pouring in, elections coming out of our ears, and constant chatter. But democracy?  In a country where, in the best of times, only 60% of its citizens actually vote, don’t make me laugh.  The people’s representatives?  Please!

My apologies to the Roman Empire, but politics is now part of bread-and-circus time in the increasingly chaotic American version of empire.  The circuses are, of course, for us, the bread (and I mean dough, moolah) for them.  They grow fat.  We remain riveted to our many screens.  Meanwhile, out there in the real world, where towers are falling all the time, even American decline is undoubtedly being gilded, and readied to be put up in lights, and sold as yet more fun for the masses: disintegration, the last word in on-screen entertainment.  Time to turn off the TV and join Mike Davis for a eulogy at the graveside of an imperial America in decline.

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Tom Engelhardt

Tom Engelhardt

nation_unmade_by_war.jpgTom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His sixth and latest book, just published, is A Nation Unmade by War (Dispatch Books).Previous books include: Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (with an introduction by Glenn Greenwald). Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050 (co-authored with Nick Turse), The United States of Fear, The American Way of War: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's, The End of Victory Culture: a History of the Cold War and Beyond, as well as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com here.

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