The Campaign Spot

Does TV Treat Debate-Ready Stories as the Most Important?

A reader responds to today’s Jolt, discussing how the media’s obsession with “narratives” drives out coverage of real, life-and-death news, by pointing the finger at cable news networks. Because two staples of cable news programming is A) lefty-righty talking-heads fights* and B) anchors interviewing reporters about their articles (“Michael Lewis, tell us what you learned in your time with the president . . .” “Mike Allen, what did you find while researching your article on infighting within the Romney campaign?”), my reader posits that cable news networks are now conditioned to perceive debate-ready news stories as the most newsworthy.

The example I cited earlier today, the horrific spate of green-on-blue attacks by Afghani troops and police against U.S. and coalition forces, doesn’t have much of a partisan angle. Sure, there are portions of both parties who might see the attacks as one more reason to pull out of Afghanistan now, but you don’t see many leaders in Washington calling for that. Viewers might find it worthwhile to watch an advocate for immediate withdrawal and an advocate for the current plan of gradual withdrawal discuss each option. The debate probably wouldn’t break down along straight party lines; there are plenty of Democrats who want all troops out of Afghanistan now, but there are also plenty of Democrats who will defend Obama’s policies to the bitter end. There are Republicans who believe we’ve done all we can in Afghanistan and others who think leaving now would be perceived as a defeat by the Taliban. In a presidential-election season, partisans might feel great pressure to align themselves with their party’s standard-bearer.

The crisis facing our embassies and consulates shouldn’t be a partisan issue, in that no one of any party wants to see angry Islamist mobs killing fellow Americans. But there are some real questions to be asked about how the administration has handled this — from their reaction to and perception of the Arab Spring to the specific decisions about embassy and consulate security to recent and upcoming foreign-aid decisions.

Those topics are worthy of debate. But the debate-worthy news shouldn’t crowd out news that doesn’t serve one leader, one party, or one preconceived “narrative.”

* As a guy who periodically gets the call for those lefty-righty talking-heads fights, I should point out that there’s nothing wrong with those!


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