Tomgram: The Spectacle of Campaign 2008

Exit Poll

Your Enthusiasm and the Media’s


By Tom Engelhardt

“Drawing from the best resources on national and local platforms, Fox will bring together America’s two greatest passions — politics and football.” So said Marty Ryan, Fox News executive producer of political programming, describing that network’s addition of a three-hour “Super Tuesday political preview” to the usual day-long football festivities. In that way did Fox News manage to catch the zeitgeist of the moment, creating a 24/7 spectacle of super-entertainment by merging the number-one top-draw extravaganza, Super Bowl Sunday, with the mid-week surprise of a writer-starved TV season, Super Tuesday.

Each was guaranteed to be a dawn-to-midnight entertainment spectacular. Each was to be a talkathon of experts and pundits (including the Las Vegas odds-maker Fox interviewed Sunday who was “handicapping” both events in more or less the same breath), interspersed with mega-ads and mega-ad stories, as well as some thrilling action, leading toward results that, in each super-case, we, the viewers, would sooner or later have known, even if no one had said a word. Don’t be surprised, if, on this Super Tuesday, you see Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, and Jimmy Johnson calling the shots alongside the Fox News crew. After all, the “showdown” under the dome of the University of Phoenix Stadium was to be followed two days later by what ABC News termed a “showdown coast to coast.” (Normally, O.K. Corral-style “showdown” logos have been reserved for cruise missile shoot-outs on Main Street with global! perps like Saddam Hussein.)

By the time you read this, you’ll probably already know more about the immediate American political scene than I do. You may know whether Barack Obama, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, or Mitt Romney was the Eli Manning (or Tom Brady) of politics. Maybe you’ll have stayed up as network news and cable outfits analyzed the election into the morning hours as if this were November 4th.

That, in itself, will be unprecedented. In 2004, the networks relegated (somewhat less) Super Tuesday to intermittent news updates. This time, with Charles Gibson anchoring ABC News’ five hours of coverage, it will be another “historic occasion” in the “election of our age.” There’s already been the Huckabee ambush in Iowa, the McCain return from the politically dead in New Hampshire, the fall of America’s Mayor in Florida, and round-the-clock Obamania, not to speak of endless media and pollster mis-predictions, which only provided yet more riveting stories for the race of the century.

Let’s face it, for media and candidates alike Primary 2008 has been Survivor, The Amazing Race, American Gladiator, The Apprentice (“You’re fired!”), and American Idol rolled into one — and a ratings wonder as well in which nothing fails. Two testy opponents meet elbow to elbow in a debate in Hollywood — with the camera flicking to the star-studded audience as if it were the Oscars… Gasp! Is that really George from Seinfeld? — and no sparks fly; yet the story has wings anyway. Barack and Hillary were cordial! Were “a black man and a white woman” the “perfect future running mates”? Could they team up as “a Democratic dream ticket”? Or would they be back at each other’s throats, just t! he way John McCain and Mitt Romney have been?

It couldn’t matter less, not when everything in Campaign 2008 glues American eyeballs to screens without a writer in sight. Who needs on-strike vendors of fiction when a teeming crew of stand-up pundits is eternally on hand to produce political fictions at a moment’s notice? Can anyone deny that more of them have been predicting, projecting, suggesting, insinuating, bloviating, and offering authoritative conclusions than at any time in our history? If that isn’t “historic,” what is, even if so many of their predictions prove wrong in the morning light?

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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