Television Networks Join the Lawyers as the Only Certified Winners

Article excerpt

WANT TO know why the US presidential election is dragging on so long? It's the ratings, stupid.

The American networks and cable news stations are having a field day with the unending partisan wrangling in Florida, reporting the highest viewing figures and the strongest demand for advertising space since the height of the Clinton impeachment imbroglio two years ago.

CNN, the grandaddy of 24-hour rolling news, which had been struggling to keep its audience, has seen its viewing figures triple in the past fortnight. NBC says its morning Today Show registered the highest ratings in the history of breakfast television in the week of the election - some 8.4 million viewers per day.

Even the internet has benefited, with news sites reporting record traffic. ABC's online service, for example, had 27 million hits on election night, more than double the previous record set when Kenneth Starr, the White House special prosecutor, released his report on the Monica Lewinsky scandal to Congress in September 1998.

As with the Lewinsky case, in which a White House intern's allotted 15 minutes of notoriety stretched out over 15 months and beyond, or the O J Simpson trial, in which a relatively straightforward murder case dragged on for more than a year, the media has not merely reported on the proceedings.

There is ample evidence that the headlong rush to coverage is actually helping to prolong the agony further.

The reason is that government in has moved in effect from Capitol Hill to the television studio, with every congressman and political consultant gravitating towards the warm glow of the lights, and every issue, no matter how trivial or legalistic, becoming the object of enormous public scrutiny.

In any normal election, Florida would probably have conducted manual recounts without fuss and then declared an uncontested winner. This is what is happening in Washington state in a crucial but untelevised Senate contest that has gone down to the wire. …