Harvard report zaps television coverage of political campaigns; offers plan on how it can be improved
Television coverage of political campaigns has become so superficial and detached from the voters, it actually contravenes the idea of a democratic system that relies on the participation of the governed, according to a new report.
The study, sponsored by the Joan Shorenstein Barone Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, identified three major problems with campaign coverage, notably by the networks, and proposed a series of debates and conversations with candidates.
"There are three major problems," according to the report, written by John Ellis. "The first . . . is less money -- and therefore less space in print and time on television -- available for political coverage generally and serious coverage specifically.
"The second problem is what we might call the superficial problem: something that can be done very well if done carefully and deliberately is more often than not done sloppily and in haste and quickly reaches the lowest common denominator," the report continued, then went on to cite polling -- a "statistical substitute for old-fashioned reporting" -- as an example.
The third major problem is "that there never seems to be enough time . . . . All the best intentions of political journalism inevitably run up against this central fact . . . ." the study explained. "The absence of time distorts the campaign. Candidates speak in nine-second sound bites."
The report further maintained that the three problems are worsened by the "collapse of network news. People who are locked into uphill battles for economic survival cannot waste any time thinking about how they should cover politics. They need to do everything they can to get their Nielsen ratings up, and they don't think politics will improve their ratings."
The center based what it calls "The Nine Sundays Plan" on the premise that "what television does best is live coverage of the candidates in action. What candidates do best is campaign, debate and answer questions. Our idea merges the two on a regularly scheduled basis."
The plan focuses on the nine Sundays between Labor Day and Election Day and proposes that "network and cable television reserve time on each of those nine Sunday evenings for at least two presidential debates, one vice presidential debate, five live conversations with the presidential candidates and one concluding presidential candidate address to the nation."
The Barone Center proposes a format change for the debates, switching from being highly orchestrated, with two candidates and a panel of questioners in front of a live audience, to a more simple arrangement: "two candidates, one moderator, a tv studio, no audience, live. …