If an Election Happens in the Forest and…

I think political junkies are prone to worrying too much about what goes on on cable news. In relative terms, the audience for cable news is pretty low. What does and does not get covered on CNN or FOX or MSNBC really isn’t too likely to change the outcome of the upcoming midterm elections. But they do serve at least one pretty important function, which is to serve as public notifications that elections are upcoming and imminent. When those cable news channels, and to a degree, the networks, too, spend most of their airtime covering non-election news, fewer people realize that it’s time to pay attention and go vote.

Pollsters are beginning to predict record low turnout based on how much interest in the elections their respondents are reporting. If they’re right, there are many causes for it. Most responsible, in my opinion, is that Congress hasn’t been doing anything for months and this is the least productive Congress in modern history. They’ve taken themselves out of the news, which has taken Congress out of the public consciousness.

For the purposes of inspiring turnout, it would be better to do things that make the public angry than to do nothing at all. And, no, making the public angry by doing nothing at all won’t work as well.

Still, the news networks have some kind of civic responsibility to cover the elections, and I don’t think they’ve been doing an adequate job of it. This isn’t the primary reason that interest in the elections is low, but it’s a significant contributing factor.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.