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Same Old Election Coverage

November 19, 1988

Does anyone honestly expect the media to change the way they cover political campaigns ("1992 Election Coverage Open to Debate," by Jay Sharbutt, Nov. 9)?

Following the 1984 presidential campaign, Martin Schram, in his book "The Great American Video Game," consulted several prominent figures at ABC, CBS and NBC. Most admitted that their coverage could have been better. They could have focused on the issues more, resisted the temptation to cover the election like a horse race. These network representatives vowed to rethink the way they cover a presidential race.

So what changed in 1988? Networks continued to make news judgments based on entertaining viewers rather than informing them. At the expense of the issues, candidate's backgrounds were probed with disastrous results. Just ask Gary Hart, Joseph Biden or Dan Quayle. Flag-waving and slips of the tongue seemed more important than who was going to do what about the deficit.

Candidates and the media agree that issues are boring, pictures are interesting. In order to get their face on the nightly news, in essence a free commercial, candidates have found that they have to stage photogenic events.

It's nice to think that if the networks stopped covering these events the candidates would stop staging them. Simple enough, but it won't happen. The major networks won't risk not covering anything a presidential candidate does for fear that their competition will cover it. What would happen to their ratings?

Until the major networks realize that they are not just another business, driven by economic necessity, but rather a source where Americans turn to make their choice for President of the United States, nothing will change.



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