Thursday, October 09, 2003

Radio Bummer

I had a full day of inspections planned, meaning that in between site visits, I could take in all the radio coverage of the California election on Tuesday. I was sadly disappointed at the quality of the procedings, although I must admit that the difference of two time zones greatly affected things.

I listened largely to WXNT-AM in indianapolis. My favorite syndicated talker, Neal Boortz, had little to say, as his program ended at 10am Pacific time. At that point, all he or the networks could say was that it looked like the turnout would be unusually high.

Glenn Beck followed Boortz, but his show is tape-delayed, and offered essentially the same in terms of 'news'. Beck annoyingly went on and on about how the most important thing in the election was 'character', not about 'it's the economy stupid' and how he had serious doubts about Arnold. Whether considering Bill Clinton, Gray Davis, or Arnold Schwartzneggar, it's clear that American voters do believe that 'it's the economy, stupid'. Sorry Glenn.

As Beck got under my skin, I alternately tuned to the NPR station. They aired their usual fare of ponderous human interest stories, and offered no word on the recall at any point at which I checked in.

Sean Hannity was the first to offer any definitive indication, describing the day as 'California's independence day' right from the top of the show. However, it struck me that for all of his exuberance, he was not offering numbers. There was no exit poll data, just Hannity's assurance that 'his people on the ground there' let him know that it was looking good for recall and for Arnold.

Then it hit me: I miss the old style of reporting that gives numbers and exit poll results. Thanks to the 2000 Presidential election, so-called news outlets are now gun shy about projecting a winner.

I miss the excitement of numbers pounded out every five minutes. I remember hanging on every premature result in 1992, the first time I paid attention to CNN's election coverage. It was thrilling! Now, we get nudge, nudge, wink, wink reporting, with insinuations offered for fear that the reports might influence or jeopardize the outcome. I'm not convinced of that the reporting does this, anyway. If the outcome is reported as a landslide, those who might have been voting for the loser could even be inspired to show up on the news, to try to make up some ground. In a close race, potential votes for all candidates might be similarly inspired.

So, we get to deal with this timidity, which makes for lame radio. Wither the First Amendment and free speech for news agencies? I don't buy the notion that there is free speech, but if you use it, you lose it. This timidity in journalism jeopardizes more freedoms than potential votes.

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