Tag Archives: Iowa caucus

Iowa Caucus: Don’t forget the media’s role in all of this

Lost in all the post-Iowa hubbub about who’s up and who’s down, who’s in and who’s out is the very real discussion of how the media has taken a confab of 120,000 largely white and rural voters and blown it up into an all-consuming every four years ritual that goes a long way in determining who the next President might be.  From Brendan Nyhan at the Columbia Journalism Review:

Unfortunately, the “meaning” of the caucus results is not always clear. These rough edges are typically sanded away in post-Iowa reporting and commentary, however, which tends to emphasize the order of the finish (even when the margins between candidates are small) as well as unexpectedly weak or strong results. Media outlets then shift energy and resources toward candidates who performed well under the prevailing interpretation, while ignoring or providing negative coverage of those who were believed to have done poorly. These shifts in coverage, which themselves become part of the information party leaders are responding to, can help create massive post-Iowa swings in a candidate’s chances (PDF).

The result is a refraction effect in which journalists help make Iowa influential and then report on its “effects” without acknowledging their role in the process or the often arbitrary nature of the distinctions that are made among the candidates. This is a recurring problem—the norms of journalism demand that reporters exclude themselves from the stories they write, creating a troubling lack of self-consciousness about their own role in the process.

New York University’s Jay Rosen makes a similar point as well:

The Iowa Caucuses are presented as a news event, a mini-election with an informational outcome, a winner. But what they really are is a ritual, the gathering of a tribe, which affirms itself and its place in our political system by staging this thing every four years.

The need for the media to drive the narrative is extremely strong.  In 2012, it’s been just as much the media driving the boomlets for the many non-Romney contenders as it has been the fickle nature of the Republican voters.  After all, there’s 24-hour news channels to fill — someone has to be rising, someone has to be falling, someone has to be making a gaffe, someone needs to be daring to challenge the status quo and be admired for their spunk but consistently dismissed as a real threat.


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