Cable Television Perfects Presidential Coverage

June 9, 2004

It’s official. Cable television has now completely and thoroughly covered presidential politics, fully informing all Americans of all the issues, positions, promises, and disputes. That job completed, one cable channel has moved on to the important public function of making shit up.

No, I don’t mean Fox News. I’m referring to Showtime’s new presidential election reality TV show, in which 12 “candidates” will pretend to run for president. What could be more edifying? And I haven’t even mentioned the best part, the bit that makes this program a television news anchor’s wet dream: on this show there won’t be any voters to muck up the process!

Remember the Democratic primaries? They just ended yesterday, but try to think way back to when there were 10 candidates, or 11 if you count LaRouche. Can you name all 10? Can you tell me what each of their positions were on the three issues that matter most to you? Can you tell me if their assertions were supported by reliable facts? Can you tell me what each of them promised would be their first act in office?

If you answered yes to more than one of those questions, you spent a good amount of time reading candidates’ websites and doing your own research, because you did not learn that information from the media. There just isn’t time to report all that detail.

Ah, but can you tell me at least two useless facts about five of the candidates’ personalities, lifestyles, or appearance? You can probably also tell me which were the serious candidates and which were the vanity candidates. But can you explain to me what that means?

If I’m not mistaken, it means that the media can lie about a candidate’s thoughts and disguise the lie as an adjective, thus eliminating certain candidates by describing their elimination as having already been established.

What seemed to frustrate the media more than anything else long before the primaries had even begun was the whole ordeal of having to wait for the voters to vote or caucus. Even though, when it came time, the voters obediently followed the media’s instructions, it really seemed to grate on people like Ted Koppel and Dan Rather that the media couldn’t simply pick the nominee.

Now they can! Or at least Showtime can – at least in make believe. But don’t imagine Showtime takes this new project lightly. Here’s a question and answer from the FAQ on the show’s website:

“Will the winner of AMERICAN CANDIDATE definitely run for president?

“What the participants decide to do with the visibility and momentum they will have at the conclusion of the series is entirely up to them. If a participant in AMERICAN CANDIDATE chooses to run for president, he or she will have to follow the same process and operate within the same laws and regulations that govern all presidential candidates. We anticipate that if a participant does run, he or she would be doing so on a write-in basis. Of course, with the publicity and attention the candidate will have received, it is feasible there could be a substantial amount of public support for him/her.”

Get it? Three directors, one of whom brought us “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery,” will weed through 12 candidates and persuade “a substantial amount of the public” to support their final choice over Bush, Kerry, Nader, or any other candidate. This is a strange power for a television channel to imagine itself possessing, because whenever I used to complain to television networks that they were hurting a candidate I worked for by not covering him, they always told me that which candidates failed or triumphed had no relationship whatsoever to the media’s reporting on those events.

Of course, Showtime says that “the American People” will “identify a People’s Candidate.” But how will we do that? Has the job been contracted out to Diebold? Or will the American people be redefined as schmucks dumb enough to watch Showtime and pay money to phone in their opinions?

The sad part of this is that out of just about any 12 Americans you’re going to find somebody with, say, more charisma than Kerry or more integrity than Bush. And if the twin monsters of “electability” and “momentum” aren’t invited to the party, you could even produce something that looks more democratic than the Democratic primaries. But Kucinich or Sharpton would have made exciting candidates and would have left this sideshow looking like a pathetic sideshow rather than a mocking condemnation and trivialization of our democracy.

Here’s another question and answer from the show’s website:

“How will AMERICAN CANDIDATE impact the political process?

“AMERICAN CANDIDATE will provide a forum for new and diverse ideas and a path to national prominence for people with a passion to make a difference. By introducing a diverse group of potential leaders, with different sets of core issues and policy proposals, the show will provoke discussion and debate about what our nation is really looking for in a president and involve more people in the political process.”

Why didn’t we think of that?

David Swanson is a writer whose website is The opinions expressed are his alone, unless you share them.

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