Part 2—The checking of boxes: It was almost like the famous naming of parts!
Last night, we had checking of boxes. It happened as we watched the PBS NewsHour, which had sent Gwen to the fair.
In the program’s lengthy opening segments, Judy and Gwen and a two-pundit panel pretended to report the news from the Iowa State Fair, a highly familiar locale.
To watch the whole program, click this. The Iowa segments start at the 9-minute mark.
Every four years, at precisely this time, our mainstream news orgs visit the fair—and their work is highly scripted. Last night, the analysts groaned as they watched the pretenders checking the same tired boxes.
At one point, they checked the familiar, mandated box in which we’re told that we’re all having fun. Last night, this occurred right after Gwen finished reporting, live and direct, from the fairgrounds.
Sure enough! Judy started the pundit segment with this:
WOODRUFF (8/17/15): Joining us this week are Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and reporter Tamara Keith of NPR.NewsHour viewers just want to have fun, or to be told that fun is occurring. Or at least, this powerful theory seems to prevail within the nation’s news orgs. No one pimps this mandated theme quite the way Rachel Maddow now does. But all pretenders seem to know that they’re expected to pimp it.
So, go Gwen!
WALTER: Yes. So fun!
At any rate, the Iowa fair is lots of fun! Wearily, the analysts checked that box.
The analysts had sat down at six o’clock with their checklists in hand. Right out of the gate, Gwen had allowed them to check another box, for butter, fried food and pork:
IFILL: The Iowa State Fair is a colorful and chaotic celebration of all things corn, butter, pork and amusement, even in a nonelection year. But this weekend, the political yin and the yang of a crowded field all descended on Iowa at once and brought it into especially sharp focus.For us, that “sharp focus” never materialized. But as Gwen continued, she showed footage of Candidate Clinton asking for her pork chop on a stick, and she later noted that Candidate Clinton had taken a “pork chop selfie.”
One problem—Ifill skipped the mandated mention of the fair’s butter cow. Perhaps that omission represents some sort of “NewsHour difference.”
Butter and pork chops—check! Then, the analysts waited. In short order, they were rewarded with the mandated reference to “President [Insert Name of Past Iowa Frontrunner Who Didn’t Even Win the Iowa Caucuses].”
Last night, it was NPR’s Keith who let them check that box. Incredibly, Keith sourced her tired old quip to Walter:
KEITH: You don’t know in the midst of [the state fair election season] whether it is the real deal or whether it’s just a summer fling. But you know, as Amy has said, ask President Michele Bachmann.As Amy has said? Every mainstream pundit on earth has offered some form of that tired old quip, in which we chuckle about some early front-runner in Iowa who ended up dead in the state’s relative lack of water.
Just ask President Bachmann? Check! Groaning pitifully as they did, the analysts also rushed to check the box about “summer fling or romance.” Here’s a slightly longer chunk from the start of the pundit panel:
WOODRUFF: So, go Gwen!Gack! Summer’s for dating and winter’s for mating! Or at least, so Walter said.
WALTER: Yes. So fun!
WOODRUFF: She was there talking to Bernie Sanders in the middle, in the middle of the crowd.
But what do you make, Amy, of this notion? We’re talking about a summer political romance, that it’s going to fade by the time fall and especially winter rolls around and people actually go to vote for Sanders and Trump. But how do we know these two men don’t have staying power?
WALTER: Well, there is something to that. We don’t know that. But we can look back at history, and you see, you know, summer is for dating, and winter is for mating, okay, if we want to think of it in those ways.
KEITH: You know, that summer loving. You don’t know in the midst of it whether it’s the real deal or whether it’s just a summer fling. But, you know, as Amy has said, ask President Michele Bachmann.
So not fun for the analysts! As they gagged and covered their mouths, they dutifully checked their boxes for “summer fling/loving/romance.”
Alas! As every news consumer knows, we were watching the standard, scripted quadrennial presentation from the Iowa fair. The pretenders go through these motions every four years, pretending that they’re reporting the “news” about the “White House campaign.”
In fact, this is primarily an entertainment function. Last night, the segments from and about the Iowa fair took us through the first 22 minutes of the 54-minute NewsHour. But what we were getting was entertainment, with occasional hints of the actual news, which was actually this:
None of this hoopla can tell us a thing about who will win the Iowa caucuses! Indeed, the most chilling words in the Iowa segments were uttered by Gwen, right here:
IFILL: But are voters engaged or simply curious? Iowa voters have a long history of favoring insurgents and unknowns, at least early on. The Iowa caucuses next February are an important springboard to primary season, but there are no guarantees.Good God! The Iowa caucuses won’t be held until next February—until February 9, 2016, to be exact. That’s much later than in recent cycles, when the caucuses were held on January 3 in both 2008 and 2012.
In 2012, the Iowa caucuses were held extremely early—on January 3, 2012. But land o’ Goshen! “President Michele Bachman,” who had ruled the previous summer’s state fair, ended up with only five percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses! And in this cycle, the wait for the caucuses will be five weeks longer.
For various reasons, little of this week’s buttery fun has any predictive value at all. And yet, pretenders inflict the quadrennial foolishness on their viewers in large, predictable doses.
Speaking of checklists, all the pretenders mention the fact that the Iowa caucuses can’t be predicted by anything at the previous summer's state fair. But because these enterprises are really entertainment vehicles, no one explains why that’s the case—and no one questions the massive waste of time our “news organizations” invest in this largely pointless spectacle.
Why are early polling results from Iowa especially useless? We’ll start with that topic tomorrow—though any “newshour” worth the name would have explored this embarrassing matter in a long opening chunk built around the quadrennial fun from the fair.
Last night, a group of pretenders went to the fair. They spent little time discussing Candidate Trump’s new plan, which he released last Saturday as he arrived at the fair.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at the way the nation’s news orgs discuss such matters. The Times reports Trump’s plan today—or is that mainly pretending?
Tomorrow: Endless summer