Is the Media Going to Pick Our Next President?

January/February 2016


At the end of 2015, CNN.com asked Millennials to describe the 2016 election in one word. The results? Disappointed. Captivating. Fierce. WW3. #turnt.

Is it just me, or does it sound a little like a television review? If you agree, then one more answer from CNN’s survey shouldn’t be shocking, especially because it’s one of the more accurate descriptions of the election so far.

Reality television. See: Kardashians.

Welcome to 2016.

Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show, said it pretty well on the show’s final episode of 2015: we spent most of 2015 talking about 2016. And now, we’re going to spend the rest of 2016 talking about what will be decided in November. More so, the media will spend every waking moment analyzing and overanalyzing how this election will turn out.

Yes, that means you will hear more about caucuses than you ever wanted to hear, without really knowing what a caucus actually is. You will listen to nine different “experts”, including an expert in technology and even a counterterrorism official thrown on just for the heck of it, say the same thing about Hillary Clinton’s emails on CNN. You will hear four Fox News pundits debate over whether the fact that Ted Cruz was born in Canada means he cannot run for president, and if you’re lucky, you may hear a debate on said channel about whether or not Canada is still a country.

Again, welcome to 2016.

We’ve reached the point in which this election may very well be decided by which candidate claims the most media attention. People called it early–The Hill, Politico, and CIO all predicted in the summer that social media would change this election. And it already has–part of the reason why billionaire businessman Donald Trump has done so well in the polls is because he (meaning his campaign team) has mastered the art of the social media game.


Photo credit to LinkedIn

Calling out other candidates by tagging them on Twitter (see: Jeb Bush)? Check. Calling out the news media on Twitter (see: Fox News and CNN)? Check. Skipping a televised debate so he could be the elephant in the room without actually being in the room? Check. As he was quoted in a Buzzfeed article recently, CNN’s senior media correspondent Brian Stelter: “I can’t help but wonder,” he said. “If (Trump’s) Twitter account is more effective at this point than a TV ad.”

What’s the resultant effect of all this? Coverage. Media coverage on top of media coverage. Watch the afternoon hours of CNN, or Fox News, or MSNBC, or pretty much any news channel, and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll find yourself watching more of those so-called experts deciphering a candidate’s Tweet or Facebook post, or a sound byte from a town hall in Iowa.  Today, a candidate can say anything that registers on the Richter scale of shock value, and the media will be quick to call it breaking news.

Trump gets attention because the things he says and does register on the high end of that scale. It’s the same thing with Ted Cruz. It’s shocking that Donald Trump will send his campaign spokeswoman, Katrina Pierson, to speak on his behalf on CNN while wearing a necklace made of bullets. But hey, if more viewers tune in to CNN next time Pierson speaks to see what she says next, mission accomplished. Even generals in the U.S. Army have called Cruz’s strategy to carpet bomb ISIS when he is President, “absurd”. But hey, if the news media can use “CRUZ WANTS TO CARPET BOMB ISIS” as a headline for a few more weeks, then keep talking Ted!  

The race for 2016 has become more dramatic than this season of the Bachelor. And for anyone who watches the Bachelor, you know that the winner is always the one who the cameras never focus on in the beginning. The winner is the girl who stepped out of the limo and was an afterthought for the first five weeks, until she gets a one-on-one date late in the show and the world realizes that she was the right one all along. But we don’t know that in the early weeks, because the gossip shows and social media like to focus on the girls who reach the “great” range on the shock value scale.

That’s the reason why you shouldn’t be shocked that the New York Times (which hasn’t endorsed a Republican candidate since 1956) chose to endorse not only the Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, but also the GOP’s John Kasich, who won only one delegate at this week’s Iowa caucuses. That’s why you shouldn’t be surprised when people say that Marco Rubio was the real winner in Iowa, because he’s proven that he can win both the social conservatives and the ultra-conservatives in a less confrontational way than Cruz and a less controversial way than Trump.

The bottom line is that the media will not pick the next president, as much as it seems like they will right now–you will. And that’s what matters.

Welcome to 2016.

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