Thursday, April 4, 2013

When politics becomes show business, we all lose.

Much of the media coverage around what should be serious political issues are devolving into Hollywood-style comedies.  Recently there was the ginned-up drama surrounding whether or not political fringe activist (and actress) Ashley Judd would run for the US Senate in Kentucky shortly followed by the news that comedian Stephen Colbert's sister is running for US Congress. The debate on this candidacy is not surrounding her policy positions, but what role the jester is going to assume in the campaign.  And we're already saddled with comedian Senator Al Franken proving, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the US Senate is truly societies least common denominator.

It only makes sense then that Texas Lock-Step Political Media, in true Texas "me too" fashion, has decided that the Texas Legislature is better covered from a pop-culture angle than via serious policy journalism.  Pop-culture drives page hits (and, hopefully, revenue) while serious policy is often passed over by the low-information voter.

Cue yesterday's appearance before the Texas House Committee on Culture, Recreation & Tourism. What should have been a rather minor tweak to the release date of captive white-tailed deer prior to the hunting season morphed into a rock & roll concert where breathless members of the TLSPM decided to revert to pop-culture references and seemingly everyone focused on the "fever" (cat-scratch, get it?) that permeated the room before Ted Nugent took the microphone.  Lost in any of the reporting was the actual issue at hand, the opinions of either side, and their justification for feeling that way.  What we got was Mr. Nugent comparing himself to the late Jimmy Hendrix and something about the soul of hunting etc.

It would be OK if Mr. Nugent's feelings were included as part of the overall discussion of deer hunting. There is no doubt the man is an expert on the matter.  But the TLSPM became so enthralled by his celebrity that they all seemingly forgot to tell the story behind why he was there.  Yes, there were some back-handed slaps to hunting culture (in what writers are now contractually obligated to call the "increasingly urban" State of Texas) and we all know that everyone who lives in a Texas city is now required to view white-tail deer hunting as shooting Bambi in the face, but there wasn't really any serious discussion allowed in the stories where celebrity was king.

Neither is this an isolated incident.  More and more what passes for political journalism is devolving into catty quips about Freshman hazing, personal rants against Michael Quinn Sullivan (who must be hated by everyone reporting in Austin) and one big Governor Perry gaffe watch.  Whether it's Paul Burka telling us that Perry's career is over one day and then deciding he's going to be "Governor for life" the next, or Wayne Slater carrying on his odd Karl Rove obsession, or Gardner Selby writing glorified opinion pieces on PolitifarceTx our media is taking a look down the hard road of serious analysis...and choosing to slap the reader in the face with a pecan pie.

Never mind that, when we DO actually get something that almost reads like journalism, our young, trendy reporting staff either misses the main point totally, chooses to arbitrarily establish 2009 as the Holy Grail for school funding without an explanation as why, or frames the issue in a way that's so slanted the term Newsish had to be invented to describe what they're churning out. 

In all fairness, it's probably not right to blame all of this on Texas Lock Step Political Media.  A large portion of the blame falls to us, the voting public.  Because it's we who have decided that flashy yard signs and large-group identity are more important than actual know-how.  We've asked-for, and been given, the government we deserve.  Is it any miracle than that the for-profit companies who report on it are giving us the type of media coverage we've asked for as well?

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