Breaking News From the Schoolyard (New Hampshire)!

The top two articles on Bostonherald.com right now are: (1) “Mitt Romney ripped over ‘pink slip’ remark,” and (2) “Romney sparks furor with ‘fire’ remark.” Meanwhile, a JUST IN banner across the top of the page screams, “Mitt Romney scrambles after ‘fire’ comment.”

Sure this is the Herald, and the Herald (though I love it dearly) tends toward the dramatic, especially in its headlines. But still. That’s an awful lot of ripping, furor and scrambling over a couple of “remarks.” Call me old fashioned, but I feel like “furor” ought to be reserved for events more serious than a flurry of political press releases.

Such is the nature of political coverage in the age of competitive 24-hour news coverage. Every utterance from a candidate’s mouth holds the potential for a manufactured scandlet. Context is irrelevant (the context of Romney’s “fire remark” is about as innocuous as it gets – he was suggesting consumers ought to be able to part ways with an under-performing insurer). Once a phrase with the barest potential for controversy passes the office-seeker’s lips the race is on to see whether the press or his/her political opponent(s) will be the first to blow it out of all proportion.

In this the two (the media and the opponent(s)) form a temporary symbiotic relationship: if the opponent(s) manage a press release first, then the media will report on that release. If the media manages a dispatch first, then the opponent(s) will quote that in their release. Around and around it goes. And the public wonders why candidates for public office are so damned scripted in most everything they say and do.

Pull the typical political reporter off of the New Hampshire primary beat and assign him to the school yard at the local elementary, and would the headlines be much different?

“Johnny calls Billy a ‘giant doo-doo head,’ risks monitor sanction.”

“Susie sparks furor with criticism of Polly’s hair cut.”

“Bobby seen stockpiling mud balls, preparing to ‘go nuclear’ at afternoon snack.”

One cannot really blame the reporters though. Their consumer base is comprised of political junkies. We political junkies (like kids) are excitable. We want to be stimulated. A Romney speech about insurance? Not exciting. A throwaway line about “firing people” that could semi-plausibly be spun into from-the-horse’s-mouth confirmation of the worst caricatures of the candidate? Katy bar the door!

While I’m grousing about the coverage of this already-interminable Republican primary… READ THE REST at CriticalMASS

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