Coverage of Serious News Must Continue
Barring a repeat of the election night fiasco of 2000, the television industry should be able to breathe a sigh of relief this week as a grueling presidential election season finally draws to a close.
At best the industry had a mixed record in this campaign, marred by high-profile controversies over Dan Rather’s questionable “60 Minutes” report on President Bush’s National Guard record and the Sinclair Broadcast Group’s attempt to pass off an anti-Kerry documentary as news. Both incidents underscore one of the fundamental problems with how this election was covered in the media: The focus was often on hot-button issues such as the candidates’ actions decades ago, not on issues that will impact the future of the country, such as the deficit and potential Supreme Court appointments.
But in general, television at least kept the campaign on the front burner, recognizing the unusually high level of voter interest in this particular election and helping to fuel that interest. Now, as the election season ends, it may be wise to remind ourselves that our job does not end on election night.
The issues that captured the public’s imagination during the campaign, and those that continue to simmer outside the media spotlight, will not go away when one candidate is selected to occupy the White House. And even as viewers and news departments experience some level of election fatigue, it’s hard to overlook the momentum that has been built up for issue-oriented coverage. It would be a shame to cast that momentum aside and return to the businessas-usual of car chases and celebrity court cases.
We hope the television industry recognizes the opportunity to continue to feed public enthusiasm for the democratic process. The excitement generated by this election campaign proves that the public knows the nation has arrived at a critical moment in its history, when citizens must take an active interest in determining the country’s fate.
Television has a responsibility to remain an active partner in the democratic process by continuing to keep the public informed on issues of national importance. With the media controlled by only a handful of companies and independent voices growing increasingly faint, that responsibility is more critical now than it has ever been.