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February 15, 2008
Vol. 49 No. 15

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Primary coverage nods to Madden

I can't help but think that the field of politics today is turning into a sport.
I don't blame television news networks for jumping on Americans' obsession with competition. We've brought back "American Gladiators;" a record number of viewers tuned in to watch the Super Bowl; we've turned honesty into a Fox game show; and people seem to think that competing on reality shows can lead to true love.

Apparently the only way to get America's collective attention is to turn something -- anything -- into a sport.

That's what has happened in American politics, and there is no better example of the sport's emergence than in the coverage of the presidential primary election season.

The worst came on Super Tuesday. In any given state, immediately after the polls closed, the news networks fired up their pie charts to show who was in the lead, never mind the fact that barely 2 percent of the precincts had reported their results.

I understand the desire to be the first to call the election for one candidate or the other, but the constant updating of the pie charts further illustrates my point: the election has become yet another sporting event.

And in between primaries and caucuses, it seems like there's a new poll every day gauging the population's pulse on every aspect of a candidate's personality in every possible demographic.

If you've never taken a political science course, this is called horserace politics, and it's bad for everyone involved. Rather than focusing on the issues and the substance of the campaigns, the media instead covers the race itself -- who's in the lead, who's behind in the polls and who's most likely to win.

A friend told me that she spent some free time comparing Clinton's and Obama's positions on the issues so she could decide which one she supported more. That's what's supposed to happen in a campaign.

That's happening less and less, as political correspondents on 24-hour news networks begin to sound more and more like John Madden on Sunday Night Football.

-- Jessica Sprenkle '08



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