On Jan. 14, CNN hosted the seventh Democratic presidential debate of this election cycle. The most significant talking point didn’t involve substantial policy debate, but rather a petty squabble centered around hearsay. With Senator Bernie Sanders supposedly having told Senator Elizabeth Warren that a woman could never be elected President of the United States, moderator Abby Phillip allowed them to address the situation. But seconds after Sanders emphatically denied the allegations, Phillips asked Warren how she felt when Sanders said that a woman could never become president. No, not if he said it and if so, why he would say it, but when he said it, as if he definitely did so despite all signs pointing to the contrary. This exchange angered me so profusely that it disengaged me from the remainder of the debate and I vented my frustrations on Twitter. More importantly, it’s made me ponder the merits of entertainment news networks like CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, which have their purpose but hold much more public sway than is beneficial or warranted.
For starters, I don’t understand the fascination with compiling an A-list team of moderators for each debate. Much like with any primetime singing or cooking competition show, I’m not tuning in primarily to see a celebrity judging panel engage in wild antics or impose their “expertise” upon us naive folk. Rather, I anticipate the candidates and their public policy presentations as the night’s true all-stars. Yes, these panelists have plenty of relevant experience, and the essence of a debate necessitates some back-and-forth interaction. But considering that each individual has discerning perspectives and tastes that inevitably inhibit their ability to speak or behave impartially, this current setup hardly seems fair to the candidates onstage or to the uninformed prospective voters developing their opinions. To ensure greater objectivity (and also to discourage each candidate from speaking past their allotted time, thereby skewing things further), I’d prefer that an automated teleprompter or something of that ilk to moderate each debate.
But the insufferability of these entertainment news networks transcends the debate stage. We witness their stubborn conviction to ill-conceived or completely incoherent storylines via not only their framing of commentary surrounding certain political candidates (e.g. the aforementioned Sanders-Warren scuttlebutt), but also the varying frequencies at which they broadcast each candidate’s campaign promos, alongside post-debate discussion that largely contradicts the events that just transpired. If I sought a scripted viewing experience, then I could visit my local movie theater, take a trip to Broadway or better yet, flip the channel as opposed to tolerating such drivel. But these laughably out-of-touch attempts to undermine the most popular and engaging candidates and construct an alternate reality under the guise of “expert analysis” is no joking matter.
I’m not exactly breaking ground by arguing that entertainment news networks are inherently biased, but it’s still critical to note. Their primary objective isn’t to properly inform the public and prevent catastrophe, but rather to attract a captive audience and profit off of it. After all, corporations like CBS, NBC and PBS make their broadcast channels available to most and carry a storied reputability; meanwhile, supplemental networks like CNN and MSNBC hold less prestige and are often only available on more expensive cable subscription packages. However, the ramifications of money in politics rear their ugly heads when said networks are funded by corporations that vehemently support or oppose certain candidates, and when their coverage of the most disturbing occurrences generates the highest ratings (and consequently greater financial gain). With this in mind, the overly cynical part of me almost believes that these entertainment news networks would rather aid in the re-election of our current disgrace as opposed to the election of candidates like Sanders, who offers less potential for salacious reporting and has vowed to go after the giant corporations. Conspiracy theories aside, the current state of affairs surrounding entertainment news networks and their coverage should disturb us all.
Ultimately, my qualm isn’t as much about the particular candidate who suffered unwarranted backlash (although it certainly contributed to my anger). It’s more concerning that entertainment news networks posit themselves as professional, authentic and morally sound, yet often spit in the face of these virtues and the candidates that truly extol them. Presidential debates – and any other critical political events, for that matter – should be hosted exclusively by more accessible and reputable news networks, where spectacle and bias cannot coexist with the serious matters at hand and the legitimacy of our viewing experience cannot be questioned.
Michael Katz is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.