They were talking about it again this morning, just like yesterday and the day before: the mid-term elections and the odds of the Democrats losing their congressional majorities. The interviews and discussions are sizable, sometimes filling 20 minutes of airtime, and conducted with such breathless urgency a listener might think the elections are next week.
But they aren’t. The election is in November, which last time I checked is 8 months from now. That’s a heck of a long time to maintain any level of interest, much less the frantic one the media seems to have whipped up for itself. Listening to these stories on NPR makes me angsty (“Oh dear, we’re going to swing back to conservative majorities before the progressives have a chance to make any progress.”) and angry (“How dare people blame the current status of things on the President and his party? There were 8 years of mismanagement by The Other Guys; you can’t clean that up overnight!”), two states I find unhealthy to maintain for very long, never mind eight months. At this rate, I’m going to burn out on the news.
And what’s sad about this is that the burnout will include all forms of news. I won’t just stop listening to the stories and predictions and analysis about the election in November; I’ll stop paying attention to events and news locally and globally. To avoid being in a constant state of distress, I’ll enter a state of willful ignorance. And I’d bet I’m not the only one.
The other result of this myopic journalism is to inflate the importance of these elections, while simultaneously treating them like a sporting event. Not that elections aren’t important, but certainly there are equally important things citizens could or should be focussed on. By treating the midterm elections with the urgent blow-by-blow of a natural disaster or an athletic competition, the media encourages people to expect government to move faster, to keep up with the constant pressure for News. If it’s not done and over with in a week or two, at most, we can’t be bothered to pay attention; we’ve been trained to rapidly switch our attention from one shiny thing to the next. And none of this is good, for either government or citizen engagement.