Somehow, Canada manages to elect a new federal government and prime minister after a campaign of about five weeks, yet American presidential campaigns last a year or two — some would say four. It’s a travesty often denounced, and these condemnations rarely spare the news media.
Here’s Andrew Coyne’s reflections on the pitiful press:
“Every election is different. Each has its own rhythm, its peculiar melody, its unpredictable barks and squeaks. But in one respect every election is the same: the press coverage. It’s always an embarrassment, and always in exactly the same way. Politicians learn from their mistakes, sometimes. We just go on repeating ours.
“We can’t help ourselves, it seems. After every election we retire, defeated, to our newsroom post-mortems, and each time we vow: never again. . . . . Never again will we chase after every fleeting poll, salivate over every minor ‘gaffe.’ Never again the gotcha question, the silly photo op, the constant search for ‘defining moments’ and ‘turning points,’ the investing of trivial campaign mishaps with symbolic import — as if the great river of events were just naturally teeming with metaphors for us to fish….
“And then we go out and do it all over again.
“I don’t know whether it’s learned behaviour, or whether it’s instinctive, responding to some deeply recessed part of the journalistic brain. I only know that we — the media . . . — are hurting democracy. We aren’t just missing an opportunity to help the public make sense of things at a critical time. We’re making things worse. We’re actually getting in the way.”
What makes this critique different from a hundred others, is that Coyne is writing for Canada’s most important national magazine, Maclean’s, and it’s Canada’s election coverage he’s complaining about. (Canada’s federal elections are October 14.) Which shows Americans who think our unending elections simply exhaust the media’s limited reserves of highmindedness that even five weeks might be too long.
Unless what it shows is that critical coverage of the coverage has become an inevitable part of any election, and five weeks is plenty of time for those critics to cook up a case and swing into action.