Earlier this week, New York Mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner confirmed his participation in sexually explicit conversations again, this time via text message, with a woman that is not his wife. Many questions were raised in the days that followed, but none as important as this: who cares?
Weiner’s candidacy, as well as former New York governor Elliot Spitzer’s candidacy for comptroller, has caused people to talk. And what are they talking about? Oh, you know, the usual relevant information pertinent to a candidate’s campaign: Weiner’s exposing of his, ahem, surname to women via Twitter, and Spitzer’s involvement in a high-priced prostitution ring.
Outside of those viewers watching the races closely, what people see in the news is whether these candidates can overcome their past indiscretions politically. If people really want to know what the candidates are talking about, they have to look closely and be willing to do some research.
Political scandal is no longer left to trash publications and gossip mags — the most credible news sources in the world are now in the trenches of delivering this same sub-par and, frankly, trashy coverage.
This is where news has gone: political coverage is no longer just the horse-race that so many pundits moan about. In fact, it’s worse — it’s a dogfight.
News networks are in a tug of war with themselves — on one side is their desire to assist a well informed public, on the other is the need to make money. They have millions of captive viewers a night, and scores of competitors. So, are they going to show those 12 million people what they need to see or what they want to see?
I think you and I both know the answer … money talks.
But it’s not just the news networks’ fault. No, it is ours: we, the viewers, are part of the problem.
With every, “LOL [insert pun here] @AnthonyWeiner” tweet we write, and every article about some politician’s daughter who got pregnant we share on Facebook, we feed into the cycle that makes campaigns more synonymous with the Real Housewives of Orange County than the West Wing.
When news outlets see that this is what we, their target market, are responding to, they know it is what we are watching. Why would a news network start covering real issues if it only means the viewers are going to change the channel?
By continuing to be so engaged in the gossip, we let news outlets know they are giving us what we want, and that they should continue to do so.
Unfortunately, we don’t live inside of HBO’s “The Newsroom” and can’t expect networks to sacrifice ratings for journalistic integrity. This is the real world, and that apparently means allowing news to be the demand-driven cash cow that executives want it to be.
But there is a solution. Let’s make what we want and what we need the same thing. Lets no longer accept political scandal over important issues. Let’s demand more from the cash cow.
I’m not suggesting we never talk about the personal lives of politicians. Obviously we are human and are interested in these aspects of life, but let’s not let it overshadow all the other important factors that make up a candidacy and drag the 24-hour news cycle into the darkness.
Let’s make the gossip and political scandal and otherwise random tangents an occasional pleasure food, if you will. Let’s make sure the real issues — the ones that matter and will actually affect us — are always on the menu.
I know that when it comes time for me to go to the polls, I want to be informed. If I’m going to vote for someone, I want it to be because I think their stance on issues would make a positive difference, not because they once sent a naked picture to some woman. I want the news media to provide me with the important issues of a campaign, not whatever personal indiscretions riddle the candidates’ pasts.
Penn students have the ability to make a difference. We are the ones constantly scouring the web and other sources for the news. We are the ones who will have the ability — the responsibility — to say that we want more than what we are being given.
When I look at my phone or computer to read news updates, I want to read about the issues. With every bit of scandalous “news” that comes before important news, we take one step back. In this brave new world of highly targeted media, the news we demand is the news we get. So let’s demand better. Let’s demand what we need — not just what we want.
Laura Petro is a rising College sophomore from Galloway, NJ. Her email address is email@example.com. You can follow her @LauraVPetro. “Petro on Paper” runs biweekly during the summer.