Some Like It Hot

Just as the conventional wisdom was forming that, long before November, voters will be sick of 24/7 coverage of a relentlessly negative general election campaign, along comes this USA Today article by Martin Kasindorf and Mark Memmott making the case that, in fact, “This could be a year when the presidential race captures and holds the public’s interest no matter how mean it gets.”

Perhaps most convincingly, a number of experts with little stake in holding the interest of viewers or readers (Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, and pollsters Bill McInturff and Stanley Greenberg) make this argument to Kasindoff and Memmot. (After all, it’s hard to imagine the media personalities they interview — NBC anchor Tim Russert, CNN anchor Judy Woodruff, CBS News producer Dotty Lynch, and syndicated political columnist David Schribman — suggesting that the race is going to be a snoozefest.)

The piece is also noteworthy for its unusually nuanced approach to the notion that voters will be burnt out by election day. As Kasindorf and Memmott point out, “The real targets of all that advertising will be a relatively small number of people, the ‘swing’ voters in the 17 key states who aren’t already committed to one candidate. That amounts to about 20 percent of the voters in those states and a much smaller percentage of the national voting population.”

It also gives us a hint about some of what’s to come: According to Woodruff, CNN will deal with the challenge of sustaining voters’ interest by “taking the show on the road to those contested states, for discussions of what voters are thinking.” And, the reporters tell us, “CBS will begin airing political reports from Allentown, Pa., a manufacturing city hit hard by job losses.” Whether those hardly innovative reporting techniques will keep viewers engaged through November is another question.

Zachary Roth

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Zachary Roth is a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly. He also has written for The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets.