Average Jane

Open Letter to the Media: Please learn your lessons

I am not a scientist. I don’t necessarily understand all the theories of science, but I do brazenly misuse scientific theories to prove my points as often as possible. This is one of those instances.

There is a theory I know of often called the Observer Effect. It states, in my best estimation, that simply observing an act changes the outcomes of that act. (Note: My entire argument below is based on this interpretation, so if I am wrong… um… just take it for what it’s worth. *currently second guessing entire post*)

With that in mind, let me talk to you about what the media are in the process of doing as we speak, the night before the most important election of my life time — possibly of my generation…

If there was one lesson to be learned by the last two elections it’s that the media do matter. Media, as in plural. The multiple outlets by which Americans get their news every day make a difference in an election. 8 years ago tomorrow, the media made the mistake of calling an extremely close election well before the true outcome was known. I remember vividly that I went to sleep as soon as Al Gore’s picture flashed up on the screen, announced as the next president of the United States. I woke up the next day to an uncertain nation. Who was our President? What had gone so wrong?

The questions came: What effect did the media’s announcing so early that Gore had won have on the West Coast voters whose polls had not yet closed?

By simply reporting the poll numbers, the election was affected. The media swore they learned. They learned to be more careful in announcing final counts. Calling the winner. The next election’s coverage was more guarded, more cautious.

And then came this new idea: Let’s help voters vote by enacting “early voting”. Great! More people have more time to vote! More people voting equals a better democracy! Every voice will be heard! w00t!

Except. EXCEPT. The ramifications of early voting were not calculated taking the media into account. In my estimation, polls are dangerous, dangerous things. We find out who is in the lead on a day by day basis. Points shift back and forth from one candidate to the other. One column rises and the other falls. Resources are shifted. Expectations change. Likely voters are the ones who matter. “Well,” says the first time voter, “if they are thes ones who are going to vote, and they are voting like me, then I don’t need to vote. Right?”

And so it goes. By observing the act, the act is changing. And now, the counts are going beyond likely voters. They are taking actual voters into account, with early voting exit polling numbers revealed. Keith Olbermann, who I love and want to have babies with, said that for McCain to win, he needs 112% of undecided and third party votes. Well, Mr. Olbermann, you have just done a serious disservice to your cause. Is the over-100% number amusing? Yes. Reassuring for those of us who plan to vote? Yes. But what of those voters who are old or weak or were thinking, “I will have to take time off of work to vote.”? What of those voters who now think, “Well, maybe my vote really isn’t as important as I thought. This election is in the bag.”?

We need every vote. Republican or Democratic, we need every person who is elligible to vote to go out there and do it, and the media, in reporting these early numbers, are, I truly do believe, thwarting the process. Are more people registered to vote than ever? Are more people likely to vote than ever? Yes to both. But why not give them the opportunity to feel good about their vote, their effort to make a difference, then simply telling them that they are fulfilling a already prescribed destiny.

I am not a media-blamer. Fuck it. Yes I am. I think both sides of the media aisle have made “mainstream” a dirty word rather than a goal. I think they have emphasized issues that matter less than what color underwear I’ve got on (blue, incidentally and coincidentally). I think they have distracted the voters from learning about the real issues by carrying on about flashy character attacks. And I mean this on both sides of the aforementioned partisan media.

But this… this is the biggest gaffe of all. Your predictions may affect this most important election, and then what? What will you say to yourself then? “We’ll do better next time?” I don’t believe you. I don’t believe you and I don’t trust you. And not trusting the press, one entity protected by the Bill of Rights of these United States… well it’s sad.

Go vote. Whoever you are. Go vote and be counted and be proud that you did.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Truth in blogging « Average Jane pingbacked on 9 years, 5 months ago


  1. * jtemplon says:

    I don’t think the media has done anything incorrect by reporting the numbers as they happen. Of course, I work in it / am studying to live in it. The media has a certain responsibility to report the numbers that arise from a campaign while they are still “newsworthy.” Does that mean they shouldn’t predict things? Certainly not. Do I think the media may be overstating things? (Or overly optimistic, depending on how you view their political bents.) Depends on who you ask.

    Still, media coverage shouldn’t stop anyone from voting. People who see polling numbers and decide not to vote are just making up an excuse.

    Also, I can’t believe that my absentee ballot failed to arrive. So incredibly pissed.

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 5 months ago
  2. * aBove says:

    I’m with you, right up until “shouldn’t stop anyone from voting.” Being intelligent, active citizens, we can agree that it shouldn’t stop people from voting, but Jane isn’t arguing should/shouldn’t. She’s arguing that it *will* affect the outcome. And I think it’s unfortunate that she’s right.

    So where does that leave us? Short of starting our own international media conglomerate, what’s our recourse?

    Know that all of your faithful readers continue to support the democracy in your pants [for some of us, regardless of which party happens to be in said pants].

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 5 months ago
  3. * instatick says:

    I think media expectations play a big part in lots of things. When I lived in a little town in Ohio, there was a riot. Because of day lights savings time. It was insane. So, the next year, helicopters and news vans from all over the state flew in to my little Ohio town expecting a riot. And there was one. But had there not been media there, well, maybe then there wouldn’t have been one.

    Yay for voting!

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 5 months ago
  4. Jane,
    This is an insightful, thought provoking post. Sadly it very clearly articulates a problem which does not have a reasonable solution. I still am better for having read it. Thank you.

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 5 months ago
  5. * subramanyam says:

    Yes – yes there is a solution – control it, write to papers about it, write blogs and then they will learn it… At the end they need TRP they are in the in business but they act as if they are above the law, above the politicians they themselves taken a patent on commenting. It is taking new turns and compare to earlier reporting…

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 4 months ago

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