In last week’s The Nation, John Nichols and Robert McChesney had an important breakdown of how corporate money combined with a gutted local-level news media to deeply skew the political landscape in dozens of key races. Nichols and McChesney offer data to bolster Roberto Lovato’s declaration that electoral politics have become a dead-end road to racial justice. They write:
Of fifty-three competitive House districts where Rove and his compatriots backed Republicans with “independent” expenditures that exceeded those made on behalf of Democrats—often by more than $1 million per district, according to Public Citizen—the Republicans won fifty-one. Roughly three-quarters of all GOP House gains came in districts where independent expenditures by groups like the Chamber of Commerce and Rove’s American Crossroads gave Republican candidates, some of them virtual unknowns until the outside money flowed in, the advantage. The money is powerful, of course, but that power is supercharged because of the decay, and in many cases disappearance, of independent and skeptical journalism at the state and regional levels, where elections are decided. Campaign narratives used to be created by reporters who, imperfectly but seriously, pulled together the multiple threads of an election season to give voters perspective. Now that narrative is driven by commercials—millions of them, most negative. The narrative for the most part still comes from broadcast and cable TV stations, as it has for some time, but it is now produced and paid for by economic elites that seek to define not just the results of an election but the scope and character of government itself.
The January 2010 Citizens United ruling made the monstrous spending possible. But the rot of local-level journalism is arguably the greater problem. As Nichols and McChesney explain, local news outlets have gone from watchdogging elections to cashing in on them.
The most important yet least-recognized piece of the money-and-media election complex is the commercial broadcasting industry, which just had its best money-making election season ever. Political advertising has become an enormous cash cow for it—roughly two-thirds of the campaign spending this year flowed into the coffers of TV stations; the final figure is likely to be well above $2 billion. Whereas in the 1990s the average commercial TV station received about 3 percent of its revenues from campaign ads, this year campaign money could account for as much as 20 percent. And station owners are not missing a beat; thirty-second spots that went for $2,000 in 2008 were jacked up to $5,000 this year, according to the Los Angeles Times. Much of this money will go to stations owned by a handful of Fortune 500 firms.
However, local TV covers far less than it did two or three decades ago; according to the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California, a thirty-minute newscast at election time has more political advertising than campaign news. Even when politics does get covered, the focus, increasingly, is on “analyzing” ads. And the cumulative effect of endless advertising overwhelms what little remains of independent on-air coverage.
Read the whole article here. It’s worth it.