Why Elizabeth Warren’s Campaign Flopped. That’s an actual headline of an article on Slate. Trump’s War Against ‘the Deep State’ Enters a New Stage. That’s a New York Times headline. And this from Politico: How Bernie’s triumph in New Hampshire exposed his vulnerabilities.
Headline writers and pundits — they’re a major part of the problem. You write a headline stating Kamala Harris is having difficulty raising funds, and readers become hesitant to donate to her. You write a headline saying Cory Booker isn’t connecting with ordinary Americans, and folks who consider themselves ordinary Americans begin to wonder why Booker isn’t connecting with them. You write a headline saying Warren’s campaign has flopped, and some Warren supporters start looking for another candidate. You write a headline referring to ‘the Deep State’ and that legitimizes a conspiracy theory based on Russian disinformation.
Much of the time, people don’t read beyond the headline. Any nuanced discussion or argument gets lost. Cut and paste those headlines into posts on Facebook and Twitter, and the effect is amplified. Promising candidates get prematurely axed, campaigns stumble and fail.
Why? Because pundits and headline writers operate on the premise that there MUST be drama in a presidential contest. There MUST be tension and excitement. Anybody in the lead cannot be allowed to gain too much of a lead, because it drains the drama from the contest. There must be turmoil and spectacle, there must be tragedy and sensation. There must be a plucky underdog. There must be an obvious protagonist beset by unexpected problems. There must be a villain. There must be at least one character who experiences a sudden change of fortune. The presidential campaign must follow the Aristotelian notion that the end of the narrative should be both surprising but inevitable.
The public suffers because headline writers and pundits need a narrative. And they need a narrative because a good narrative draws readers and viewers, and readers and viewers generate revenue through advertising. The result is that the public suffers so the mass media can sell shit.
I want to kick all the headline writers and pundits squarely in the balls.