President Bush’s re-election campaign accumulates an unprecedented pile of
dollars, the country’s news media are deep in a rut of reporting about the
race for the Democratic presidential nomination."
"To political reporters, the truly credible candidates stand on mountains
stories routinely tote up the dollars without explaining which financial
interests are writing the checks, what those interests stand to gain, and
whether the candidates already have a record of serving them."
"Reporters tout the candidates who’ve raised millions of dollars, and the
media hype causes more checks to be written for those candidates, who then
are taken all the more seriously by news media because they keep raising
The 45-minute video of Norman’s appearance on
C-SPAN “Washington Journal” a few days ago can be seen at:
(or via direct link at the top of
Bush’s re-election campaign accumulates an
unprecedented pile of dollars, the country’s news media are deep in a
rut of reporting about the race for the Democratic presidential
nomination. With the next national Election Day scarcely 15 months
away, most signs point to a new triumph for the
politics of money.
Rather than focusing on the positions being taken by Democrats
seeking their party’s nomination for president, the media spotlight
often stays on the amounts of money that those contenders have
raised -- as if the importance and validity of a campaign can be gauged by
the size of its bank account.
A recent CNN interview with one of the longest-shot candidates, Al
Sharpton, was a painful indication of how extreme the media
fixation on campaign coffers has become.
“We know that the fund-raising reports for the first half of the
year, these reports to the Federal Election Commission, are coming
in,” anchor Judy Woodruff said. “Howard Dean
appears to be at least on top in the second
quarter; $7.5 million he raised. And we’re told that in one
day alone, at the end of the quarter, he raised $800,000, one day
alone. Rev. Sharpton, in the entire quarter, so
far it’s been reported that you raised $80,000,
about a tenth of that what he raised in one day. My
question to you is, are you even serious about raising money in
During his response, Sharpton was clear: “We’ve reduced American
politics too much to fund raising. Yes, I think money is important.
But I think that you judge races based on who
can bring people to the polls. ... I think that
when we start acting as if money alone determines
democracy, that we’re undermining the
principles of a people’s democracy.”
Unwittingly, Woodruff came up with a retort that was even more
damning of the prevalent media mindset. “I understand what you’re
saying about it shouldn’t be based on money
alone,” she replied. “But, Rev. Sharpton, at
this early stage, money is clearly one serious indicator,
measure, of where these candidates stand.”
To political reporters, the truly credible candidates stand on
mountains of money. Like Woodruff, most journalists assume that we
shouldn’t take a campaign seriously unless it has serious money
behind it -- a self-fulfilling attitude that
simply postures as realism.
Meanwhile, in politics, after years of ballyhoo about “campaign
finance reform” and the banning of “soft money,” the power of bucks
is greater than ever. While turning off -- with
great fanfare -- the prodigious spigots of “soft
money,” the recent McCain-Feingold law has
boosted the importance of direct “hard money.” An individual can now
give $2,000 to a campaign, twice the previous limit.
“Political observers believe Bush’s network of fund-raisers, along
with campaign-finance rule changes that work strongly in Bush’s
favor, will likely allow the president to
overwhelm any Democratic opponent with an
unchallenged flurry of spending,” the ABC News website notes.
And: “Some expect the Bush campaign may raise a record $200
million, largely through individual ‘hard money’
donations, before the election is through.” That
would be about double what the Bush campaign raised
for the 2000 election.
Journalists should focus a great deal of attention on political
fund raising. But the usual reportage does little to expose the
power of money in politics. News stories
routinely tote up the dollars without explaining
which financial interests are writing the checks, what those
interests stand to gain, and whether the candidates already have a
record of serving them.
And often the coverage has the effect of magnifying the power of
money by equating financial accumulation with legitimacy. As a
campaign unfolds, when the press hypes
candidates because they’re “first tier” in fund
raising, it’s part of a pernicious cycle: Reporters tout the
candidates who’ve raised millions of dollars, and the media hype
causes more checks to be written for those
candidates, who then are taken all the more
seriously by news media because they keep raising millions...
Of course, few low-income people write four-figure or three-figure
donation checks. And Election Day comes long after the money
primary has winnowed out the presidential field
of contenders. The campaign finance system may
have been “reformed” -- but it remains deformed.