In today’s fast-moving media environment, there is no traditional news cycle akin to what existed before the advent of the Internet and cable news. According to a CBS News article, news publication is almost instantaneous, and is quickly followed by pundit discussions and analyses. The instantaneous news cycle now makes vilification much quicker than in previous generations. For example, on a recent edition of the Up To Dateradio show, Dr. David Perlmutter mentioned that immediately after Governor Sarah Palin was announced to be John McCain’s running mate, blogs were writing salacious things about Palin’s family.

On the show, Perlmutter argued talented and qualified individuals might not run for political offices for fear of having skeletons in their closets instantly exposed. That statement possesses merit. However, there are shades of gray within the argument. Therefore, it is difficult to properly be able to completely agree or completely disagree with the statement.

In the early years of the United States’ life, newspaper articles were rife with opinion and oftentimes libelous comments, according to a newspaper history Web site. However, people still ran for political offices, even though they were subject to harsh diatribes. As time progressed and the United States became even larger, more political offices became available. Similarly, the role of the media also increased, as more territories opened, more publications were produced. Still people run for political offices, especially roles in the federal government, despite today’s fast-moving media environment.

However, according to a Washington Post article, the current media environment tends to focus on federal government candidates. Furthermore, coverage is polarizing and tends to focus on the extremes of candidates’ personalities. This focus on candidates’ personalities and their background certainly could deter talented people from running for a political office at the national level.

The state and local levels, though, might be a different story entirely. Local news outlets typically do not have the same amount and quality of resources their large media counterparts possess. A person running for a Lawrence, Kansas city council position most likely would not have much to fear from the Lawrence Journal-World lurking into his background. Conversely, if that same person was vying for a seat on the United States Senate, he should expect The New York Times to analyze his background. On Up To Date, host Steve Kraske referred to that paradigm as a “sliding scale.” The smaller and more local position a person runs for, the less media attention and scrutiny he is sure to receive.

In a recent conversation with me, Kansas state senator Pat Apple said media scrutiny has little impact on why people do not run for political office, especially at the state level. Additionally, those who do get involved in the political process expect media attention. Lack of time, lack of patience and lack of political efficacy are the three reasons Senator Apple said talented people do not run for political offices, not media scrutiny.

In all, it is difficult to actually say whether the current media environment deters individuals from running for political office. No polling data exist (or are easily accessible) that asks that question. But it certainly seems plausible that someone chooses not to run for a position, especially a federal position, for fear of inviting instantaneous scrutiny. Senator Apple’s comments further strengthen that position. Most likely the same media review of candidates does not exist at the state or local level.

posted by J.J. De Simone

Originally Posted September 22, 2008 at PolicyByBlog

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