The media’s obsession with sausage making isn’t helping anyone
Thanksgiving is all about the turkey, of course. But lately the mainstream media has been obsessed with something else: sausages – and how they’re made.
Another term for this is “process report” – a breathtaking coverage of every little twist and turn in the way legislation is made and sold. An Internet search for “Democrats + Biden + Sausage” returns over half a million results.
This kind of journalism is nothing new. But it got more extreme, to the point that it really helps anyone.
To be fair, Democrats are doing all they can to encourage this kind of coverage. In fact, they seem to revel in the mess. Immediately after the House voted for the Build Back Better bill, the Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiA Tale of Two Tax Policies: What Motivates the Senate Asian American leaders push for national museum of their own Biden, lawmakers mourn Harry Reid MORE (D-California) reminded reporters, “It’s called the legislative process” – as if all the very public shutdowns, starts, ups and downs of the past few months are proof that things are working well and not falling apart.
President BidenJoe Biden FDA clears second rapid home COVID-19 test Pentagon awards $ 6.7 million contract for domestic production of essential material for rapid COVID-19 testing, celebrating the adoption of the bipartite infrastructure bill, proclaimed to White House reporters: “Finally, the sausage is done.”
The mainstream media has enthusiastically embraced the making of sausage by Democrats for one main reason: all of this protein feeds their beast. In digital journalism and the 24/7 wired news environment, every moment is a deadline, every second of airtime must be met.
When hard facts are scarce, backstage gossip is a practical substitute. Like a treadmill that never stops, this endless amount of rumor allows the media to continue to label a story as “development” or, better yet, “disruption”.
This creates a unique sausage-making synergy. Yes, the reporting process feeds modern journalism’s insatiable thirst for new material. But it also presents certain types of politicians with something they crave: plenty of opportunities on camera. One side encourages the other. And that continues the story of the cliffhanger “process”: will the bill pass? What is it, what is it? Who has weight? Who doesn’t?
For a Senator or House Member, there is no glory in dealing with disagreements behind the scenes until a resolution is reached – not when a group of cameras and reporters stand in every hallway. Capitol Hill, eagerly looking for anything they can instantly publish online or broadcast live on cable news.
If you have an outsized ego – which is apparently not unusual in Washington – this is a perfect arrangement.
And, after all, who suffers from it?
Lots of people do. They are called “voters” or, sometimes, “average citizens”.
Journalists justify the reporting process by insisting that it brings transparency to Capitol Hill and the White House. Even Shalanda Young, President Biden’s interim budget director, told a media: “Frankly, a lot of Americans have said they want to see sausage making up close and personal.”
But do they really do it? Not that way.
Transparency is good, but it’s a continuous whirlwind of prefabricated conflict and outrage in capital letters that turns every detour into a crisis that should not be touched on this dial… until the next disaster strikes. on top of a new cable news hour.
Americans are exhausted. Over the past 20 years, they have faced terrorist attacks, two wars, an economic collapse, a deadly pandemic, and an attempt to overthrow a presidential election with a deadly attack on the Capitol. Polls consistently show that Americans are pessimistic on almost all institutions, starting with politics and national leadership.
A relentless focus on the process – which is actually a relentless focus on a few personalities – sheds no light on this obscurity. Instead, it causes this deep feeling that things are not on the right track.
It is an axiom among some journalists that the “process” does not matter to many voters on election day; they just don’t follow it that closely. That’s right – and part of the problem. Voters may not hang on to every change in sausage making, but there is a trickle down effect. In the evening news broadcasts, on their Facebook feeds and cell phones, they get just enough coverage to conclude that democracy is still broken and will probably never be mended.
A poll two weeks ago showed that a solid majority of respondents support both Biden’s infrastructure package and Build Back Better. But Biden’s approval rating was at a new low – a drop due not to Republicans, but Democrats and Independents. It seems Americans love the legislation – but all of this sausage reporting even gives Biden supporters a big case of heartburn. They just filled it up.
It is time to take a look back at this kind of journalism, or at least the incredible amount that is currently being produced. To some extent, this contributes to a damaging perception that things are falling apart. Considering what the nation went through on January 6 and is still trying to cope, it’s not hard to see this needs to change.
Over a century ago, the German statesman Otto von Bismarck Said, “To keep sausages and the laws respected, you don’t have to watch them while they’re being made.” “
At least for a little while, maybe the media can feast on leftover turkey. And take Bismarck’s advice: stop staring at the sausages.
Joe Ferullo is an award-winning media executive, producer and reporter and former executive vice president of programming for CBS Television Distribution. He was news director for NBC, writer-producer for “Dateline NBC” and worked for ABC News. Follow him on twitter @ ironworker1.