Every elections cycle, media coverage tends to work out the same way: As the election year looms, elections discourse begins to trickle into the news. Then, as the primaries and caucuses hit full swing and the election is under way, media coverage becomes completely oversaturated with campaign rhetoric, talking points and pundit analysis. While elections are important, and deserve significant media coverage (obviously), the reality is that as the election winds down, it becomes the sole focal point of all political discourse, often at the expense of other urgent stories.
It would be ludicrous to argue that elections are not important or suitable for extensive coverage; however, it is important to not allow elections to drown out all other political events. For example, during the last stages of the 2016 election, while many were focused on Donald Trump’s antics, the developments of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protest went largely unnoticed.
While protesters squared off with police, and clashes went awry, there was a spectacular lack of news coverage on this subject. Members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which is the indigenous population that would be affected by the creation of the DAPL, have been protesting the government’s decision to begin constructing the DAPL near enough to their lands where it would not only disrupt their burial sites, but also poison the drinking water of the Native American settlement. In fact, a quick Google search only highlights the fact that there is a dearth of reports about this issue: Only a few news media sites actually ran any reports and even then, they only published one or two depthless articles. Compare this coverage to the sheer volume of articles, think pieces and polemics about the entire elections cycle.
Another notable example is the latest revelation by Wikileaks, which hacked and released Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta’s emails. The entire story has been strung and framed around Hillary Clinton’s email controversy, without any foregrounding about the other issues that have come to light. The Wikileaks case has shown an immeasurable amount of the inner workings of the Democratic Party, and how power functions within the upper echelons of the party system. However, the only resonance that the story has had comes in terms of Clinton’s victory prospects.
Moreover, this political myopia has been severely detrimental to any foreign policy journalism in the United States. Important developments in Syria and Venezuela (both of which are undergoing crises) are not even mentioned, resulting in a skewed political discourse. Currently, Syria’s embittered civil war is raging, with battles being fought within Aleppo. The course of the war is also being influenced by foreign actors such as Russia and Saudi Arabia, leading to increased tensions between global powers. Furthermore, the deteriorating crisis in Venezuela is crucial in its global scale — the demise of their currency has had rippling effects all over, from changes in gas prices, to a lack of exports to Venezuela. The human cost of the crisis is perhaps even more severe: Rolling blackouts and lack of food are resulting in millions being unable to afford basic items such as milk or bread. Hospitals are unable to keep the electricity going, or even import basic medicinal supplies such as penicillin — evidently, the country is in need of dire global aid. All the while, media coverage is doting on the actions and words of Trump. There is a serious discrepancy there.
It would, at this point, be an understatement to say that American electoral politics have become a theatrical, carnivalesque function of democracy. While it may be counterintuitive to say, the reality is that presidential elections are not always the only urgent and pressing political matters. There are other issues and topics and crises that need not just attention and awareness, but direct action.