Strange bedfellows: the press and the political parties, tied together since birth
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In the Republican’s surreal national convention last week, the Party of Lincoln appeared to lie down, put its legs in the air, and begin a death dance on its back. A Republican Senator spoke at the convention, and was booed when he refused to endorse the party’s candidate for president.

Leading Republicans have since lined up to disavow that candidate, and who can blame them?

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The Democratic Party is fraught, as well. To coincide with candidate Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump to hold campaign rally in Michigan Saagar Enjeti ponders Hillary Clinton's 2020 plans Political ad spending set to explode in 2020 MORE’s announcement of Virginia Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael Kaine'Granite Express' flight to take staffers, journalists to NH after Iowa caucuses Overnight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Senate panel approves Trump FDA pick | Biden downplays Dem enthusiasm around 'Medicare for All' | Trump officials unveil program for free HIV prevention drugs for uninsured Trump's FDA nominee approved by Senate panel MORE as her running mate, Wikileaks released a series of emails that let the world see all was not well with the supposedly-neutral Democratic National Committee. (One is tempted to say “all was not kosher,” given that one of the emails suggested that “someone” ask Sanders about his religious beliefs because, according to the writer of the email, “my Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.”)

Bless those Southern Baptists’ hearts for their ability to discern the difference.

Prior to Democratic National Convention in his city, Mayor Jim Kenney, a Democrat, called for “love” and “positivity” at the convention, though Sanders delegates and supporters – and there are more than a few– are promising a vigorous defense of the DNC’s own rules – and the rules of democracy at large. You can’t blame them, either. If you felt like the nomination was stolen, you’d squawk, too.

If there is a bright spot in this oddly American extravaganza, you’d think it would be that the two parties’ turmoil is carving out room for more political parties.

But if history is any indication, that probably won’t happen.

Much is made of the press’s role in this and every campaign. Early in this campaign, media outlets gave massive amounts of free ink and airtime to Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrumps light 97th annual National Christmas Tree Trump to hold campaign rally in Michigan 'Don't mess with Mama': Pelosi's daughter tweets support following press conference comments MORE. In the meantime, the press heaped upon Clinton more than her share of negative coverage, according to a study from Crimson Hexagon.  That Boston-based social analytics company also found that the press paid more attention to Clinton than it did to Sanders, which meant for crucial weeks in the early months of this endless campaign season, Sen. Sanders was “Bernie Who?”

And so it has always been. In a February New Yorker article, Jill Lepore wrote that our two-party system was actually a creation of the American press, starting with rigorous discussion about the ratification of the Constitution. Minus any other media outlets, those arguments were conducted loudest in the colony’s newspapers.

This was at a time when press objectivity was not a goal. If you bought the Connecticut Courant, you knew what you were getting – mostly, a snout full of coverage sympathetic to the revolution’s cause. If you didn’t like the tone of that paper (which continues as the Hartford Courant, America’s oldest continuously published newspaper), there was always the American Mercury, or the Connecticut Journal. Your newspaper reflected back an image of the world that you already held to be true – a colonial echo chamber, as it were.

Sound familiar? The theory of measured, unbiased reporting is a relatively new phenomenon – say the turn of the last century, and depending on your politics and what media outlet you embrace, press objectivity is still just a theory.

For better or worse, the press and politics remain intrinsically tied. One does not exist without the other, and in the spirit of all great codependent relationships, they finish each other’s sentences, too often walk in sync, and perhaps forget what should be the true nature of their dealings.

Think of it this way: The media is shifting into – well, we don’t know what yet. A Pew Research Center study from earlier this month said 81 percent of Americans get their news online. Sixty-two percent get their news from social media. Seventy-four percent (the republic lives!) believe their news sources are biased.

 

With all those changes, why would we expect politics to remain stagnant? One cannot divorce itself from the other. The two are forever joined in what is sometimes an immensely bad marriage that sometimes keeps rolling along for the children -- which would be us.

 

Campbell is a journalism professor and writer. She is the author of Dating Jesus: Fundamentalism, Feminism and the American Girl and the upcoming Searching for The American Dream in Frog Hollow. Her work has appeared in the Hartford Courant, Connecticut Magazine, The New Haven Register and The Guardian. Follow her @campbellsl


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