Presidential Campaigns Will Soon Be Done Entirely in CGI

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

Dylan Byers reports today on an open secret: the 2012 campaign is a relentless, joyless exercise in trench warfare, and reporters hate it. So what’s the solution?

Some reporters believe it is just a matter of waiting out 2012 in hopes that 2016 will see the return of 2008-level excitement….Others fear that with every election cycle, campaigns are further battening down the hatches, setting precedents of media control that ultimately render the media powerless to do anything but wait at the mercy of a scripted quote, like dogs waiting for scraps.

Bingo. This has been going on for years, and it’s accelerated dramatically over the past decade or two. With every campaign, candidates push the envelope a little more, testing the boundaries of how far they can restrict press access. The answer, I think, is pretty plain: they could literally allow the press no access at all and it wouldn’t hurt them. The only reason they still allow the little bit they do is inertia. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, they still find it hard to believe they could really get away with shutting out reporters completely.

But they could. The mainstream media, by its own rules, isn’t really allowed to gripe about access, and anyway, nobody listens when they do. What’s more, the days when candidates needed press coverage are now gone. During the primaries, when money is still scarce, it’s a different story: free media attention is still a valuable commodity. But once the general election campaign starts, campaigns can reach everyone they need to reach, more safely and with more pinpoint control, via partisan media, television ads, data mining, debates, short hits on local TV, and social media. In those forums, they can pretty much say anything they want, without having to field any embarrassing questions about whether they have their facts right and without fear of inadvertent gaffes. The truth is that the downside risk of talking to reporters is now greater than the upside benefit of the coverage they give you.

This dynamic has already gone pretty far. John McCain and Barack Obama both ran very buttoned-up campaigns in 2008, and this year both Romney and Obama are famous for their spectacular lack of availability to the national press corps. They do occasional formal sit-down interviews, which are pretty safe, and — maybe — take a few questions a month. That’s it. And guess what? The sky hasn’t fallen. It turns out they can get away with it just fine.

By 2020 campaigns will be like studio bands that never do live shows. They’ll be conducted entirely in a bubble, with national reporters allowed no access whatsoever. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate