The winner of the Wisconsin primary earlier this week was... the media!
Forget Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders. They might have corralled the most votes in the Badger State, but the real victor was the supposed-to-be-impartial media; you know, those telegenic talking heads who care about ratings more than substance, the sizzle more than the steak. With Cruz and Sanders gaining momentum, the airwaves are guaranteed to be filled with paid commercials for the candidates in the biggest media markets of all (New York and California) and, most crucially, the national conventions of both parties this summer probably will command "huuuge" ratings and corresponding ad time rates.
Far from being neutral, the media have fanned the rhetorical fires by focusing on provocative statements from the candidates and their surrogates rather than on the substantive differences between the contenders. Earlier this week, for example, one broadcast network's evening news program showed Sanders about to describe the policy divides between him and Hillary Clinton. But just as he was about to give specifics, the network cut away to air catfight comments from each candidate.
Soundbites rule our national conversation. The media have been complicit in the dumbing down of our political system. And there's nothing we can do about it. While the rest of us cringe at the spectacle unfolding before our eyes, media moguls are padding their bank accounts.
Here's what Leslie Moonves, chairman, president and CEO of CBS Corporation, had to say about Donald Trump and the media's fascination with him during a presentation at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference in San Francisco in February, according to The Hollywood Reporter:
"It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS."
"Man, who would have expected the ride we're all having right now? ... The money's rolling in and this is fun."