With the Kentucky Derby just two weeks away, it’s time to remind ourselves of just how time-wasting and meaningless it can be if we tune in way too early to television’s race day coverage.
We'll just be swamped by the pre-race, paddock walk blather – and misled by smart-money predictions.
And while we’re at it, we’re already late in reminding ourselves not to make the same mistake by getting misled by the way-too-early talking head analyses of the 2016 presidential campaign. They’re already gushing out of all the screens near you (palmtop, laptop and cable-fed) plus my still-preferred medium: ink-on-dead-trees, which can be accessed when it is home-delivered to our doorsteps, driveways and, occasionally, shrubs.
The problem with even the most insightful pre-conventional wisdom of my media colleagues is that so little is really known that their best guesses often prove to be time-wasting, meaningless, sometimes misleading and even flat-out wrong.
That’s because the early coverage of these horse races is only about perceived frontrunners, at a time when no one has really started running.
America’s proud punditry class is still trying to forget its pre-1980 anointment of the smart-money’s president-to-be John Connally, the former Democratic Texas governor who became a Nixon-Republican Treasury Secretary. Connally raked in bigtime special interest campaign money, made all the right short-lists and was celebrated on Time’s cover before a single primary vote was cast. Yet he captured just one GOP convention delegate.
In 1980, a large field of Republican luminaries was running against an unpopular easily-criticized Democratic president, Jimmy Carter. At this time in 1979, little was clear or known.
Fast-forward: Today, another large field of Grand Old Party figures is readying to run for president by attacking the record of another controversial Democratic president, Barack Obama. Today’s far more massive media – Internet news and social media sites, blogosphere, nonstop cable TV news and print – are keeping us up to our eyeballs in too-early campaign coverage. And the chattering heads are already giving way too much weight to poll results that are, after all, still mostly meaningless.
This early in a race, public opinion polls can only be taking the measure of potential voters who don’t really know much of anything about any of the candidates – and certainly haven’t really formed a real opinion about them. Still, the 24/7 TV news, blogs and social media are all a'Twitter about the Republicans who are perceived as frontrunners. Even though, this early, there is no substantial public opinion that has been formed. So how can it be surveyed?
The Obama years have been notable in large part for the vehemence in which Republicans have seized upon presidential or White House missteps to attack Obama, who was just a first term senator when he ran for president, for lacking national and global leadership experience.
So it was especially notable that in recent days the mainstream news media (which is understandably considered to have a liberal tilt) covered, with ample attention and gravitas, the presidential campaign announcements of three still-new Republican senators whose ambitions are far grander than their national experience: Texas’ Ted Cruz, Kentucky’s Rand Paul and most recently, Florida’s Marco Rubio.
All three attacked Hillary Clinton as a candidate of “yesterday” and vowed to be the leader of “tomorrow.” And all three spoke their lines as though they were saying something new and special – even though their yesterday/tomorrow attack themes are as old as politics itself.
Meanwhile, the biggest news of the week was made by another Republican senator who is never mentioned as a prospective presidential candidate – yet who has shown more leadership flair and competence than anyone so far in the GOP pack.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee forged bipartisan sponsorship of his plan for Congress to vote on any planned nuclear accord with Iran, forcing Obama to drop his opposition and accept this congressional role.
Corker’s guidance, measured responses and reluctance to join GOP colleagues in their more demagogic anti-Obama attacks, have shown a presidential quality of leadership, both out-front and behind-the-scenes, that Washington hasn’t seen in quite a while.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at email@example.com.