As the Democratic Party's Rules Committee prepares to convene in order to resolve the situation in Michigan and Florida, the mainstream media is ramping up the spin. Whether the spin favors Obama, Clinton, or ultimately John McCain, what the spin never favors is American democracy.
Every political party in the United States has the sovereignty to set its own rules for its elections and nominations; however, the language used in most mainstream media reports on the DNC's stance on the invalid primaries in Florida and Michigan make those rules and the exercising of that sovereignty appear like whims, not rules for the good of the party and for the fairness of the democratic process.
Very few articles also mention that the Republican National Committee (RNC) also penalized Florida and Michigan for moving their primaries by cutting in half their delegations to their national convention. Republican primaries are "winner take all" contests, unlike Democratic primaries which allot delegates proportionately with the vote; had the Republican race been tighter (i.e. had Huckabee decided to take his bid into June or to the convention), the penalty could have effected McCain's lead. However, after Huckabee withdrew from the race, the RNC's appropriate penalization of Florida and Michigan ceased to be an issue.
Yet the spotlight is solely on the Democratic party, and the language used diminishes the responsibility of the Florida and Michigan legislatures who knew the rules they were breaking as they approved the movement of their respective primaries.
Consider the following excerpt from a CNN.com article written by Drew Griffin and Kathleen Johnston:
Clinton has argued the primary results of two of the nation's largest states should count because otherwise millions of voters are being disenfranchised. Obama has said he is willing to work out some compromise.
But he is insistent the primary results are invalid since the two states failed to follow party rules and the rules are the rules.
The DNC has not seated the Florida and Michigan delegates because the two states violated party edicts in holding their primaries early.
The three paragraphs above exemplify all that is wrong with current mainstream media reporting. It seems as though CNN has adopted the "hands-off" rhetorical position of FOXnews: "We report, you decide." In the first two paragraphs above, Griffin and Johnston summarize the positions of senators Clinton and Obama, but they do so without context or commentary, and in fact the article seems to suggest that the opinions of the contestants are somehow more important than the sovereignty of the rules by which they are bound to compete. Most readers do not know the rules of national political parties; most readers do not know precedents when those parties have been forced to uphold their rules through penalization; most readers do not know the authority given to national political parties to conduct their own business.
Moreover, Griffin and Johnston call the DNC's rules "edicts," a word that is used incorrectly due to its denotation and used rhetorically due to its negative connotations. an edict is an order or command made without any legal authority but with the force of law. One follows an edict simply because one feels like it or because one fears an unjust reprisal; moreover, one can ignore an edict without expecting a justified punishment. If national political parties' rules were simply edicts without actual authority, would U.S. courts (in Florida, no less) continue to dismiss lawsuits filed against the DNC, stating that political parties have the constitutional right to determine their own rules for selecting delegates in nominating processes (Tampa Bay Online).1
Should responsible media outlets abstain from providing for their readers the appropriate tools to interpret the "facts" they typically present out of context? Do we want a media industry that absolves itself of any responsibility to interpret based upon fact? Few would disagree with the news-consumer's right to make up his or her own mind about the facts of a story, but in order for such a decision to be valid, for it to have the weight of rational decision making, it must have access to the pertinent information. It seems that the "no ideology" position openly proclaimed by FOXnews is in fact a more-insidious ideological tactic--by providing decontextualized "facts," the media is able to manufacture consent among its audience that seems even more authentic because we have "made up our own minds."
Although this may be a new type of Godwin, allow the hypothetical use of Robert Mugabe as illustration for a moment. If U.S. news outlets reported that Mugabe claimed the results of an election should stand despite the election itself being moved to an illegal time and despite the fact that his opposition was not even on the ballot in 50% of the area in question, would anyone in America say, "Sure, Robert. Sounds reasonable to me?" No, because as a nation we claim to believe in the sovereignty of rules, in insuring fairness in competition, and such actions as moving an election, as arguing for the legitimacy of a ballot that does not include the competition would be unfair and, more importantly, un-democratic.
So our choice, as the Griffin and Johnston would not have us believe, is between affirming the beliefs we claim to hold dear and placing blame not on the DNC but on the legislators broke the rules and disenfranchised their own voters or accepting as legitimate an un-democratic process in the name of (somehow) fairness.
Oh, and never mind the fact that Senator Clinton, who has found yet another voice in this campaign and become a crusader for voting rights, agreed to these rules and supported the DNC's decision to strip Florida of its full delegation.
But that was when she was winning.
1 The person filing the lawsuit, Victor DiMaio, did not even vote in his primary. Of course he still has the right to file the suit, but the circumstances are nothing if not ironic: "Every vote is sacred, but I had other things to do on election day!"