Come January, for the first time in a dozen years, our nation’s largest city will have a new chief executive.
That individual will face a fiscal crisis capped by billions in unfunded obligations, an educational system that produces only 3 in 10 college-ready graduates, a middle class housing shortage and an ongoing challenge to compete for jobs in the global marketplace.
Over the next few months, New Yorkers will be watching perhaps the most interesting and dynamic campaign since the 1977 Koch-Cuomo-Abzug battle unfold in the Big Apple. It’s a political junkie’s dream.
A wide range of ideas and ideologies are on display as candidates from across the political spectrum build coalitions and try to articulate a vision for the future of the city. There will be primaries in both the Democratic and Republican parties, almost surely a Democratic runoff and a more centrist Independent candidate, who would be the city’s first Latino mayor, already on the ballot in November.
New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner faces reporters as he leaves his apartment building in New York on Wednesday, July 24, 2013. Credit: AP
Here’s the problem – for the last two months, the press have largely cared only about one scandalous, physiologically abnormal and dysfunctional candidate. You guessed it - the media have a singular obsession with Weiner – Anthony Weiner. Political coverage has hit rock bottom. That results in distancing more people from a political process that is already starving for more involvement.
The political press corps has allowed itself to be turned into paparazzi. Weiner is the new Kardashian and no one knows if and how it will end.
Look, I get it. The story of a guy named Weiner who likes to take pictures of his wiener and blast them around to young girls, is hard to resist for tabloid newspapers, late night talk show hosts, blogs, gossip columns and other news outlets.
The headlines are hysterical, but this doesn’t require pages worth of coverage in our ever shrinking newspapers.This disgraced former Congressman has effectively hijacked the press coverage of the mayoral campaign, leaving the nearly dozen other candidates to fight for whatever scraps of reporting the media will throw them about issues, ideas, endorsements and other more substantive topics. They camp out in front of his apartment and follow him from event to event like tired puppies hauling cameras, microphones and notepads.This is one thing that’s not actually Weiner’s fault, though his narcissistic personality probably loves the attention.
Over the past week, Weiner, who has a penchant for political theatrics, left candidate forums early claiming to have other commitments. The minute he stood up from the table, every member of the media in the back of the room – to a person – jumped up and left, following their favorite Twitter fiend like a death-watch pool scurries to keep up with the President. The organizers, candidates and issues be damned. Weiner was on the move.
In one instance, Weiner tried to leave the event, prompting the usual media exodus, only to be admonished by the debate’s moderator to stay. He reluctantly sat back down forcing some of the press to do the “walk of shame” one-by-one back into the room condemned to listen to the rest of the candidates. Other members of the media decided they would stake out positions outside the room to be “Weiner ready” once the forum concluded.
Of course you might say, “If you don’t like what the papers are reporting, well just buy another paper.” Unfortunately for New Yorkers, they have no option but to see and read about this bad reality TV show everywhere they look.
When pressed, the reporters all say that what they cover and who they cover are editorial decisions. To be fair, they are largely correct and many of them probably don’t want to be camped out in front of “Carlos Danger’s” apartment for hours on end. Editors are making a business decision to enable this circus because they think this is only what the public will buy. There is an elitist and snobbish attitude conveyed by a media that suggests people just don’t care about issues, vision, and other candidates – not in the least. In fact the reporting suggests the real campaign is just too far over the heads of the public.
Are we seeing the future of political reporting here? Will analysis and substance be left only to the editorial boards? Clearly the lines between information and entertainment have been blurred to the point where newspapers risk becoming little more than gossip columns relegating real news and information to a few column inches and some fleeting moments of air time.
Perhaps this scrum of otherwise competent reporters is waiting for the moment when Weiner finally snaps. Perhaps they’re tearing him down only to build him up. Perhaps they are just a bunch of rubberneckers who slow down to see the bloody car wreck on the side of the road. Whatever the case, there are a dozen candidates in the race to lead America’s largest city and the most powerful press corps in the world is choosing to abdicate their responsibility to report about a campaign in favor of a damaged person who is making a mockery of the process, himself and his family.
New Yorkers can only hope the media will attempt to redeem themselves during the general election this fall and more broadly find some appreciation of their larger responsibility to inform rather than just gossip. Hopefully, editors will have more respect for the public and not contribute to the dumbing down of our political discourse.
Thomas J. Basile is a Republican political commentator. He is an advisor to NYC Independent mayoral candidate Adolfo Carrión. Follow him on Twitter @TJBasile