Cosman: Prevalence of nonissues in media distracts from effective political discourse

On Wednesday April 11, political strategist and pundit Hilary Rosen spoke on CNN, claiming that Ann Romney, wife of republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, “has actually never worked a day in her life.” Rosen’s comments incited a media firestorm that is just one in a long string of nonissues taking center stage.

The prevalence of and continued emphasis on these sorts of inconsequential stories distracts from pertinent political discourse and further removes an already politically apathetic majority of Americans.

Ann Romney responded on Twitter the evening of April 11, and by the next morning, nearly every major media outlet had picked up the story. The media’s need to sell itself generates a need to create conflict out of nothing – and in a period when the hottest political story was former Sen. Rick Santorum dropping out of the republican primary (seemingly an end to an 18-month long conflict), there was a gaping hole that required filling.

There should never have been any attention at all given to Rosen’s comments. Everyone agreed that they were misguided – there shouldn’t have even been the possibility of turning it into a partisan debate.

While originally misidentified by the Romney campaign as an advisor to President Barack Obama, actual advisors to the president immediately distanced themselves from Rosen and condemned the comments: “[The comments] were inappropriate and offensive,” said Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod.

The conversation should have ended there. There was no need for Rosen’s comments – and the response from Romney – to enter the news cycle. There was never any remotely productive political discussion possible from the event, only partisan baiting and finger pointing.

Maybe the “news story” is a microcosm of a salient issue to the 2012 election – the increasingly important role of women in the presidential race and which party will carry their vote. Or maybe it was just another example of Mitt Romney’s hypocrisy – defending his wife as a stay-at-home mother while just months before claiming that mothers receiving welfare needed to know “the dignity of work.”

Whether it is either of those two things or not – I don’t think it’s either, rather just another case of an idiotic comment being blown out of proportion – is irrelevant.

If the story was presented in either of those lights by the major media outlets that ran it perhaps productive discussion could have occurred. Instead a large majority of the stories covering the issue chose to construe it as the first dispute between the Romney and Obama campaigns, as we’ve now seemingly left primary season and entered into general election territory. Some did utilize the story effectively in an attempt to address real issues, but they were disappointingly in the minority.

And yes, even using the issue to lament unproductive political discourse in American media is still drawing attention to the (non)issue and seemingly hypocritical in itself – but that is the unfortunate reality of the situation. The only way to address the ineffectiveness of the media is to address the nonissues they so prominently feature, thus playing into the vicious cycle of irrelevant political coverage.

Perhaps in the next few days the media coverage of the story will turn to the very extraneous and unproductive political coverage highlighted by Rosen’s comments, but I doubt it.

Contemporary political coverage works best as a simple binary. Any conflict – real or not – that plays on this “democrats versus republicans” media mentality is brought to the forefront, putting constructive political discourse on the (seemingly permanent) backburner.