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By George, He Says Election Coverage Has Done Its Job

10/18/2010 12:01:00 AM Eastern

I tend not to give ‘We the People’ a great deal of credit. After all,
one of the most talked-about shows on TV recently centered an
entire episode around someone named The Situation wanting to leave a nightclub while a smurf named Snooki
wanted to stay and drink until she was literally
blue in the face.

But worse yet, I am petrified about what
many voters actually know and don’t know
when they head into a voting booth, assuming
they vote at all. And when, only two weeks shy
of an Election Day, I see tons of coverage given
to a Delaware candidate (who has no chance of
winning) because she ran an idiotic ad, it makes
me even more nervous that the media makes
matters worse by wasting time on easy headline
silliness at the expense of covering the issues.

So I called up one of the news media’s most
visible folks, a guy who’s logged long nights on
both sides of the political media frenzy: former
Clinton aide and current Good Morning America
host George Stephanopoulos. First, to clear up
any bias issues about said Delaware candidate, I
asked Stephanopoulos if he was, in fact, a witch.
(“No,” he said, laughing, “but my daughter says
I am a warlock.”) Then I asked him if the media
in general is too caught up in the hopeless newcomer
or loudest mudslinger du jour.

“I don’t think so,” he told me. “There are just
so many more outlets that are continuously
updated that, sure, a lot of silliness cycles thru
the system, but I don’t think it overwhelms the coverage. But it is interesting that some of the
candidates who don’t appear to have a great
chance of winning are getting outsized attention,
whether it’s Christine O’Donnell in Delaware,
Alvin Greene in South Carolina or [Carl]
Paladino in New York. I think that is also part
of the story in a year being defined by the outsider;
you have some ultimate outsiders who
say and do things that are just plain interesting.”

Interesting, sure. But my point is, who cares
what they say? They aren’t going to be in office.
And shouldn’t the time covering them be better
used talking about real issues?

“I just don’t buy your premise,” Stephanopoulos
responded. “That’s not what you are
seeing now. This is a campaign season—you
have to cover the gaffes and the fights and the
personalities, but you’ve seen plenty of serious
coverage on [important issues like] the economy,
the foreclosure crisis, the wars.”

The one thing Stephanopoulos and I did agree
on is that coverage of this election is being presented
to a very beaten-down electorate. Last
week on GMA, Jake Tapper quoted a poll that
basically said 85% of the country is pissed off.

Stephanopoulos said that separately, ABC’s
“frustration index” metric of the public’s stance
on the government, the president, the economy and Congress hasn’t quite hit 2008 levels—“
when we had the most unpopular president
in modern times finishing an unpopular
war”—but it is pretty close.

And like most folks, he believes that spells a
tough Tuesday for many people in office.

“I would be shocked if Republicans don’t
come close to picking up control of the House
and maybe even the Senate,” he said.

Until that happens, Stephanopoulos will remain
an active part of the coverage—and the
debate itself—despite no longer anchoring a
Sunday show. Having already hosted one debate
in Florida, this week he will host Senate
debates in both Illinois and Pennsylvania.

And while he says he gets to scratch his political
itch plenty on GMA, he sounds like a
man who misses the Sunday-morning chair at
this time of year: “I gotta tell you—If there were
a way to work seven days a week, I’d do it.”

But he—like everyone—will continue to try to
cover this election without getting too drawn into
all the circus acts that make for easy headlines.

“Everybody is trying to struggle and capture
what is a very volatile mood out there,” Stephanopoulos
says. “It looks like the third straight
election where the overriding sentiment is to
throw everyone that is in power out.”

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