Oliver Willis

Beware The Bored Press

 

Hillary Clinton will likely be the Democratic nominee. Jeb Bush has a good shot at winning the Republican nomination. Whoever wins the Democratic nomination is more likely though not inevitable to win the next presidential election.

All three of these statements are rooted in polling, historical trends and common sense. They are not written in stone, but they’re just the most likely outcomes. And they are boring. The political press in America hates boring. They hate boring as if it were poison.

So each electoral cycle, the press looks for something — anything — that seems as if it may disrupt the boring outcome, no matter how improbable it may be. Neither of the two major parties has had a brokered convention for decades, but the topic has already come up in some media discussion of the race. We heard a lot of that in 2008, during the contentious race between Clinton and Obama, but even then we knew it just wasn’t going to happen. The conventions are scripted well-planned media events designed by the parties. The era of a smoke-filled back room where the nominee is decided is long gone. But the press has a vested interest in hyping it up.

One reason why they do this is the same reason a teenager finds every distraction under the sun in his or her room before getting down to the boring task of finishing homework. For the press, reporting on policy and actual legislating is homework. Reporting on the horse race and invented campaign narratives are a session of Nintendo or a pint of ice cream.

This manifests itself in stories about “momentum” shifting this way and that, every election coming “down to the wire” in the days before people go to the polls. But the data shows us that in the absence of a major news event – an arrest or scandal or something – most people make their voting choices long before the media begins “tightening” the race. There’s a reason why the party usually leading in the aggregate of polls tends to be the winner.

And that’s a boring conclusion. It means that the shiny pieces of tinsel the press is breathlessly working on is a waste of time, energy and resources. It means they’re doing everything to avoid the basic functions of their jobs.

Boring is boring but sometimes it’s the reality.