August 12, 2008

The Election's Greatest Hits

What are the most overhyped non-stories of the presidential election to date? Gelf fist-jabs its way through the media morass to bring you the cream of the crap.

Vincent Valk

Every four years, the American news media try their best to keep the citizens of our Republic informed as we choose the next leader of the free world. Sometimes, they try a little too hard.

While irrelevant information about presidential candidates is as old as the nation itself (Hey, New England Courant, who gives a damn about Washington's false teeth?), it has taken on new life in the age of 24-hour news networks and political blogs. Who can forget John Kerry's affinity for wind-surfing? Or Al Gore's preference for earth tones? How about when Bob Dole fell off the stage, or when Bush 41 checked his watch? Ah, classic campaign moments, fraught with so many memories.

Except they're, you know, stupid. What exactly do John Kerry's water-sports preferences, Al Gore's wardrobe, or Bob Dole's ability to ascend a podium have to do with anything? And George H.W. Bush is bored with debates? Join the club!

In their push to cover everything election-related, the Best Political News Team on Television, America's Election HQ, and the Place for Politics (really, MSNBC, that’s the best you could come up with?), end up covering a bit too much. This election, which began sometime around the fall of the Berlin Wall, has seen its fair share of ridiculous non-stories. What follows is just a small sampling of a much larger nonsense soup. Each entry features a Wright Score between one and ten, an entirely subjective metric of how silly the story is. This score takes into account how much a story should have mattered, and how much the media made it matter. And it's not named in honor of Mets third baseman David Wright.

So, ladies and gentleman, without further ado—the Greatest Hits of Election 2008! (And, 10 weeks later, an update: more greatest hits, from lipstick on a pig to Joe the Plumber.)

Hillary witch

"I'm (not) inevitable!"

"Hillary is inevitable"

Start Date: December 2004

The Category: Wrong

The Skinny: You could be forgiven for not remembering this now—what with all the fawning coverage of Barack Obama—but time was when the media was full of breathless accounts of the Clinton campaign's on-the-message professionalism, all but anointing her as not just the Democratic nominee, but the next President.

The Wright Score: Eight. The "Hillary is inevitable" narrative was dominant all through 2007. Seeing as Hillary is not the nominee, clearly she was never "inevitable."

Obama and Superman

The site of many a present vote

The Present Votes

Start Date: December 2007

The Category: Misleading

The Skinny: Obama voted "present" a lot in the Illinois state legislature. This seemed pretty suspicious, until it was shown that everybody votes present in the Illinois state legislature.

The Wright Score: Four. Hillary's charges with the present votes didn't stick because he was following party guidelines. But that's not going to keep Republicans from bringing them up.

Bill Clinton

Can I have some spotlight?

Bill Clinton

Start Date: January 2008

The Category: Frivolous

The Skinny: Bill Clinton has made a serious dent in his statesmanlike post-presidential reputation by being, essentially, a media whore. Whether he was comparing Obama to Jesse Jackson or feuding with Vanity Fair, the ex-president's words and actions created controversy.

The Wright Score: Six. Look, we understand why a former President is news. And the problems presented by the famously hyperactive Clinton hanging around the White House without an official role were worthy of some coverage. But for the most part, we just don't care what he thinks anymore.

Feeling nostalgia for the election season gone by? What we need is a montage.

John McCain

In bed with the lobbyists?

McCain's lobbyist mistress

Start Date: February 2008

The Category: Rumor, probably wrong

The Skinny: The New York Times publishes a story that insinuates that John McCain had an affair with a lobbyist. The only problem is that the story doesn't provide any real evidence.

The Wright Score: Five. The story got some play, but it didn't really hurt McCain. Indeed, if it hurt anyone, it was the New York Times. The paper of record caught quite a bit of flak for publishing something (at the top of page one, no less) based on what appeared to be less-than-solid reporting.

Samantha Power and Obama

Samantha Power

"Hillary is a monster"

Start Date: February 2008

The Category: Surrogate gaffe.

The Skinny: Samantha Power, a top foreign policy aide to the Obama campaign, was forced to quit after calling Hillary Clinton "a monster."

The Wright Score: Five. Obama was forced to fire one of his sharpest advisers, and other surrogates grew much more aware of what "off the record" really means.

Jeremiah Wright

America's bogeyman

"God Damn America"

Start Date: March 2008

The Category: A little of everything. Overblown, somewhat frivolous, somewhat misleading.

The Skinny: A video surfaces in which Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's former pastor, says "God Damn America." Predictably, all Hell breaks loose.

The Wright Score: Nine. This is, after all, the Wright. So why is it not a ten? Because it was legitimately worthy of some coverage—but we do mean "some." Instead, it dominated the campaign news for over a month, with the media not only expressing practiced outrage at Wright, but also dithering over how the pastor's antics could impact Obama's poll numbers.

Obama bowling

He might be a baller, but is he a bowler?

Obama can't bowl

Start Date: April 2008

The Category: Frivolous

The Skinny: Obama bowls a 37. Media wonders if this will impact his standing among blue-collar voters who figure that the leader of the free world ought to be able to get a spare, at least.

The Wright Score: Two. This story lasted for about 10 seconds. It deserved to last for zero.

Michelle Obama


The "Whitey Tape"

Start Date: April 2008

The Category: Rumor

The Skinny: Larry Sinclair says that some secret tape exists somewhere of Michelle Obama calling white people "whitey." The rumor is circulated around using the tried-and-true technique of reporting a rumor, calling it such, and then acting as if it's true.

The Wright Score: Five. Sinclair somehow got to appear before the National Press Club, and the rumor had a pretty long shelf-life—though it was never quite front-page news.

fist jab

An act of terrorism?

The "Terrorist Fist Jab"

Start Date: May 2008

The Category: Frivolity

The Skinny: The Obamas celebrate clinching the Democratic nomination by engaging in what we thought was called a pound. Fox News calls it a "fist jab" and asks (hey, you know, they're only asking) if it's a "terrorist hand signal."

The Wright Score: Four. It got some play, but only for a day or two, and mostly on Fox News.

new yorker cover

Are you offended?

The New Yorker Cover

Start Date: July 2008

The Category: Frivolity

The Skinny: The New Yorker publishes an obviously satirical cover depicting the Obamas fist-bumping each other while dressed in Islamic and militant garb. The Obama campaign throws a mini-shitfit and various pundits express faux-outrage.

The Wright Score: Six. The cover should've been a total non-issue, and likely would have been if not for the Obama camp's hypersensitive reaction. It wound up being big news, but only for a couple of cycles, and has already mostly been forgotten.

Also receiving votes: Hillary's cleavage. Chelsea Clinton being pimped out. Obama not wearing a flag pin. McCain calling his wife a cunt. Edwards's supposed affair and love child (oh wait, nevermind). Obama's middle name. Bill Ayers. Geraldine Ferraro on race. Romney's faith. Giuliani's daughter joining an Obama Facebook group. Dennis Kucinich. The Dream Ticket. "Change you can Xerox." Edwards' haircut. Bloomberg's Candidacy. Media wondering if the media is too tough on Hillary. Al Gore's looming presence. Joe Biden's comprehensive health-care reform.

The campaign is far from over. Look to Gelf for updates with the most frivolous, misleading, and irrelevant stories from the campaign trail. Did we miss your favorite non-story of the 2008 election? Let us know in the comments.

Post a comment

Comment Rules

The following HTML is allowed in comments:
Bold: <b>Text</b>
Italic: <i>Text</i>
<a href="URL">Text</a>


- Politics
- posted on Aug 15, 08

Pathetic. Why is there only one story about McCain? Hmmm? Me thinks I smell an agenda! Listen up fascist, at least Obama knows the difference between Sunni and Shiite. McCain (the George Romero candidate) seems to get confused on that and many others subjects that even your ordinary, blue-collar zombie can get right. Well, I guess you are doing your bit to keep the undead in office!

- Politics
- posted on Aug 15, 08

It's true that there are many more stories about Democrats than about Republicans and there are a few reasons for this. Firstly, the Democratic primary was much more drawn out, so there was more coverage to lampoon. Also, for a variety of reasons Obama has dealt with a lot of these bogus issues, one of them being he just doesnt have that much actual history to plow through. Lastly, if there is any subconscious bias here, you can bet your ass it's not slanted towards McCain.

- Politics
- posted on Aug 18, 08

Since there is, as you acknowledge, a gross disparity between the histories of the respective presidential contenders, one would think that there would be plenty of material on McCain. McCain has been a senator for YEARS. Perhaps, if one's political foundation extended beyond the past twelve months, one would discover McCain's record, which should provide ample material to "lampoon."
What also strikes me, is that Gelf produces an inordinate amount of toilet reading. So unless the readership is compised solely of wireless laptop users, I'm not sure the article will have much of an impact.

Article by Vincent Valk

Contact this author