PIKE’s PEEK: Election coverage was anti-climactic

Daniel Pike

Two days have passed. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and consider this:

Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a man who once presumed that the role of a pregnant researcher would be a boon to his film career, is the dean of public policy for 12 percent of the United States’ population.

(As a point of reference for those who struggle to comprehend the world beyond Normal Drive, Western’s enrollment equals roughly .006 percent of the nation’s head count.)

That would be a bothersome revelation, if only there were someone east of Death Valley who really cared.

For a couple of months, newspapers, radio talk shows and cable news networks certainly made us think the California recall was a matter of coast-to-coast concern, what with all that gibberish about the significant impact of such an unprecedented election on the democratic process.

But yesterday morning, after the creepy assemblage of child stars and smut peddlers had been squashed underfoot by the hulking Austrian, it was as if the carnival had Bustamanted out of town. Like a child with a bellyache from too much cotton candy, we’re wondering why we let ourselves consume so much of something so pointless.

Still, many of us wasted Tuesday night in front of the television. There’s just something about election coverage that transfixes us – possibly our desire to take measure of the people’s will, but most likely we derive a bit too much joy from watching the coloring of states and counties as precincts report.

But the cable networks ruined that experience. In a crushing disappointment, both CNN and Fox News brought Recall Madness to an empty denouement.

As the polls closed at 10 p.m. CDT, there was barely time for the “Special Election Coverage” graphics to be wiped from the screen before the exit poll-waving anchors declared the recall a success and Schwarzenegger the replacement for ousted Gov. Gray Davis.

Meanwhile in Chicago, the opening game of the National League Championship Series was shaping into an 11-inning barn-burner.

Stripped to the basics, politics and sports are basically the same: teams are formed, campaigns are waged and the fields are narrowed until a final score determines a champion. Throughout the process, everyone from so-called experts to your next-door neighbor pompously states an opinion, even though very few of them have the first clue as to what they are talking about.

Now what if Fox had aired Tuesday’s playoff game on tape delay and announced the victor at the opening of the broadcast? Angry, drunken, torch-wielding mobs would have rioted in the streets.

So why, after months of tedious analysis of California’s circus election, couldn’t the “legitimate” news world at least tease us with a little suspense?

The election was already flavored by a dash of sport -Schwarzenegger was once a star in bodybuilding, an activity that bridges the gap between athleticism and grotesque deformity – so the networks have no excuse for failing to make the connection.

The drive to break the story is admirable. But every now and then it’s OK to eschew journalistic norms and have a little fun.

For most non-Californians, the recall election was, at best, a guilty pleasure, the political equivalent of a late-summer popcorn flick. At worst, it was an annoyance.

It’s just too bad the networks couldn’t reward us with a Hollywood ending.

Daniel Pike is the Herald features editor and a senior print journalism major from Glasgow. His column appears on Thursdays. Reach him at [email protected]