CivicForumPac Chairman Ford O’Connell’s response to “Will political rhetoric soften after Tucson?” in Politico’s Arena:
President Obama was right to stress the need for political civility in the wake of the terrible tragedy that unfolded in Tucson. Unfortunately, the president’s call will ultimately fall on deaf ears for three reasons.
First, the media’s lust for ratings is an overriding factor. In the 24/7 news cycle, outlets are trying to out-scoop one another in their never-ending battle for viewers and advertisers. The best way for networks to increase viewership is with “shock-and-awe” moments that challenge our fundamental notions of sensibility.
Second, the public possesses an insatiable hunger for Jerry Springer moments. Americans live hard enough lives; they want to be entertained and sometimes even horrified. Hence, if it bleeds it leads, and a national conversation will ensue.
Finally, politicians know that if they are not a household name (and few are), they need to generate media hits. Media hits lead to fundraising, which in turn leads to political self-preservation at the ballot box.
At the end of the day, politics is ultimately about electability (self-preservation), and the media are ready and eager to be willing accomplices. And whether the American public realizes it or not, they are just along for the ride.