But cable news’s need to hype overrides reality, Zachary Roth writes in the Columbia Journalism Review.
"So, where are we after the epic seven-week-long, make-or-break campaign for Pennsylvania? About the same place we were before it. In the end, Clinton’s ten-point win was about in line with, or slightly exceeded, expectations. The delegate math looks little better for her than it did yesterday, but she’ll continue her unlikely effort to wrest the nomination from Obama by convincing the superdelegates that he is unelectable. In other words, last night changed very little.
"Not that you’d know that from watching CNN or MSNBC, of course, where the usual election-night suspects discussed every possible angle and implication of the Pennsylvania results, ad nauseam. Would this win give her new momentum to take her fight to the convention? What’s his problem with white working-class voters (now routinely short-handed, by Chris Matthews among others, as white working voters, as if those with college degrees don’t work)? Does this make it more likely they’ll run on the same ticket? Why can’t he close the deal? And on and on.
"In short, no one that we saw—not Matthews, not Russert, not Olbermann, not Williams, not Blitzer, not Cooper, not King, not the other King, not anyone—was willing to unequivocally tell viewers the one simple piece of information they needed about the results: that they had little long-term effect on the race.
"Of course, it’s not shocking that cable-news pundits can keep talking far beyond the point when there’s anything left worth saying. Or to see cable news pump its material as more newsworthy than it actually is. For obvious reasons, the media’s most consistent bias—more pronounced than ever in the age of frantic, nonstop competition—is its tendency to hype even minor developments out of all proportion to their actual significance, in order to keep viewers glued to the screen.
"But in this case, that bias has an unfortunate impact on the real world. By playing the Pennsylvania results as more important than they actually are, the media, without intending to, provide momentum for Clinton, which her campaign will use to raise money and prolong the fight. Nothing that’s said on cable news at this point will make it any more likely that she’ll actually win, but it very well could delay Obama’s victory, with all the drawbacks for the general election that come along with that.
"That’s not CNN or MSNBC’s problem, of course. But it’s worth keeping in mind that the cable networks’ bias toward hype isn’t harmless. It has a real-world impact on our politics—aside from simply leaving viewers without the ability to put events in perspective, which is a major part of what the news is supposed to be for.
"Nor is it unavoidable: it could be mitigated by one person brave enough to go on TV and tell viewers the truth about which developments matter and which don’t. Not that we’re holding our breath."