In the race for the Republican Presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary this past Saturday becoming the third candidate to win a primary contest in as many states. Rick Santorum in Iowa, Mitt Romney in New Hampshire and now Gingrich.
In the past, a candidate’s success in the primaries depended on momentum carried over from previous victories. This time around that momentum seems to be fueled by the media, proving that in the age of the super PAC, media still matters more than money.
If Mitt Romney had run away with the first three states as was predicted, the contest would still be far from over. In fact Romney would only have about 43 delegates out of the 1144 required to win the presidential nomination.
However, the television news media has a steep interest in keeping the contest interesting and therefore close. So as it turns out, Gingrich now leads Romney 23-19 with Santorum having 13 and libertarian Ron Paul having 3.
I have never been high on conspiracy theories, but it’s hard not to see the special interests at play this election cycle. The major news networks such as Fox News, CNN and MSNBC have a couple reasons to keep the playing field equal as long as it can.
The tighter and lengthier the race becomes, the more the networks will benefit from high ratings on debates and primary coverage. In addition, a close contest will force candidates and their corporate super PACs to spend a fortune advertising on their networks and subsidiary stations.
In the United States, the most popular program on television this year aside from football is the primary coverage. Even before the primaries began, a single debate in December brought in more than 7.6 million viewers. I don’t believe the American people are seeing one of the most unpredictable elections in history by accident, I believe it is by design.
In the lead up to the primaries, we saw Romney, Gingrich, Bachmann, Paul, Perry and Cain all lead in the polls at different times. Every time a candidate would reach the summit of the polling mountain, the media was there to shove them off the top. In Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann’s case, they slid all the way down to their base.
Three weeks into the actual primary season and that same trend continues. A couple of days before Iowa, Romney had a comfortable lead, but Santorum’s poll numbers went up a couple digits (he was the only candidate not being picked on in the media). For 48 hours the news networks couldn’t stop talking about Santorum’s small gain, which over the course of two days turned into large gains and an eventual victory (albeit two weeks after the vote).
After the Iowa vote, the media cast Santorum aside, after all he had no chance of winning New Hampshire with such a small number of evangelicals in the state. Romney won the state easily and at the time thought he had won Iowa as well. Romney was riding high and had a big lead going into South Carolina until those pesky news networks hit again.
In South Carolina, the story curved quickly from Romney winning New Hampshire to Romney losing Iowa and soon the real story wasn’t Romney at all. A little while after Newt received praise from a good debate showing, NBC aired an interview that would have buried most candidates; A discussion with Gingrich’s second wife about his infidelity and other failings as a husband.
The next day, the airwaves (Fox News in particular) were filled with pundits coming to Gingrich’s defense. People who slammed him in the past were now defending him as a “changed man.” Sure enough, Gingrich rode that newly found admiration to an upset victory over Romney.
From what I’ve seen thus far, it isn’t the corporations, the money and the policies or even the candidates pulling the strings, it’s the big news giants capitalizing on America’s love affair with reality TV. This race for the Republican Presidential nomination will carry on well into the spring and you can bet the news media will be there not just to cover the story, but to change it as well.