I'm having difficulty following Richard Cohen's logic, or, perhaps I should say, I'm having difficulty following the logic of what he accepts as a logical situation. There's this:
For all the blather, there’s not all that much the White House can do about the economy. It can nudge and it can tug, but the economy goes its own way. A jobs program would help, but Congress won’t pass it. More deficit spending would help, but Congress won’t allow it. The government is tied up in knots.
And then there's this:
One network news executive says they’re seeing viewers flee politics.... When politics come up, the ratings show a real dip in viewership.
So here we have one of the world's leading economies and the most powerful government on earth and the oldest democracy in the cosmos, for all we know, being held hostage by a bunch of political terrorists in Congress--in short, all the elements of a best-selling Tom Clancy thriller, with a black Harrison Ford at the virtuous helm--and yet what are television viewers doing? They're "flee[ing] politics" (probably to watch a Clancy thriller) and "click[ing] off, stupefied by a campaign that has one overriding issue, the economy"--that is, the one issue that voters and viewers consistently say is of the greatest interest to them.
Something's amiss, and it's not terribly hard to identify at least a good chunk of the problem.
Granted, television executives should never treat news as part of the entertainment division, yet viewers may be missing the intense drama of current politics largely because network news executives habitually suck the legitimate intensity out of the drama. To repeat, America is being held hostage by a bunch of political terrorists in Congress, and that, just about any way you cut it, is a pretty big and very exciting story. These terrorists have been setting off bombs for nearly four years; they've extorted and bullied the nation, they've sabotaged the recovery, they've declared it's either their way or the apocalypse--and the network news executives know who they are.
This is no unidentified bunch of terrorists. It's not as though they emerge every few days in black hoods to issue cryptic demands, with dynamite strapped to their waists and a dagger at Harry Reid's throat and a twisting, squirming Nancy Pelosi trying to escape their dastardly grip. The news execs know who they are, the news execs know what they want, and it's no mystery how they're going about getting it: They are devastating the economy, even though we also know that "A jobs program would help ... [and] More deficit spending would help." In other words, the White House could do something to alleviate the crisis.
But there are these terrorists, you see.
Isn't that a pretty dramatic--even a spellbinding--story? If told honestly?