With the New York presidential primary finally upon us, the biases of journalists can no longer be hidden. I’m not talking about the fact that many, if not most, of us media types are hippie tree-hugging, liberal-loving, socialist-smooching commie coddlers: That goes without saying. I’m talking about the shameless media slant in favor of utter chaos.
What most of us hunger for more than anything else is a superhot news story. And the primary ingredient necessary for any superhot news story is an unexpected and unusual occurrence, particularly if it’s a disaster. Often, only if it’s a disaster.
Take this primary, for instance, just in terms of how the actual voting proceeds. Most likely, most precincts will operate reasonably well. There will probably be some allegations of tampering, long lines and machine malfunctions. They’re to be expected and will lead to boring blogs and stories under tiny headlines like “Voting Mostly Smooth, But Scattered Problems Reported.” Most news consumers will correctly translate this headline to mean, “You Don’t Need To Read This Story; Keep Looking at Facebook Pictures of Boston Terriers Wearing Hats.”
The most shocking thing that could happen would be for this high-profile primary to go off with no problems whatsoever, because New York generally does elections the way Red Sox slugger David Ortiz runs the bases: It’s slow, it’s painfully ugly to watch and, yet, year after year, we are forced to witness it unfold. So it would be amazing if today’s voting went smoothly, but not amazing in a real newsworthy way. “New York Voting Goes Off Without a Hitch, Leading to No Fistfights or Federal Investigations,” is an OK headline, but it doesn’t really go anywhere.
No, what we’re looking for is precincts running out of ballots as soon as they open, John Kasich supporters hiring Mexicans to stand near polling places and scare Donald Trump supporters away, and somebody puncturing the bicycle tires and stealing the hybrid batteries of Bernie Sanders’ voters.
The ideal live shot tonight would be a TV reporter in front of a smoldering polling location, toupee hanging perilously from one ear, shouting hoarsely, “Jim, they just screamed, ‘It’s Hilary’s time.’ Then they began hitting me with a car windshield and screaming, ‘How do you like this glass ceiling, Patriarchy Boy?’ ”
We journalists are pro-news more than we’re pro-anything else. When there’s a hurricane forecast to level the region and it turns out to sea, I sulk for a week. In sports, we root for the underdog because it’s a better story, unless the favorite winning would be a better story because it would mean he was the greatest ever and we could write a lead sentence like, “Jack Nicklaus strode off the green and into history Sunday night.”
Our desire for wild outcomes gets worse when it comes to elections, and it has been magnified exponentially by the 24-hour news cycle and the need to come up with new angles constantly. That’s why you get stories every day about how a candidate voters don’t support, like Ted Cruz, or a guy who isn’t even running, like Paul Ryan, will be the GOP nominee.
What the media are almost certain to get Trump and Hillary Clinton in relatively big New York wins that help them begin to coast to relatively easy nominations. But what many of us want is a brokered GOP convention in Cleveland in which the holographic image of Ronald Reagan wins on the 57th ballot. Also, we want Clinton and Sanders to tie in delegates, and, thanks to arcane party rules, have to decide the nomination by arm wrestling.
Elections are a time to dream, both for no-hope candidates and the shlubs who cover them.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.