Polls put pols in their place

The political parties inevitably engage in post-mortem analysis and soul-searching after an election, which should leave Democrats with plenty to talk about. Still, the media also has much to ponder staring into the lights — high and mostly low — from the just-completed U.S. presidential campaign.

Here then are issues that bear consideration between now and 2008 — or better yet, before Thanksgiving.

  • The (media) war at home, stage right … Despite calls for political unity, don’t expect such magnanimity from polarized media outlets, particularly talkradio and cable’s squabbling heads.

    Healing and bipartisanship might be swell for a State of the Union address, but it sucks as political theater. Small wonder that talkradio operates in a state of perpetual warfare and went borderline nuts as the election neared, reaching rare levels of hysteria even for that medium.

    Sadly, don’t look to the election’s happy conclusion for Republicans to smooth jagged edges or soften rhetoric. In talk, divisiveness and rage are as much of a necessity as freaks were to Jerry Springer’s TV circus.

    … And stage left. On a related note, while I’m a fan of Frank Rich’s writing, there’s a problem with his column in the New York Times’ Sunday Arts & Leisure section — namely, it doesn’t belong there.

    In the run-up to the election, Rich’s weekly rant cried out for relocation to the op-ed page. At best, he peripherally incorporates pop culture to push his political beliefs — as in, “Last week, I saw a movie that reminded me how much I loathe President Bush.”

    Unless Rich’s focus changes, affording him such prominent space in the arts section only feeds perceptions of the Times’ liberal bias. Liberals, after all, would squawk just as loudly if Rush Limbaugh wrote a sports column using football as an incongruous jumping-off point to bash the left.

  • Rock the couch. MTV boasted that its “Choose or Lose” campaign “energized” young adults, but the tale o’ the tape tells a different story.

    For all the rock concerts and get out the vote efforts, adults under 30 accounted for 17% of voters, just as they did in 2000. In other words, they weren’t any more “energized” than old farts whose contemporaries aren’t dying in Iraq.

    “It wasn’t the explosion in turnout that people were expecting,” ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos observed Wednesday.

    In fact, pop culture’s political influence is consistently overstated, largely because conservatives enjoy bashing actors and pop stars. Ultimately, what the election really proves is that it’s easier to clap along than to get out and pull a lever.

  • Eye surgery. With the election over, CBS now must account for its Memogate lapse and likely catapult a few bodies out of Black Rock.

    The network’s hasty treatment of what appear to be forged documents was all the more inexplicable given that the story in question didn’t really demand to be told. Most thinking people who remember the Vietnam era assume strings were pulled to get George W. Bush into the National Guard. OK, so what, can we please get back to the war we’re fighting now?

    As for anchor Dan Rather, his folksy homilies have been wearing thin for a while and sounded especially tired on Election Night — another reminder that CBS faces a changing of the guard, which doesn’t figure to be nearly as graceful as the Tom Brokaw-to-Brian Williams baton pass.

  • Tits and asses. The hubbub over TV indecency could undergo a welcome cooling-off period — at least until Super Bowl XXXIX approaches, yielding the inevitable recaps (pardon the expression) about Janet Jackson’s breast-baring escapade.

    Meanwhile, can’t wait for Fox’s NFL-sanctioned Super Bowl halftime show, when “The OC” cast and former “American Idol” finalists will sing a medley of patriotic songs and religious hymns outfitted in red, white and blue choir robes.

  • Shunning the spotlight. After wanted and unwanted attention prior to the election, it’s time for “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart and Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly to temporarily adopt lower profiles.

    Stewart’s ubiquity during the campaign produced an inevitable backlash from a few cranky critics, and Comedy Central over-reached by scheduling an Election Night special, forgetting that “fake news” requires real news to satirize.

    As for O’Reilly, those widely discussed sexual-harassment allegations should inspire Fox’s signature host to temper his penchant for bringing every discussion back to himself — a temptation he can seldom resist. In fact, O’Reilly has already vaguely threatened retaliation against “defamers” in the media — that is, anyone who dares criticize him.

    Let it go, Bill. With the election over, everyone needs to regain their sense of humor, if not, perhaps, their fairness and balance.

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