The big media story of midterm elections: Television

From the Z on TV blog:

Because it doesn't fit our online and digital bias, we in the media have not done very good job of reporting what is shaping up to be one of the biggest media stories of these very important midterm elections: television.

Yes, let us now praise TV, the dinosaur that will not die. Analysts have written pieces upon pieces again this year about social media changing everything in politics blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And, as one who lives in the unforgiving second-by-second-measured world of new media, I totally get it.

I have been chasing the online dragon every day and night since September, 2008, when this blog debuted with almost half million page views the first month. And I welcome with open arms every social and new media twist since that might help me get more views.

But just because the lives of many of us in the press have changed on a new-media dime, that doesn't mean the lives of most Americans have. That is not the way media and adoption of new technologies have ever worked in this country. Did radio die with the arrival of TV in the late 1940s? Ask Rush Limbaugh.

So for all the stories about Howard Dean changing everything in media and politics in 2004 and then Barack Obama supposedly doing it again in 2008, here we are on the eve of huge midterm election, and most of the big media stories are related in one way or another to TV advertising and the piles of money needed to buy it.

For all the new and social media hype and overstatement, TV advertising is still perceived as having the ability to affect voting behavior like nothing else. And all kinds of people are behaving in all kinds of contentious ways to get the money to buy some.

For two weeks now, the White House has been hammering away at everyone from the Chamber of Commerce to groups no one has ever heard of before because they have contributed big money to buy TV ads for Republicans and/or against Democrats. President Obama has insisted these groups are "stealing" our "democracy" because they buy the ads without revealing who their donors are.

Do you know how effective these TV ads must be for the administration, with all its advantages in paid and "free" advertising, to be spending this much time and effort on this dubious message?

And part of that message involves vilifying Karl Rove, a former senior adviser to George W. Bush, for figuring out a way to raise enough money to buy enough TV time to try and offset the incredible advantages an incumbent president has in terms of money and the bully pulpit. And with Obama, "bully" is the operative word when it comes to the media.

The hotly contested race for governor in Ohio between incumbent Ted Strickland and challenger John Kasich is the same story squared. The White House and the Democratic Governors Association have been pouring resources into that battleground state, as Kasich goes on such prime time Fox News shows as Sean Hannity's to raise money. And both are using the cash to buy TV time. I can't wait for the next Nielsen snapshot of how many political ads were bought there last week.

On Aug.14, I wrote a piece predicting record spending in Baltimore on TV ads for this election, and such tallies are now being reported in major markets across the country.

And that is the media story here in Maryland. Remember all the talk about GOP challenger Bob Ehrlich and his Facebook page when he formally announced his candidacy? Do you hear any of it now?

No, two weeks ago, Ehrlich himself said that O'Malley was beating him in the polls in part because O'Malley was on TV in Washington with attack ads -- and he wasn't. Ehrlich said that as he announced that his campaign was about to launch on Washington TV.

But, as I wrote at the time, he had lots of catching up to do, because O'Malley had been able to control the way in which Ehrlich was being defined to Maryland voters who watched Washington TV.

One of the key issues in the next two weeks will be whether or not Ehrlich has the money to spend as much on TV as O'Malley can down the stretch. The Sun published a report Tuesday saying the Republican Governors Association had cancelled an ad buy for Ehrlich on one Washington TV station. But Ehrlich's campaign countered with a release saying it had raised another $2.8 million -- suggesting it can go toe to toe with O'Malley on TV. We'll see.

But, again, it is all about money and TV. And I think that could well turn out to be the the media story of midterms 2010.