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Why the New Hampshire Primary Is an Elaborate Reality Show Designed for National Media

Media create the storyline, choosing which timeworn nuggets to play up, which controversies to amplify and which extras get selected to play the role of the 'typical' voter.
 
 
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Photo Credit: A.M. Stan

 
 
 
 

For all the talk about the glories of retail politics in the Granite State's first-in-the-nation primary, you'd think the spectacle now gripping New Hampshire, as the GOP presidential hopefuls have at each other, was all about winning the votes of New Hampshirites. Don't believe a word of it.

The New Hampshire primary, as it exists today, is an elaborate reality show designed for national, not local, media. New Hampshire is just the stage set, one its officials are eager to provide, both for the business it brings to the state as hordes of reporters fill up hotels and restaurants, and for the importance it confers on local political brokers, who would otherwise be mere petty chieftans of a small, if beautiful, idiosyncratic state.

Media create the storyline,
choosing which timeworn nuggets to play up, which manufactured controversies* to amplify and which extras get selected to play the role of the typical New Hampshire voter. The candidates know this, of course, and do their best to manipulate the media. Often, the voters are lost in the shuffle, which tends to tick them off, a lesson Rep. Ron Paul learned today, the hard way.

Of the three campaign events I've attended in the last 24 hours, only one -- a town-hall meeting conducted by former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum in Salem -- actually drew more voters than media. A town hall conducted yesterday by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was packed with people, but perhaps 75 percent of them represented media outlets. Media flocked to Rep. Ron Paul's breakfast meet-and-greet this morning in Manchester, and likely dominated the actual New Hampshire voters in the room by a ratio of 10 to one, though that wasn't obvious to the naked eye of a reporter from the national or international press corps, as one room of the restaurant Paul visited was crammed with young people -- and reporters all know that the average Ron Paul voter is a boisterous college student.

The sleight of hand, whether deliberate or accidental, was effected when two busloads of high school students from Massachusetts showed up before everybody, entirely filling one of the two dining rooms of Moe Joe's diner in Manchester. By the time a handful of graying New Hampshire voters turned up, they were shunted to the second dining room.

The Pied Piper Outslicks Himself

Ron Paul is proud of what he sees as his appeal to the young folks. With a scrum of videographers, boom-mike technicians, on-air talent, as well as print and Web reporters, surrounding him, he strode through the room full of awed teenagers from the Franklin High School Teen Republican Club and an Advanced Placement government class, shaking hands, taking no questions, and giving the visual impression that he had drawn a packed crowd of fresh-scrubbed, newly minted primary voters. Paul never entered the sparsely populated room where the real New Hampshire voters sat.

After his walk-through, Paul made straight for his black SUV, taking no questions even as he functioned as the nucleus of an organism comprising dozens of arms, legs and assorted electronic appendages poised for any random utterance.

A furious middle-aged woman tore behind him and the scrum. "Dr. Paul, Dr. Paul!" she cried in vain. "I came here with my mother so she could meet you and you left." Paul ignored her, stepping into the vehicle, shielded from public view by the vehicle's black tinted windows. The woman turned to me and another reporter, saying, "It's not right."

As we talked to her, the rest of media turned their attention to her, and began gathering around. Her name, she said, was Karen Fuller, and she had brought her 90-year-old mother to meet the Texas gadfly. Paul was still in his van, which sat in the parking lot even as she protested.

 
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