The fiscal cliff could very well send some in the media over the edge.
For journalists and pundits, the fiscal cliff has been a nearly all-encompassing political story in D.C.'s post-election media landscape. The battles, issues, personalities and each forward and backward (Exhibit A: Speaker Boehner's Plan B fiasco) related to fiscal and tax policy have been parsed, debated and chewed over by politicians, commentators and the press.
And even though the fiscal cliff is preoccupying Washington, that doesn't mean it is always engaging for the media. Important, sure, but is it really that interesting to talk about day in, day out?
"It's the 'Hangover 2' of politics," says CNN contributor and TheBlaze columnist Will Cain. "It's incredibly tedious and repetitive, with moments of promise, but ultimately you know you're being ripped off ... There is a good cast of issues and opportunities, like tax reform, we should debate. But instead, we settle for small tweaks to a worn-out debate over minimal spending cuts versus raising taxes on the rich. Maybe next they can do the whole damn thing in Thailand."
The phrase "looming fiscal cliff" has been uttered over 175 times on cable TV and appeared over 300 times in newspapers since the start of December. In an effort to up the drama, reporters and anchors warn the public each day about the impending danger of plunging off the fiscal cliff -- but headlines also continue to tediously note that cliff talks are "bogged down,""inching forward" or simply "going nowhere."
NBC's Chuck Todd says the fiscal cliff story not only reveals where politicians stand, but it tells something about those in the press as well.
"I think the cliff separates the folks who want to be hard-core Washington and political reporters and those folks who simply want to be reporters who parachute in on the big story," Todd said.
But the battle itself between Democrats and Republicans over the fiscal cliff "isn't particularly interesting" to cover, MSNBC's Steve Kornacki said.
"All we really get to see is -- mostly -- empty public posturing,""The Cycle" co-host said.
But that doesn't make the story any less important to cover, despite its lack of fireworks, he said.
"I do think it's important because it touches on some important topics. Anti-tax absolutism on the GOP side has been an impediment to sound fiscal policy for two decades here. It won't solve everything if the GOP gives in now, but it would be a start," he said. "Plus, there are potentially major changes to Medicare and Social Security that Obama now may be flirting with -- if he gives in on, say, the Medicare eligibility age, that's huge."
Still, if most reporters are being honest, they'd most likely echo what Fox News host Shepard Smith bluntly told "Studio B" viewers recently: "I'm bored to tears with this story."
"Time for your daily fiscal cliff update, as much as I'm bored to tears with this story," Smith said on Dec. 12. "Bored. Horrible. They're going to get something done, or they're not."
But as reporters, pundits and editors know, the media will have to cover it in-depth either way.
Radio host Mike Huckabee says the challenge of covering the fiscal cliff is to make sure he tackles the "practical impact on my listeners." The former Arkansas governor said the way he discusses Washington's current big story is by breaking it down -- what the fiscal cliff means for people's everyday lives, from loans to benefits to personal finances.
"The challenge is to make the 'black hole of reckless spending understandable' to the typical household budget,""The Mike Huckabee Show" host said. "We are focused not as much on the size of U.S. debt, but impact on cost of home loans, car loans, etc., what it will do to their disposable income and to their likelihood of getting a raise -- not happening -- or keeping their benefits."
But what about the contention that the fiscal cliff story is simply too dry and policy-heavy for many reporters, and the public in general? Fox News host Greta Van Susteren says that's not the case for her, and so she aims to make it as easy to understand for her viewers as possible.
"People think of me as a lawyer, but I have a background in economics and thus I have jumped into the fiscal cliff story with both feet and don't feel the topic too wonky," she told POLITICO. "It is imperative that we work out our nation's finances instead of ducking the issue as is Washington's M.O. -- why fix a problem when you can ignore it and the voters don't punish you?"
But, she noted, there are certain parts of the current discussion surrounding the issue that "baffle" her. Covering this story is both about with the fiscal cliff battle and highlighting other policy issues connected to the country's economic state, Van Susteren noted.
"For instance, why no real discussion about trying to identify the enormous -- in the billions and billions -- amount of waste in the government?" Van Susteren said, stressing that she tries to explain to viewers both "what is going on -- or not going on."
"If nothing else, if the politicians took waste head on, Americans might develop confidence that politicians don't want to just take money and throw it away," she added. "Changing the culture in Washington might be inspiring."
But there's little debate about the difficulty of making a story about the fiscal cliff -- and the extremely slow pace it moves at -- compelling to readers and viewers. Unlike the inherent drama of the presidential cycle, the fiscal cliff doesn't have that narrative quality that obviously resonates with the public.
There's a plus side to that, though, MSNBC's "The Cycle" co-host and TheBlaze contributor S.E. Cupp said: The challenges of this story mean reporters and pundits are finally in the same boat as most of the public.
"This isn't a story that resonates emotionally with people, and it's up to us in the media to make it relevant, which isn't easy day in and day out," she told POLITICO. "Further, there's nothing the media hates more than a story it must cover that's moving at a glacial pace. But all that means is you can put us in the same category as most Americans -- we are exceedingly frustrated with the way Washington works. Or doesn't."
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