In science, it’s called the “observer effect” — the very act of observing a phenomenon changes the phenomenon. And if journalists are simply supposed to “observe” and report on our presidential elections, they are in fact exerting a tremendous effect over the entire process.
For example, imagine two small states, both holding caucuses to pick their delegates to the presidential nominating convention this summer. Because they are so small, neither state delegation will be especially meaningful to the actual outcome, but the caucuses in State A are given saturation attention by the world’s media, while the caucuses in State B are ignored by the media.
Well, no need to imagine. Yesterday, the Iowa caucuses chose a relatively inconsequential 40 delegates to the GOP convention, but the tremendous media attention given to those results has already scrambled the Republican presidential race. Tomorrow, Wyoming Republicans will pick 12 delegates — but the media won’t be there. So it’s essentially a non-event.
Indeed, today’s Wyoming Tribune-Eagle notes how state Republicans “want the event to end by 3 p.m. so the state can get a mention in the Sunday New York Times.”
“A mention” in the New York Times? Is that their dream of a successful media splash?
[Update, January 7: Wyoming Republicans got their mention in the New York Times.]
The national media aren’t interested in Wyoming because the candidates are spending so little time there. The candidates aren’t going to Wyoming because there’s no big media presence there. It’s a chicken-and-egg conundrum that shows how the Big Media have taken center stage in our political process.
Today’s (Friday’s) Wyoming Tribune-Eagle editorialized about the futility of their state’s effort to gain a little more clout by moving their caucuses to early January:
On Saturday, a few Republicans from across Wyoming will converge at local county caucuses to pick delegates to the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., in September.By the way, there haven't been any polls conducted in Wyoming, but Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, Duncan Hunter and Ron Paul have all campaigned in Wyoming. Someone will win tomorrow -- the big question is will anybody ever report it?
Party leaders in the state believed by moving their caucuses to early January that the rest of the nation would pay attention to what happens in this early caucusing.
Not a chance. Nestling itself between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary has made Wyoming nearly invisible. Besides, it only offers three electoral votes and a similarly small delegation to the national convention. In other words, who cares?
Because Wyoming Republicans so badly wanted to stand out, they will lose half their delegates to the national convention along with New Hampshire, Florida, Michigan and South Carolina.
Yet even now Wyoming Republicans are hoping to gain some clout out of their decision to hold caucuses on Saturday. Indeed, they want the event to end by 3 p.m. so the state can get a mention in the Sunday New York Times. Since when does this state care what the New York Times has to say? This is just further proof of how badly this state wants to be noticed.
And with a majority of the media ignoring Wyoming, it seems the state's Republicans have made a mistake or at least have wasted everyone's time and effort.
While they still might think it's worth it on Saturday, come September this state's Republicans probably will wish they had all of their delegates in the national spotlight in St. Paul.
In the end, to quote Shakespeare, Saturday's Wyoming caucuses are full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.