These Elections Will Not Be Televised

Back in February, I wrote a post on Jordanian perceptions regarding the US primaries at the time. Today, I am about to semi-contradict myself but, as always, bear with me.


If you walk down Amman’s downtown and ask the average Jordanian about their thoughts on the American election, the average answer you might get is in the ballpark of “who cares?”, or, more precisely: “doesn’t matter.” If you should be so lucky to get an answer, perhaps even who their preferable candidate is, it would probably be Obama. No, not because Jordan is overcome with Obama fever (although, I kid you not, I have seen one Obama bumper sticker chugging around Abdoun some where). The reality is, Obama feels like the lesser of two evils.

And that sums it up when it comes to perceptions on American elections: who is the lesser of two evils. In other words, who will do the least amount of damage to our region. No, not who will be good to our region, but who will do the least amount of damage to our region.

Obama’s visit to Jordan generated a brief moment of local media interest for all the obvious reasons, but for sure, he was not greeted by thousands of adoring fans up on the Citadel, similar to what he faced during his European tour.

It seems, the primaries were a bit more sexier. All these people were running and there was so much confusion. It made for an interesting horse race. Would a young black man win it? Would a woman? What about that old guy?

Since then, the fog seems to have lifted and with two months left in the race, realities are settling back in. Two people. Who will be the lesser of two evils.

Now I don’t watch TV but lately I’ve attempted, out of sheer interest, to follow some of the mainstream satellite channels and their news coverage of the US elections. It hasn’t gotten as much attention as I thought it would. This is not to say that some, such as Al-Jazeera, are lacking in full coverage, I’m just saying the interest has declined, both media-wise and population-wise.


Personally, 95% of my news comes off the Internet, the rest is all orally recited to me when I’m out there in the world. And even on the Internet, most Arab media, be it newspapers or channels, are not “Elections Crazy”.

At least not to the extent that you would get to see in the US, where obviously, it’s all elections all the time. During the last presidential election I was pretty much glued to my TV every day, watching with amazement the intricate details of the campaigns playing out on the screen. It was like a small x-ray machine in my living room where everything showed up. Bush’s national guard fiasco; Kerry’s windsurfing photo. Everything.

And it amazed me. I was (and still am) a student of politics, literally entranced by American politics playing out in the mainstream media. Technology ruled the galaxy of these elections and I’m reminded by how comparative that is to the first televised debates in the US, and indeed, the world – with an articulate JFK and a sweating Nixon. An event that historians regard as the determining factor in the outcome of that election.

Now look how far US elections have come. It feels like everyone knows that McCain’s running mate is Sarah Palin and she has a pregnant 17-year old, unmarried daughter. The intricate details. None of which matters, or rather should matter to anyone outside the US, but yet, here we are, enlightened.

I am, admittedly an Internet news junkie, and I’ve been following the US elections online for over a year, on a daily basis, like an addict. The average person in the Arab world probably doesn’t do this, and even many of those who are “connected” wouldn’t be so inclined to do so. I will also admit to the fact that a reasonable chunk of my interest has, as always, derived from the Daily Show, which has, for years now, successfully made news fun(ny). And it should be noted, that the Daily Show offers what is perhaps the best coverage and commentary of how these elections are playing out in the American media.


But I wonder to myself, if America is the trailblazer of democratic elections, will other elections evolve along the same lines? Will we get to know every single detail about the candidate? Is every single detail crucial? In a country like Jordan (I know, I know), I’m pretty sure we’d all love to know a whole lot more about public officials (like their bank statements) beyond what universities they attended and their last two job references.

But is every piece of information important, I wonder? Is it a deciding factor? Is it important to know a candidate’s family history? Whether they smoked pot in college or have a step-brother that stole chewing gum when he was eight? How patriotic are they? What have they done to show how patriotic they are? Do they eat green-beans? How relevant are they with regards to leadership? Would you change your vote? What would it take?

One of the reasons these details all come up is because they are junk food for television. It lives off this stuff. It chews it up over and over and over again. From “breaking news reports” to talking heads, round table discussions, debates, the Sunday morning shows, the punditry. The topic dominates the news, and that pours over on to the Internet, which loves it just as much. Articles are ranked, and stay at the top of “most read” lists, and then the blogosphere commits a massacre. But, at least with the Internet, you can control what you choose to read. TV sort of just pours it out and it’s like a car crash you don’t even see coming: every piece of news grabs you by surprise.

And in two months, none of this will even matter. It’s like watching a bad movie and knowing your watching a bad movie. But the outcome of US elections depend on one thing and one thing only: how they play out in the media. Full stop.

So, in truth, the political junkie in me does wish he was back in Canada watching this play out in the North American mainstream media, but there’s a part of me that knows my head would probably explode from the non-stop coverage. All elections, all the time. A brief interruption featuring Gustav, and then back to business.

I don’t know why I feel coverage of these elections has declined in regional media, but, I think it has. And I think that has a direct impact on the average person’s perception. If it’s not on the front pages every single day, then it’s not relevant on the street-level.

I think my curiosity about this has driven to expand my week of TV-watching out to the street, and go back to my earlier statement (which was naturally an assumption). In a few days I think I’ll go downtown and ask random people about their thoughts on the US elections, whether they’re following the news, and whether they think it’s getting enough coverage in the local/regional media. So stay tuned for a 7iber “street beat”, I suppose.


  • You, Nas, with your obsessive observation of the U.S. elections, probably–no, definitely–surpass many Americans in your knowledge of U.S. politics. When we’re bombarded with so many details, there seems to be only one option: tune out. And when we tune in, it’s to these least important details that somehow still resound the loudest. A lot of people, actually, watch the acceptance speeches and the presidential debates, but few have the stamina to follow the races on a day-to-day basis, much less wade through the headlines to research the candidates’ records.

  • Nas, I can’t wait to see the outcmome of your StreetBeat. I am, of course, very concerned with what will happen in the US elections. Not solely because I live in the region, but also because I may one day return to the US, I want to ensure that the direction the country takes is positive. And, lately (say 8 years) it hasn’t been. So, here I am interested in whether people in Jordan think about it much at all, and very concerned about the coutcome for myself… I’ll keep reading to see what comes up!

  • The reason regional coverage in the Middle East is declining is that the candidates are not drilling on eachother’s vice presidents’ personal lives, and that does not concern the rest of the world as much.

    The pattern in this election process has been to introduce a character, welcome the surprise (because most characters since day one have had a surprise attached by being a woman, black, cancer survivor, jewish etc.), criticize their personal lives, make a TV special about their families, then beat the hell out of them on national television as they fight each other.

    Well, now, after both candidates have traveled the world to parade their campaigns, they selected new characters and that’s where we are at the moment. Talking about Biden versus Clinton for VP, talking about Palin’s values and family behavior etc.

    Unfortunately, i agree with Sarah that Nas knows more about this election than most Americans around me.

    It is sad to know that people outside our country are analyzing this process in a more logical form than we are, when it affects out daily lives and not theirs…

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