Can the media stop portraying Kevin McCarthy as if he were the incoming Speaker of the House? He doesn’t have the votes. He could end up getting the votes, but he doesn’t have them, and over the past days he’s been very publicly losing votes from within his own caucus.
It’s maybe 50-50 as to whether McCarthy ends up being Speaker of the House. The media has no business pretending those odds are 99% or 100%. But the media knows that if it portrays McCarthy as the de facto Speaker-elect when it reports on the hideous things he’s threatening to do as Speaker, the media will be able to get more hate-clicks and outrage-clicks out of those headlines.
If the media factually acknowledges that McCarthy is a long way away from being able to get himself elected Speaker, then the general public will be less interested in whatever threats McCarthy is making, because those will be seen as potentially hollow threats.
So even though the media could get some ratings and page views out of covering the difficulty that McCarthy is having in trying to find the votes to become Speaker, the media has already decided that there are more ratings and page views to be had by framing McCarthy’s current words and threats as if they were coming from the next Speaker. And the media knows it has to be one or the other. It can’t report on McCarthy having trouble getting the votes to become Speaker in one breath, and then turn around and hype McCarthy as the de facto next Speaker in the next breath. Except some major news outlets are doing precisely that, because if you’re basing your media narratives on bullshit to begin with, why would consistency matter?
Of course none of this should play into the media’s decision making at all. The honest facts are that he’s facing a possible but difficult road to becoming Speaker, and that the threats he’s making will be contingent upon his difficult odds of becoming Speaker. But that’s a nuanced narrative, and major media outlets don’t seem particularly interested in nuance these days.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report