Why Are We Hung Up on Witchcraft?

Christine O’Donnell’s first campaign ad for the Delaware senate race made waves when it was released this past Monday. Starting with the words, “I’m not a witch. I’m nothing you’ve heard”, O’Donnell used the ad to preemptively defend herself against an an 11 year-old interview in which she admitted to practicing witchcraft.

Why did she feel pressed to defend herself against these accusations? Was it a good choice to lead with such a defensive strategy?

I find it interesting that candidates feel so threatened by the media’s tendency to dig up irrelevant, but embarrassing things about them, that they will beat the media to the punch by sharing it first. For example, I was not aware of O’Donnell’s dabbling until I saw her advertisement.

This is a very unfortunate scenario on numerous levels. For one, O’Donnell feels from the beginning that she will be getting negative media attention not because of disapproval of her policies, but rather because of her recreational past. This fear highlights the shallow and sensationalist way candidates are handled in the media. Most candidates for senate races get no attention at all, and if they do it is usually based on some extraordinary skeleton in the closet that the we know will garner viewers and boost ratings.

This ad should be a challenge to us as journalists– to provide the public with what theyneed to know in the run-up to an election, rather than what they want to know. If the media coverage of candidates continues in an infotainment vein, politicians will continue to water down their speeches, ads, and platforms from policy to party popularity.

Rather than thinking the media will focus on the positive or negative unique perspectives she brings to the table, O’Donnell rightly assumes that we will focus on her personal life. Are we, as the media, feeding “no” candidates who are bent on defending themselves rather than building a platform? Will our coverage of her in the future be composed of the same shallow content– simply regurgitating the miscalculations in this ad and chuckling about it? Do we understand that the way we cover candidates does indeed affect their behavior and shape their priorities?



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