Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Is Jeb Bush right about campaign 'crack addicts'?

By John Avlon, CNN Contributor
updated 6:19 PM EDT, Tue March 12, 2013
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on "Meet the Press" called media crack addicts for being obsessed with the 2016 campaign.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • John Avlon: Jeb Bush called journalists "crack addicts" for obsessing about 2016 election
  • Midterms 18 months away, he says, this is time for governing, not campaigning
  • Avlon: Media addicted to excitement of a horse race, but is so-so at covering governing
  • Avlon: Drama enough in current events; media should educate as it entertains

Editor's note: John Avlon is a CNN contributor and senior political columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is the author of "Independent Nation" and "Wingnuts" as well as the co-editor of the book "Deadline Artists: America's Greatest Newspaper Columns." He won the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' award for best online column in 2012.

(CNN) -- "You guys are crack addicts."

That was Jeb Bush on "Meet the Press," addressing journalists about their obsession with the 2016 presidential campaign, more than three years away.

John Avlon
John Avlon

The former Florida governor was joking and it's a fool's errand for anyone in the media to pretend to be offended. But as always, humor contains a kernel of truth.

Although the press corps isn't collectively hitting the glass pipe, we are more than a little obsessive-compulsive when it comes to talking about the next election.

After all, the last presidential election just ended four months ago. The midterm elections are still 18 months away. This is the time for governing -- that rare sweet spot in a two-term administration where Congress is not paralyzed by the immediate prospect of re-election and the president has maximum political capital to spend on the priorities that define a legacy.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



There is plenty of political drama to go around -- the sequester cuts kicking in, a full court press for a grand bargain in the face of another debt ceiling debacle, a budget battle, the most heated gun control debate in two decades and the first real chance at a bipartisan immigration overhaul in more than a generation. And that's just the looming legislative agenda in addition to the internecine fights on Capitol Hill.

But budget fights make us sleepy and even the prospect of national default feels a little like Groundhog Day. Overall, we don't really pay attention to scandals unless sex is involved, no matter how much money or honor is stolen. Instead we reflexively fast forward to the next election, looking for a quick fix -- a race that allows us to talk about the comparatively simple world of winners and losers.

The media does a great job covering campaigns but no so much when it comes to covering governing. In the process, we almost forget that governing is the main event -- the prize that all those candidates strive for in the campaign.

Bush on Sen. Rand Paul's filibuster
Who are the 2016 contenders?

There's plenty of collusion. Jeb Bush isn't innocent -- he trotted out to every Sunday show to promote his new book with Clint Bolick on immigration, knowing that the widespread interest was driven by speculation about a 2016 presidential campaign. Moreover, with the merciless metrics of journalism in the Internet age, editors know that stories on the sequester don't have the same clickability rate as sex scandals, murders and celebrity gossip.

I have no problem with a high-low approach to story selection, and I'm not immune from writing about future elections. But there's an obligation to focus primarily on current events, aiming to educate as we entertain. Otherwise, our country starts hurtling toward a world of bread and circuses instead of inspiring the kind of active citizenry that democracy ultimately depends upon.

I'm not trying to idolize a fictitious journalistic past, where newspapers, radio and television focused solely on civic substance rather than sensationalism. And although the rise of partisan media has fueled distrust of journalism and segregates people into separate political realities, the deeper bias at work in media is not necessarily liberal or conservative. It's more a conflict bias that steers us toward covering the horse race of campaigning rather than the legislative sausage-making that comes with governing.

The best television journalists and Washington columnists -- from Edward R. Murrow and Walter Lippmann to Mary McGrory and Tim Russert -- were able to communicate the drama of decision-making by people temporarily in power and even help elevate the outcome by harnessing the weight of public opinion.

The everyday challenge of journalism is to entertain while we educate. And that requires focusing on present challenges rather than just projecting far into the future to the next election, imagining a simpler time when all problems will be solved by a change in power.

Crack addict? Not exactly. But like an addict, we are always lurching toward the next fix, dragging national debate along with us. It's time to sober up and focus on the drama-fueled main event happening right in front of us. We might even help fix a few problems by infusing the process of solving them with a sense of civic urgency. instead of defaulting to speculation about the next election.

It's not easy, but then very little worthwhile in life is. As George Orwell once wrote, "To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle."

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:10 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
updated 8:11 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
updated 3:57 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
updated 4:51 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT