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Political coverage heats up on the eve of the New Hampshire primary

Mike Segar / Reuters

Members of the media crowd around Republican presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum as he makes a campaign stop at Mary Ann's Diner in Derry, N.H. on Jan. 9, 2012.

I’m of two minds when it comes to political coverage. The hardcore journalist side of me believes, “Covering politics and elected officials is the most important thing we do. Democracy doesn’t function without informed citizens, and it is our job to find and report the news.” The other side of me, the side that is sick to death of attack ads, debate bickering and political spin, sometimes wonders if we’ve run our money-laden political machine into the ditch. I watch members of my profession fall all over themselves to cover the candidate horse race, sometimes at the expense of covering real people who have real problems, and that deeply concerns me.

I’ve often thought that the media industry receives special protection under the First Amendment and is therefore obligated to provide a certain amount of free political coverage for the citizens of the United States. I would extend that logic to say that the media should not accept money for political advertising. If we did those two things then the need for political money would sort of go away, and the campaign season might even become a shorter, more civilized debate between candidates with different opinions.

Bill of Rights - Amendment I: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Common Cause reports on its website that the problem with money in politics is not so much the amount that is spent on campaigns as it is who pays for them, what they get in return, and how that affects public policy and spending priorities.

Big money has long dominated our elections, and the problem only got worse in 2010 after the Citizens United ruling, in which the Supreme Court turned its back on more than 100 years of law to pave the way for billionaires to spend unlimited amounts of money on direct campaigns to elect or defeat federal candidates, adding to the enormous influence they already have within the political process.

One New Hampshire voter describes how benefits for injured veterans sway his choice of a candidate in the Jan. 10 Republican primary.

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