A few years ago, I was toiling in a TV newsroom, getting ready for election coverage. That same day, some Chamber types were escorting two officials from Panama around town to see how government functioned. They also took the men to a newspaper, radio station, and TV newsroom to learn how we reported news about polling, vote counts, and election results.
I didn't have time for a dog and pony show that day, but I sat down with them. They wanted to know how we obtained the election results from the polling places, and how we broadcast them. That part of the conversation is fuzzy, but I mostly remember asking them about voting in Panama, since they were relatively new to the democracy thing.
"We were disappointed with the primary election," they told me. "Only about 84 percent of the people went out to vote."
So when I wonder if American politics can become any more divided between the "red" and the "blue," am turned off by the shrill punditry, and media bias on both sides is more disturbing than surprising, I think back to that.
When I see and hear ridiculous political ads in North Carolina that range from a governor being portrayed as a man in a Speedo dancing on the beach, and another's opponent wears the Imperial Margarine crown on his head, I think back to that.
In 2004, when a candidate uses characters pretty close to Goober and Wally down at the fillin' station to smackdown his opponent in radio ads, I'm not sure that the North Carolina I love is quite right in the head.
When a religious denomination gets headlines for denying communion to some of the candidates for one single issue on which it disagrees with them, I know that hysteria has been redefined as the 2004 election year.
And when I get "phone calls" from Elizabeth Dole and Elizabeth Edwards in one day, I think about what we take for granted and try so hard to screw up.
Shannon Reichley is an independent television producer and former news manager at WBTV. E-mail at Shannon.Reichley@cln.com