NYT: 'American Idol' Popular Because of 2000 Election

Just when you thought the New York Times couldn't sink any lower than its chairman Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger ranting how he was sorry America wasn't a socialist and pacifist nation, the money-losing paper manages to surprise you.

That's really the only thing you can say after reading Times Arts tv critic Alessandra Stanley's attempt to cast the popular-but-fading Fox show "American Idol" into the 2000 election controversy.

Yes, you read that correctly. According to the Times, the reason that teenage girls looove tuning in is because Al Gore didn't beat George W. Bush.

The lunacy is just too funny:

“Idol,” now in its sixth season, has its selection process backward. In this country, people can vote for whomever they want — even Al Gore in 2000 — but the last word is left to the Electoral College and even the justices of the Supreme Court.

The most interesting thing about this season’s ado is not Mr. Malakar or Mr. Stern or even Simon Cowell; it’s the current obsession with voting on television shows and Internet sites like YouTube.

“Idol,” which began as a British hit, made its debut in the United States in 2002 — a scant two years after one of the closest presidential elections in American history. The talent show spawned a multitude of copycat shows with voter call-in gimmicks; even CBS News allows viewers to decide which story Steve Hartman will cover on his weekly segment, “Assignment America.” (This week, they chose the National Dog Agility Championships in Sunbury, Ohio.)

The high viewer turnout for “Idol,” which is on tonight, cannot solely be explained by technological advances or a regression in human nature. It cannot be a coincidence that television voting rights arose so soon after the 2000 election left slightly more than half the voting population feeling cheated. Those who didn’t go to the polls and fear that their abstention inadvertently made possible the invasion of Iraq may feel even worse. “Idol” could be a displacement ritual: a psychological release that allows people to vote — and even vote often — in a contest that has no dangerous or even lasting consequences. (Even losers win out in the end: both Mr. Gore and Jennifer Hudson ended up on the Oscar stage.)

Maybe the reason that more people didn’t turn out for the 2004 presidential race, despite the closeness of the tally four years earlier, is that they were still in denial and distracted by “American Idol.”

Hat tip: Chris Judd

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