As the breathless sports coverage of the presidential primaries bursts around me this morning, I’m doing my best to resist surrendering to the contrived drama about “comeback kids” and the flying shrapnel of numbers and hold onto my troubled skepticism about the electoral process, or at least most of it.

First of all, before we get too enthusiastic about feminist solidarity or wax knowingly about New Hampshire Democrats’ traditional soft-heartedness toward the Clinton family, let’s ponder yet again the possibility of tainted results, which is such an unfun prospect most of the media can’t bear to remember that all the problems we’ve had with electronic voting machines — and Diebold machines in particular, which dominate New Hampshire polling places — remain unsolved.

Did the Hillary campaign really defy the pollsters? She had been trailing Barack Obama by 13 percentage points, 42 to 29, in a recent Zogby poll, as election watchdog Brad Friedman pointed out. And the weekend’s “rapturous packed rallies for Mr. Obama,” as the New York Times put it, “suggested Mrs. Clinton was in dire shape.”

So when she emerged from the Tuesday primary with an 8,000-vote and 3-percentage-point victory over Obama, perhaps — considering the notorious unreliability, not to mention hackability, of Diebold machines — the media might have hoisted a few red flags in the coverage, rather than immediately chalk the results up to Clinton’s tears and voter unpredictability. (Oh, if only more reporters considered red flags patriotic.)

The fact is, whatever actually happened in New Hampshire voting booths on Tuesday, our elections are horrifically insecure. For instance, Bev Harris, of the highly respected voting watchdog organization Black Box Voting, recently wrote that the Diebold 1.94w optical scan machines used in some 55 percent of New Hampshire precincts (representing more than 80 percent of the state’s voters) are “the exact same make, model and version hacked in the Black Box Voting project in Leon County (Florida)” a few years ago. They haven’t been upgraded; the security problems haven’t been fixed.

National, or at least media, denial about this situation doesn’t say much for the strength of our democracy.

The other recent chill I felt over the state of that democracy was symbolized by the gleeful thumbs up that ABC president David Westin gave his staff 20 minutes before airtime for Saturday’s candidate debate, when word came in that a judge had ruled against Dennis Kucinich’s last-minute lawsuit to gain inclusion in the debate. The staff cheered, the Hollywood Reporter noted with barely concealed satisfaction, as though to say: A-list celebrities only, Dennis!

The exclusion of Kucinich from the debates, and the mainstream media’s indifference to and/or tacit approval thereof, strikes me as part of the same phenomenon as their inability to incorporate news of ongoing voting-machine insecurity into actual election coverage.

The unacknowledged backstory of the election process, you might say, is that it’s primarily entertainment; and downer stuff like unreliable numbers or a short, pedestrian candidate who insists on talking about real — and possibly unpleasant — issues just don’t belong in the package presented to the public. No grit, please! No matter the current administration has trashed the Constitution, dragged us into a disastrous war, abandoned New Orleans, blown national security and made torture fashionable, this election is about . . . feelings, personal drama.

So with Kucinich out of the debates and out of mainstream consciousness, the simmering concerns of far more than 1 percent of the population are also excluded from these debates that, after all, are about the nation’s and the world’s future. I was dreading the onset of the primary season because I knew it would not be what it affected to be: something, uh, related to reality.

Thus impeachment, that unpleasant topic, is not something any of the top-tier, media-vetted Democratic candidates will be talking about, no matter that it has far more support among the electorate than the impeachment of Hillary’s husband ever did. And the Iraq war itself is reduced to a yes or no question, with no discussion of the bloated U.S. defense budget on the table, or the role of aggressive neocon-style militarism in our national security. Westin’s thumbs up signaled media exclusion of all such matters from the national debate.

That said, I acknowledge taking wary heart in Obama’s remarkable road to national prominence and (hypothesizing fair elections) his reasonable shot at the Democratic presidential nomination. He is energizing African-Americans and many other disaffected voters, and just maybe, as he ascends to the highest levels of power, he really intends to represent them.

Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column at or visit his Web site at © 2008 Tribune Media Services, Inc.