Presidential Election & Media – 1999 #1



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Presidential Election & Media – 1999 - #1
a) Two ways in which the media have contributed to candidate-centered use of the media during the 1990’s (i.e. less coverage on issues and party labels): Your answer must NOT include a discussion of presidential primary elections.

1) Horse race journalism. The media spends much more time on who is winning rather

than the issues. There has been a growing reliance upon poll data to track trends and to identify which candidate is ahead, who has gained momentum, and who is slipping. Media outlets like CNN and the news programs of the networks routinely quote national polls which are very ineffective in predicting a winner since the Electoral College system is really the combination of 50 state elections and an election in Washington DC. However, the news outlets keep reporting there national poll numbers because it sounds good to people that have little real knowledge of politics.

2) Sound Bites. In order to keep the attention of viewers who began to have a

tremendous amount of more choices with the explosion of a variety of cable channels, news programs create short segments. A large percentage of the voting age population do not want to listen to the mundane positions that candidates have on specific policy issues. Therefore, news programs slice sound bites from speeches and comments to tell the story. The average sound bite of the news from the president is 9 seconds, which is significantly longer than that of other politicians. It is hard to explain a politician’s stance on green house gas emissions in 9 seconds. Radio news shows, like 880 out of NYC, cut sound bites down to one word at times.

b) Identify and explain two ways in which presidential candidates’ use of the media has


contributed to candidates-centered campaigns.

1) Media events: In an effort to gain the attention of the media and to get free media

attention, candidates stage events that look spontaneous. Often, these events are very well thought out and orchestrated ahead of time. President Ronald Reagan was a master at this during his presidency with his famous speeches at the cemetery above the beaches of Normandy and his “tear down this wall” speech in front of the Berlin Wall. In 1988, Michael Dukakis had a famous media event, which ultimately backfired, with him riding in a tank in an effort to give him the appearance of a strong commander in chief. For more recent events, think of “Journeys with George” and the times he went bowling, the riding of the snow mobile, the rallies with hand painted signs created by the campaign (Jess Bastone saw this at a McCain-Palin event in Pa.).

2) Purchasing of air time: Presidential candidates have used their access to immense



fortunes to purchase air time from the networks. For example, in the 1992 election, third candidate Ross Perot purchased half hour blocks from the major networks to present his ideas directly to the American people. In 2008, Barack Obama did the same thing, buying airtime on all 3 of the major networks and Fox at the same time giving the appearance of a news program.

If this was an essay about the adoption of technology, you’d want to remember that Bob Dole was the first to use the Internet for his campaign in 1996, Howard Dean was the first to use the Internet to raise large amounts of money in the 2004 Democratic primary, in 2008 Barack Obama utilized the social networking sites of Facebook and My Space to spread his message & Obama also used text messaging to announce his VP candidate and to Get Out The Vote before the election. Lastly, both the McCain and Obama campaigns created ads that were just released on the Internet, like You Tube. McCain also created a lot of ads that he never planned on buying advertisement time for because his campaign had 1/3 the money of Obama’s. McCain relied upon the news services to show his ads as a news story to get his message heard.




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