April 25, 2002

“Message Discipline” is about more than content…

I found this quote from Eric Alterman’s review of Frank Bruni’s “Ambling Into History” interesting:

“The media’s all but issueless coverage of the campaign — reproduced in microcosm in Bruni’s book — could hardly have served Bush’s purposes better if it had been mapped out by senior adviser Karl Rove and dictated by White House Counselor Karen Hughes. The Bush team’s “message discipline” is, indeed, its most impressive characteristic. A close second is its ability to turn a healthy percentage of supposedly independent-minded observers, consistently accused of exhibiting unreconstructed liberal bias, into little more than ventriloquists’ dummies.”

Aside from Alterman’s consternation with Bruni’s book, this passage points out one of the dangers of covering a presidential campaign: It’s seductive. Part of the reason for this is the proximity to power or potential power. Another part of the reason is that a well-crafted campaign, or presidency, will control the message–what Karen Hughes did for Bush.

The essence of presidential power is rhetorical. It is within the message, not necessarily the content, that we find presidential power or a candidate’s appeal. Alterman’s justifiable complaint with the press is that it too often reads the message as content rather than also reading it as structure. In other words, ” message discipline” is about more than keeping the candidate straight on the issues.

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