November 4, 2002

The origins of spin…

NPR takes a look at the phenomenon of spin. Safire’s New Political Dictionary defines spin as “deliberate shading of news perception; attempted control of political reaction.” By this definition, spin is a combination of propaganda and rhetoric. Lee Atwater may have coined the term, but it found its first use in print–“Spin Doctors”–by Jack Rosenthal of The New York Times in an editorial following the presidential debate in October 1984. The NPR article concludes this way:

Jack Rosenthal says spin started to thrive under the conditions created by CNN and news radio, whose 24-hour updates rendered weekly commentary obsolete. With the news cycle shrinking, he says, “You needed to get effects into play instantly. You couldn’t wait to go to your favorite columnist. It had to be instant, so you created your own columnist. Create your own wave of opinion — your own spin.”

November 3, 2002

Stiff Night Live…

I voted for Al Gore. That said, I think Gore’s personal style, if one can use that word in his case, is a political liability. Will his appearance on Saturday Night Live in December help loosen him up in the eyes of voters? Hmmmm. I thought Sen. John McCain did a remarkably good job last month on SNL. Who knew the guy could read cue cards and act at the same time? (The shower scene of the doting husband skit still cracks me up!) Plus, it’s apparent McCain knows how to laugh at/with himself. Can Gore pull off a similar performance? I have my doubts.

Plus, there’s the whole entertainment-political crossover thing that bugs me terribly. But, you, my loyal readers (yes there are at least two of you) already know how much I dislike entertainment’s intrusion into civic affairs. (via Oliver Willis)

November 3, 2002

Why people hate political ads…

Take a good look at this cartoon by Jack Ohman, and you’ll see why it is the polls say Americans dislike “negative” campaign ads.

While it’s obvious that negative ads do little to raise the level of civic discourse, Ohman clearly points out that “positive” ads are just as idiotic. Voters don’t like being treated as if they’re stupid. And that is about all political advertising seems to accomplish these days.

November 1, 2002

Bottom of the ninth…

Howard Kurtz considers the meaning of last-minute political clich

October 31, 2002

Adjective wars…

Mitt Romney (a man) used the adjective “unbecoming” to describe something Shannon O’Brien (a woman) said during their recent debate in the Massachusetts race for governor. O’Brien and Sen. Hillary Clinton have charged Romney with sexism, and Romney denies it. So is “unbecoming” an adjective with female connotations?

Here’s what says. Notice the example in the first denotation of the word clearly suggests that “unbecoming” has female connotations. It is difficult to imagine a man telling another man his suit is unbecoming. But also notice that the second denotation has clearly male connotations–one might even argue macho male connotations.

So, should O’Brien tar and feather Romney for this adjective? Maybe. What can she get away with? If politics is a battle of definitions as I claim it is, then sticking Romney with a charge of sexism could be a good move. It forces him into a defensive stance. But, like all such definitional battles, nothing is guaranteed. This situation seems a bit petty and likely to backfire. If I were advising O’Brien, I think I would avoid this particular battle.

October 31, 2002

Election night entertainment…

Voter News Service is not sure it will be able to provide timely exit poll results in the election next Tuesday. And this creates a problem for TV news coverage. With so many close races, even under the best of circumstances TV may not be able tell us who won the big enchilada–control of the Senate–until sometime the next day.

So what. Does anyone other than the candidates and campaign staff need to know on Tuesday night? The drive to call the election early has little to do with a journalistic desire to be first with the news. Voters have no civic use for election results an hour before bedtime. Instead, because drawn-out election coverage is boring, it’s far more entertaining to make the call early. Then the networks and cable news shows can trot out the talking heads and spend the rest of the evening yapping about what it all means.

UPDATE (11:35 a.m.): Roll Call has an election night viewing guide.

October 31, 2002

Minnesota round-up…

Political Wire has a round-up of the events in Minnesota, including a link to Mondale’s acceptance speech.

UPDATE (11:25 a.m.): Howard Kurtz has this to say. My contention yesterday (right properly academic) was that we won’t really know until after the election if this memorial-rally helped or hurt the Democrats. I made that statement before the apology by campaign chairman Jeff Blodgett. The Democrats blinked.

October 30, 2002

The TV certainty principle…

The funeral for Sen. Paul Wellstone took place, privately, on 28 October. The public memorial service or political rally–how you characterize it depends on your point of view–took place on 29 October. Today, there’s a new controversy surrounding this campaign. Republicans charge that this “service” turned into a political rally, and so they are asking the television stations in Minnesota to give them equal time.

I did not see the 3.5-hour service-rally. I cannot speak to the complaints the Republicans make. If these events transpired as characterized by the numerous press reports, then I think it is safe to say that there was some tacky behavior. Sight unseen, I’m even comfortable accepting that the service turned into a political rally. The reason: TV cameras. This was a public event set up for television during an important election. What did you expect was going to happen? Pointing a TV camera at events and people tends to change them in certain ways.

UPDATE (5:35 p.m.): Here are some more views on the memorial-rally worth reading–from Tapped and Slate. Here’s an interesting quote from the Slate article:

“Politics is not about winning for the sake of winning,” Wellstone declares in a videotaped speech shown on the overhead screens. “Politics is about improving people’s lives.” But as the evening’s speakers proceed, it becomes clear that to them, honoring Wellstone’s legacy is all about winning the election. Repeating the words of Wellstone’s son, the assembly shouts, “We will win! We will win!” Rick Kahn, a friend of Wellstone’s, urges everyone to “set aside the partisan bickering,” but in the next breath he challenges several Republican senators in attendance to “honor your friend” by helping to “win this election for Paul Wellstone.” What can he be thinking?

Taken simply at face value, Wellstone is mistaken about the practical importance of winning (morally he’s right on). Politics is about winning first, because you can’t improve people’s lives if you don’t win. And that truth, along with Wellstone’s character, was surely driving the emotion and rhetoric during the memorial-rally. Saletan may wonder what Kahn was thinking. I can tell him. He was thinking about victory. Whether or not this service -rally will help or hurt that effort remains to be seen.

UPDATE (5:55 p.m.): An apology from campaign chairman Jeff Blodgett. (via InstaPundit)

October 30, 2002

Updated journalism portal…

Check out–an updated portal that’s a combined effort of The Project for Excellence in Journalism and Committee of Concerned Journalists. From their press release:

The Project for Excellence in Journalism is a journalist-run research institute aimed at helping clarify the core principles and standards of the craft. The Committee of Concerned Journalists is a consortium of reporters, editors, producers, publishers, owners and academics concerned about the direction of American journalism and the pressures it faces. Both are affiliated with the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The Committee

October 30, 2002

Quote fishing…

Last night I posted a response to Jack Shafer’s article about the AP reporter fired for fabricating quotes. MediaMinded has posted his thoughts this morning and called the article “one of the best insider looks at the newsgathering process I’ve read in a while.” I agree. The article points out a problem with deadline pressure and the expectations of editors.

As I said, this situation is an excellent example of fairness bias. What I meant by that was that this situation demonstrates what happens when the fairness bias is applied to a news story by rote, i.e. the structure of the article becomes more important than the content. And this privileging of structure is a problem in journalism. By definition, an article that does not present “both sides” of a story is a bad article. Editors often put tremendous pressure on reporters to get certain kinds of quotes during the editing process–usually on deadline, meaning at the last minute. So, many reporters are forced to go fishing for quotes in exactly the way Shafer describes.

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