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Media in Elections and Campaigns

Page history last edited by Sarah Tillery 14 years, 4 months ago




Media in Elections and Campaigns

Previous Page: Old Media versus New Media                                                                                                Next Page: Government and the Media



How The Media Affects Politicians



ACTIVITY: How much knowledge should be available to the public? When does the media cross the line from the public’s right to know to over-stepping personal boundaries? Do you think that the media oversteps any boundaries, or is everything about a politician’s life subject to scrutiny? Think about these things as you read this section.



The Media has always been a crucial tool for politicians during the election season and outside of the election season. During the election season, politicians seek to look their best in the public eye, must do no wrong, and get their message out to the general public. Not looking his best was what lost Richard Nixon the 1960s election against John F. Kennedy. Recovering from being ill for a long while, Nixon was pale and unshaven and in comparison to the clean, fresh, and youthful Kennedy, Nixon was a sore sight and definitely not the face of the man the public wanted to represent their country. As a result, Kennedy won the election, all because of one foul first impression.


 In the off season, politicians and politically biased news networks work to create either a strong support for the causes of the government or a strong rebellion towards them, depending on who’s in power. In short, the media is a political tool as well as an enemy of politicians.

With the rise of investigative journalism, which you will read more about later in the chapter, the media and politicians began to compete with one another. Sound-bites became shorter and as a result could contain clips of whatever the media wanted to show of the speech. Back in the days of Cronkite, this would not be so--- they would show enough of the speech to get the politician’s correct point across. In today’s news world, sound-bites are used by the media for more sensationalist purposes, for either side's devices. Should a candidate say one thing it could be made to look bad or good for him, without ever having to look at the actual context of the sound-bite. So, politicians in this day and age have to be more careful about what they say and do.


(This graph shows the decline of the length of soundbites over the years. From the looks of things, soon enough we'll just be assuming what politicians think, huh?) 1



As well as sound-bites, the media began to develop an idea that it must uncover the truth and always be suspicious of the government and its actions. This suspicion developed during the Vietnam War and cemented itself after the Watergate scandal. With the President and Congress trying to hide so much from the public, journalists began to demand knowledge, and so sought it out through any means necessary. Whereas in the 50s it would have been wrong and against journalistic integrity to publish a story on the President’s private life, in today’s world it is perfectly acceptable to run story’s on the affairs and health issues of politicians. It’s the public’s right to know after all, isn’t it?

But a politician who knows how to work the media is a strong politician, and will be presented in a good light by the media. Al Gore wrote for his senior thesis that the over the years the president would gain more power and influence from an “ability to dominate the airwaves.”1



      President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the champion of “dominating the airwaves” and made the media his way of gaining public sympathy and support. Through his “fireside chats” he would regularly inform the public of what his administration was doing and how they were doing it before anyone in the media could catch wind and distort it with their own opinions. He was an expert at manipulating the press in a way that no story he didn’t want told would be told, and any story he wanted to share would be shared, and he did this without any policy making or restrictions on the media. His fireside chats and his ability to work with the media helped his public image a great deal and helped him get reelected three times.

President Reagan also was a master at using the media. He had many advisers on hand to help him with media appearances, and he, being an actor, knew exactly what sort of cues and lines would make him most appealing to the general public. Reagan had seven principles in regards to his media appearances: 1. Plan ahead. 2. Stay on the Offensive. 3. Control the flow of information. 4. Limit reporters’ access to the president. 5. Talk about the issues you want to talk about. 6. Speak in one voice. And 7. Repeat the same message many times.1 This method worked well for him, and he is regarded by many to be one of the most effective Presidents we have had, similarly to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.







Tools Politicians Use To Communicate With the Media


Media Events



A media event is a term for when a politician or another individual stages a scene or event in order to catch the media's eyes and the public's hearts. Usually, this sort of action is supposed to seem spontaneous and out of the goodness of the politician's heart that they would do such a thing. Some examples would be much of what President Obama did during the campaign, such as his train ride to match that of Abraham Lincoln's, stopping in every town to meet and talk with the people. Going door to door and talking to the people is also a media event, meant to cast a good light on the candidate or politician, so that they may seem connected to the people and eager to hear their thoughts and concerns. Presidents reading to children at their schools is a media event, or meeting with the star quarterback at a high school. Wearing flag pins on your lapel might be seen as one too. Anything that seems spur of the moment and slightly staged is most likely completely staged to get on the good side of the media.








United States






Mostly Candidate





Methods of Allocating Advertisements


Allocated by the State

Allocated by the State

Allocated by the State

Allocated by the State

Limitations on the Number of advertisements






Duration of the Advertisements

Unlimited, but typically only 30 seconds

2-3 minutes

Up to 4 minutes

2 ½ minutes

5 minutes


TV Commercials



During the campaign season, the prime tool of the candidates is the television commercial. Within 30 seconds, the candidates must capture the heart of the public and get them interested in their cause and message. In the United States, though the candidates have unlimited time on the networks to promote their message, they usually do not exceed 30 seconds, for fear of boring the average viewer. Already these televised commercials are not exceptionally effective since they receive such limited ratings. In other countries, the televised commercials for candidates usually runs for a lot longer, since the air-time is for free, which allows the candidates to go more in depth with their issues and beliefs. In America, candidates still must pay for their own air time and campaign. These trends typically result in negative advertisements about the opposition rather than positive and informative advertisements describing what the candidate is about.


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A couple examples of silly campaign advertisements. Each of these uses flashy techniques to draw the audiences attention to the points the candidates are trying to make. The Christopher Knight one uses images and themes from a popular franchise to attract viewers while he shares the reasons why he would make a good candidate. The Mike Huckabee advertisement uses a famous celebrity, popular amongst Internet users and young people, to attract audiences. He also uses the format of the popular 'Chuck Norris' jokes in order to attract attention to his views and stances in order to make them heard by the public in a way they would remember them: lighthearted and humorous. The first one, Mike Gravel's campaign advertisement, is unique, in that it draws the attention of viewers by simply making people wonder if he'll ever say or do anything, or what on earth the silly video is about. Remarkably, he goes throughout the whole video without making one statement, or saying anything he is about. However, the intent behind it was to be symbolic: the rock was his campaign and the ripples it makes when it hits the water represents his campaign's influence and the impact it will have on the world. Not many people understood that right off the bat. Needless to say, neither Huckabee nor Gravel were elected during the primary season.


And a more serious one here. This one is a good example of the 30 second campaign advertisements, especially the negative tone these advertisements have taken on over the years. In 2004, many advertisements like this arose, not just against John Kerry, but also against George W. Bush. These advertisements don't say much, but they use key components that would subconsciously strike fear or doubt into the public minds, such as scary music, large intimidating lettering, and sound bites taken out of context to prove whatever point the advertisement is trying to make. These types of advertisements were used to strike doubt in a candidate into the hearts and minds of the public, and very effective in many cases, however the informed voter can see right passed the propaganda these types of advertisements promote.


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This last video on the other hand shows a comeback to a more informed campaign video. It focuses more on telling the public what Barack Obama as a candidate stands for and supports and promises to do if elected rather than promoting scare tactics against another candidate. In recent years, there have not been many campaign videos that have gone past the 30 second  to 1 minute mark, despite the fact that the time for a campaign advertisement is limitless (the candidate simply has to pay for the advertisement.) This advertisement was a important change because it went over the brief listing of viewpoints and went into a bit more detail regarding the issues Obama supported.





Press Conferences


A press conference is defined as a meeting with the press. Politicians usually use these in the same way they use trial balloons, but this one is more out front and direct. Politicians use press conferences in order to get their version of the correct message out to the public before opinion writing and journalists make it their own version.  This is helpful because it allows the politician to ideally be honest about any wrongdoings he or she has committed, or clarify misquotations and other misinformation before their political reputation is tarnished in the eyes of the public. However, it can also be used to present their version of the truth, which most usually is whatever sounds best to the public.


Trial Balloons


As much fun as these sound, they are actually a tool used by politicians when they do something particularly scandalous. When a politician has some information that he or she doesn't want the media to hear first or the public to have a bad reaction to, they consult a member of the media who they can trust to keep it quiet. The consultant will then gauge the reaction of the public and based on this, the politician will plan a course of action, such as a press conference. 



Previous Page: Old Media versus New Media                                                                                                                                                    Next Page: Government and the Media

Comments (3)

mberry said

at 10:12 am on Nov 18, 2009

Nice section! Near the top, be careful when using PBS -- it is publicly owned and many say that it is quite liberally biased. CSPAN is a better example of "non-biased" -- if there is such a thing! TYPOS! "Volunteer" run makes it sound as though the employees would get no compensation. I don't think that's what you mean. Also, you need to explain that you are discussing media and GOVERNMENT -- at the top, it sounds like ALL media get ALL information from the White House and Congress! :~) You are a bit naive about press conferences! :) They are actually a chance to get the politician's side of the story before the media and control the slant...press conferences can be quite manipulated and not always "honest" clarifications of misinformation as you suggest.

mberry said

at 10:14 am on Nov 18, 2009

You need to analyze and explain the campaign commercials above, especially the Gravel one! Maybe also use Swift Boat Veterans for Truth as an interest advocacy campaign example.

mberry said

at 10:16 am on Nov 18, 2009

The second cartoon isn't completely clear and may be a bit inappropriate (a night with you daughter?)...

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