Media wins elections in America

Essay, 2004

22 Pages

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In today’s technological world, the media just like computers, atomic power, aircraft and automobiles is everywhere. The American political system has entered a new period of high tech politics, a politics which the behavior of citizens and policy makers as well as the political agenda itself is increasingly shaped by technology. The mass media is the key to that technology, television radio, newspaper, magazine influence not only elites but masses (linebery et al 1993).Although the mechanism remains the same, the US election at the presidential have change drastically over the last 40 years. In terms of campaign, conduct of campaign, the contemporary US elections is virtually an ongoing process in a scale that few politicians from a pre war era would recognize. At the risk of over stating the power of the medium, these changes can largely be attributed to the development of the media. Television has made people better informed about the political process or more expose to it, fostering them to have a greater say in the choice of candidate. In turn, politicians have recognized the importance of voters and the volatility of their support and as a result have resorted to the persuasive techniques of television professional (Andy 1998).

The relationship between the media and politics can be described as reciprocal. The media needs politics and politicians to report on and politicians need media to persuade and influence (Barbara et al 1994).More so politician depend on the media for the advancement of their career and policies but fear the media’s power to criticized, exposed and destroy (James 1983).However, a good media coverage does not guarantee success in election but have a significant role to play (Susan et al 1984).

In this paper, we will examine the media in American presidential elections. First we will look at the development or organization of American media. Secondly we will look at the various stages of American presidential elections and thirdly the media contribution. Finally we will derive a conclusion based on the media in presidential elections in American.

The media in American elections have a positive influence in the presidential candidate’s success as it enrich the masses about the candidate, his personality, charisma and dynamism. Media portrays the ability of the presidential candidate to convince the masses. More so it sensitizes the masses to be aware of the candidate’s policy and to choose which is good. How ever it sabotages the candidate’s approach, his inability to respond to questions.


At the time of the American Revolution, communication was difficult. It ordinarily took several days for news to travel from Boston to New York by horseback. A few small newspapers existed in the cities, but they were expensive to print and buy. Until the 1830s the other main sort of newspaper was the organ of a political party (Federalist, Republican, or Democratic) which argue issues in a fiercely partisan fashion. Such limited media could not carry out the watch dog role very successfully or convey information about electoral choices (Greenberg 1996). 157

The mass media which include newspaper, magazine books, radios, television, movies and records transmit communication to masses of people. Although the media do not constitute a branch of government, establish to influence government, the media provides political information sometimes directly in a newscast or in programs. The media gradually developed into mass media as education of the public increase and as techniques for gathering news technology for dissemination improved (Susan et al 1990). The American media is divided into print media and broad cast media.

The print media is divided into newspaper and magazines


Modern newspapers were made possible by technological innovations and economic growth. During the nineteenth century, newspapers acquired large scale printing machinery, a sizable audience of readers, and a dependable network for gathering news. Key technological breakthrough included the invention in 1814 of ‘cylinder’ press, powered by steam, which supplied ink from a revolving drum, the replacement of hand manufactured typed with a machine for typecasting, a machine for large scale papermaking and the rotary press. Meanwhile, the population grew and public education spread, creating a large literate audience (Greenberg 1996).157

The first newspaper in the US was published in 1860. Although it was suppressed, other papers appeared not long after and when the declaration of independence was adopted, these papers conveyed it to the people. The founders recognized the freedom of press and included a provision for freedom of press in the first amendment of the Bill of right (Susan et al 1990)

About 1100 newspaper are printed in the US. Although this is by far the largest number of any nation, it is one fourth fewer than our all time high around the world w1. Most newspaper are weeklies, they boast the readers and most political events (Samuel 1989). The development of wire services meant that more political news could be spread much more quickly, too much bigger audience, and in a much more nationally uniform way than ever before. This trend was accentuated by the development of large ‘chains’ of newspapers, owned by the same company and pursuing uniform editorial policies. Thus the changing structurally factors of industrialization and technology changed the shape of political communication and the shape of politics (Greenberg 1996) 159


The first political magazine were published in the mid 19 century and Muckraking magazine appeared by the end of the century. News weeklies arose to summaries and comment on the news of the week in the 1920s. Magazines grew in numbers and importance because of the income in leisure time and education (Susan et al 1990). In the 1920s Henry Luce’s Times, the weekly newsmagazine, brought analysis and interpretation of the week’s news, written in a quick and colorful style, to hundreds of thousands and then millions of readers. It was later on joined by Newsweek and US News and World Report. By the 1970s and 1980s national editions of several newspapers, for example, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the USA Today sprouted on supermarket shelves( Greenberg 1996) 159

Broadcast Media

The development of the broadcast media enable politician to reach people who could not or did not read, and it allowed them to reach people more directly. The radio began in 1920 in which KADKA station in Pittsburgh was broadcast on the spot, election results in the presidential race between women Harding and James Cox. Within three years there where over two million radios in the country and many planned their schedule around their favorite program. Yet many politicians did not take advantage of this for a decade. President Franklin Roosevelt was the first to use the radio effectively. During his four term of office, he opposed owners yet he succeeded because he took his case directly to the people in a series of fire side chat on the radio. He drew many listeners that he was given as much air time as he wanted (Susan ET al 1990). In the depth of the great depression, million of Americans could hear the reassuring voice of President Roosevelt. Later millions could hear the latest news about the battle wit Japan and Nazi Germany during world two, which could be seen in dramatic movie newsreels and in the glossy pictures of the new life magazine which offered a grab bag of photos of movie stars, nature, art, and daily life as well as loyalty (Greenberg 1996)

Radio was once thought dead, has been reborn, especially for commuters, joggers, and people who work at home. Beside music, AM and FM stations offer frequent news bulletins and lengthy call in talk shows, on which all manner of political opinion, including cranky and the outrageous , are voiced ( Greenberg 1996). Despite as an entertainment medium it was a powerful political instrument. Many politicians in the 1930 and 1940s grasped its importance and used it to mobilize support. Modern politician as diverse as Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter used radios to declare their message. Ronald Reagan schedule brief weekly radio talks through out his years in the white house (Samuel et al 1989).

The television revolution transformed American media yet again. It was invented just before the world war two (Greenberg 1996). It spreads like wild fire and today 98% of all house hold has at least one TV set. President Roosevelt opened the fair by appearing on a tiny five inch high screen. TV became available in the late 1940s and boomed in the 1950s. During some weeks in the 1950s, 10000 people per day bought their first TV set (Samuel et al 1989).

In sum, the emergence of certain publications and broadcast services constitute a kind of national press. The wire service, the associated press and the United Press International supply most of the national news that local papers publish. Certain news magazine, Times, News Week, US News and World Report have a national leadership. The network evening news broadcast produced by ABC, CBS and NBC are cared by most televisions with a net work affiliation, CNN cable news network broadcast national news around the clock. The are only three truly national newspapers, the Wall street Journal, the Christian Science Monitor and USA Today but the New York Times and the Washington Post have acquired national influence because they are read daily by virtually every important official in Washington (James 1992).


Every four years voters elect a president whose awesome job is to protect and nurture the wellbeing of the nation and all its citizens. As the responsibility of the presidency has evolved to accommodate an ever broader and more diverse array of domestic and international interest, so has the election process evolved to encompass a greatly expanded, electorate, shifting, power structure and changing technologies?

American presidential election is divided into three parts namely, the nomination process, election campaign and Electoral College.


The nomination process begins in January of election year and is designed to help the two mayor parties which dominate election, to choose their presidential candidate. Democratic candidate compete against other democratic candidate and likewise for the Republican candidates. In effect accomplishes the same aim as the heat before the final itself, in which the Democratic candidate will run against the Republican candidate (Andy 1998).

A senator or governor who wants to run for presidency begins by asking friends and financial backers if they can support him. A journalist may write as a smart, attractive, strong candidate to stand for elections and to see whether anyone agrees. The pre candidate may commission individuals to check for positive name and image. If this goes well, he assembles a group of close advisors, formulating strategy, raising large amounts of money, and putting together organizations in key states. One major decision to be made is how to pitch the campaign, which state primaries and caucuses to enter. To win the nomination it is generally necessary to put together a string of primary victory (Greenberg 1996) 259-260


One of the premises of Presidential campaign is that American society is best viewed as a conglomeration of various social groups. There are farmers and business men, city dwellers, suburbanites and a wide variety of hyphenated American. Appeals are made to each group particularly in underlying how they have been neglected in the past and how the election of one candidate will secure their well being in the future. Hence parties set p campaign committees to make appeals to women, minority groups and intellectuals. Candidate spend two months traveling around the county meeting as many people as possible attempting to get their message across(Redford et al 1965) 278


Unlike the nomination process, the election system is defined by the State and Federal laws. The constitution of the US requires that an Electoral College or group of electors select the president and vice president. The state would choose electors, who in turn would elect the president. Under this plan, each State would choose as many presidential electors as its total of senators and representatives in congress. The state legislature would describe how the electors were to be chosen and each elector would cast a separate ballot for presidential and vice president. The ballot would be opened and counted before a meeting of the congress. The person receiving a majority of the votes cast for president becomes the president and the person receiving the majority of votes for vice president becomes the vice president. If no candidate obtained a majority of votes for president and vice, the House of Representatives would choose the president and the senate chooses the vice president (Howard 1974) 184


Television is a bane and blessing of campaign politics. It is bane because their expenses can drive a party close to bankruptcy and a blessing because it brings a close up of candidate into virtually every household (Redford et al 1965)280. More so, the media cherish the presidential candidate’s right to uncover scandal and to comment freely on event. Early papers in the nation were savagely partisans, usually allied with a political party. In the 1960’s reporters told readers their biases, often recorded in detail their personal reactions to what they were covering. Their investigative tradition received new life with prize winning reporting of Vietnam War and the Nixon’s role in the Watergate scandal. Editorial Cartoons are a special form of political commentary. The cartoonist Thomas investigated the Democratic Donkey and the Republican elephant (Samuel et al 1989) 332

Modern presidential debate began in 1960 with four televised encounters between Kennedy and Nixon. Most observers thought the first debate turned the tide for Kennedy favor. It showed him as vigorous, well spoken and capable fully the equal of vice president Nixon, who was tired, ill and badly made up for the cameras (Samuel et al 1989) 321. Also the campaign brought Kennedy and Nixon crossed sword four times by audience ranging from 60-75 million. Each candidate delivered a prepared statement on the topic for debate, answered questions asked by panel of journalist and summed up his position. This gave the American public an opportunity to evaluate each candidate in juxtaposition with his opponent and to see how each man reacted under fire. Nixon’s appearance and nervousness contrasted Kennedy’s mastery of facts during the debate and self confidence, helped to rebut republican’s arguments that Kennedy was too young and inexperience to be president. More so the television confrontation emphasized the difference of opinion and appearance between the two contenders. In answer to a question of federal aid to education, Nixon replied “he favored aid for schools construction but not for teacher’s salaries”. Kennedy on his side said, “He was for aid both for construction and salaries”. In the island of Matsu and Quemoy, Nixon said their defense was vital while Kennedy thought they were probably dispensable (Redford 1965) 280

The 1961 election was noteworthy because of ‘religious factor’. Because a catholic had never been elected president, Kennedy religion was an important factor for his campaign. In the televised debate, all voters regardless of religious persuasion saw a young man .confident and highly elegance that just happen to be a catholic challenge the highly visible and experienced vice president of the United States for presidency. Kennedy convinced many viewers that his youth, lack of experience, and religious posed no serious threat to the nation. In fact just the opposite image was projected; Kennedy seemed to be vigorous, competent and appealing leader who could, to use his slogan “get the nation moving again”. In contrast to the 1952 and 1956 elections, voters in 1960 tended to cast their ballots prospectively (Susan et al 1984)236

The idea of the candidate been promoted is taken literally in the USA, where candidates are free to buy advertising slots on TV channels. The adverts are used to get across a candidates message about a particular issue, to portray a positive image of the candidate or a negative image of an opponent. Like the debate, the impact of advert on voters is unclear, however the probably do have the effect of reinforcing public perception of a candidate. Ray Price who advised Richard Nixon on his television strategy in 1968 summed up the importance in a memo of 1967 “ the response is to the image, not to the man…its not what’s there that counts, its what projected and…its not what he projects but rather what the voters receive. It’s not the man we have to change but rather the receive impression” (Andy 1998).

The national conventions are the two parties’ most important campaign media events. Media coverage has added immeasurable to the democratization of the national nomination process. They are however some conflicts between the parties ad the media. The parties wish to nominate winning candidate and adopt a platform with as much harmony as possible. The media wish to report what they think is newsworthy and important. It is difficult to conduct sensitive negotiation at a convention-the media will not permit them to be private. When the news of Reagan Ford ‘dream ticket’ got out, the story developed a life of its own, with reporters, analyst and commentators concentrating on it. Negotiation between Reagan and Ford staffs became much more difficult. In the end, the media’s image of a convention is the bridge between the campaign for nomination and the campaign for election. In 1980 when the two conventions was over, the Republican left Detroit with the image of united group ready to make a new beginning, the Democrat left New York with the controversy of the Kennedy challenge not dissipated and its nominee bearing the scars of criticism of his four tenure in office (Susan et al 1984)218

In the 1980 the paid media was very significant in campaign. Conservative political committees spent large sum of money attacking carter and liberal incumbent senators. Thus, the strategy of negative advertising which made the republicans conduct an 8 million $ national advertising campaign to sell a more positive image of republican in the US. The free media was less important in the 1980 because they were few ‘medial ties’ than usual while there were fewer ‘modalities’ in the 1980, several did have an impact. The hostage crisis was so critical, the ABC news began to count the days the hostage had been held by their captors and ran a special report on the hostage situation. When all media started investing much time and creative reporting to the issue, the story intertwined with the campaign. On the last week of the 1980 campaign, the first anniversary of the taking hostage was celebrated from Teheran with media coverage beamed via satellite to television. Nothing could have demonstrated better the importance or feebleness attributed by Republicans to the Carters administration foreign policy than events of the hostage taking anniversary (Susan et al 1984)222 . More so Carter receives unrelentingly unfavorable news coverage which was a key in explaining his defeat. In contrast Reagan enjoyed a highly favorable press at the time of his nomination and a modestly favorable press in the last days of the campaign. (258)

In addition, the 1980 debate which held a week before balloting helped fuel a last minute surge for Ronald Reagan. President Carter depicts Reagan as a dangerous extremist, but Reagan parried these thrust and portray him as an average guy. Towards the end of the debate, he moved towards the end of the clincher, voters should ask themselves, he said whether they were better off than they had been four years before. For voters were worried about their inflation and humiliated by the Iran hostage crisis, the answer was obvious. (246)

Many newspapers endorse candidate before elections and these endorsement can have an impact. Most people do not read editorials and those who read tend to follow politics and make up their mind on the basis of numerous source of information. Endorsement are thought to have effect on well publicized races, although one study of the 1964 presidential lection concluded the endorsement of president Johnson by minority newspaper in 223 counties across the North added about 5% to the vote he would have receive on these counties. Endorsements are thought to have more effect on relatively unpublished races such as for State legislator because voters have little other information to guide them (Susan et al 1990). (272)

At the same time television has allowed new comers to run, it has also imposed new requirements on candidate for national office. They must demonstrate an appealing, and performance on camera, they must be telegenic. President Franklin Roosevelt body crippled from polio and often on crutches or in a wheel chair would not be impressive on television. (267)

In august 2000, the Annenberg public policy center reported that 15% of Americans felt that they did not know enough about the presidential candidates, Al Gore and George W bush, to make an informed choice. Over half of those surveyed could not identify at least one of the candidates position on a range of issue such as social security, health insurance and gun control. However some 70% could identify Bush’s position on the death penalty and Gores position on gun control and health insurance for children (www.appcpeen/Report4.pdf). The Annenberg public policy center press release and report announcing these facts attributed the state of the electorate’s awareness of candidates and policies or lack. Follow-up to the Annenberg study noted that after the party convention, there was an increased awareness of the two candidates’ policies. The convention motivated the public to focus on the presidential elections and inform the public of policy choices. More importantly, the public increase focus and interest in policy matters.

According to Fox News, the media and others sought to turn the Republican convention in Philadelphia into a wired convention. Media and other interested organization laid over 6600 miles of fiber optic cable and connected 2000 ISDN lines and 500 DSL lines for capacity of 70,200 lines for data and voice streaming. Cornfield’s study looked at twenty media sites during the convention. Cornfield also found a 14% drop of traffic to the four most popular news sites during the week of the convention compared with the previous week. Where as 11,246000 unique visitors went to MSNBC, CNN,, and Washington Post, from home computers the week ending July 29, only 9,643000 entered those sites during convention week.

More so, the view for the internet was bleak, but according to Patterson broadcast media, despite a general decrease in ratings, still attracted over 50 million adult Americans on every evening of the convention and a majority of them watched at least half an hour. Television rating for the 2000 convention averaged 11.9 points, down from 21.3 in 1992, the importance lies in its ability to attract inadvertent viewers and stimulate them to remain tuned. On the final night some 57% of total audience had inadvertently come across the telecast and stay tune. This was so because George Bush was speaking and they wanted to know his policy positions.

Also, the public is most engaged with the campaign when issues are placed at the forefront, and this happens when key events, such as primary polls, take place in the campaign. For instance, public awareness of the candidate’s policies decreased after Gore and Bush emerged as the uncrowned nominees of the two parties. The televised conventions remain the key moment of the campaign because the public believes they are most involved in considering the issues and the candidate during conventions. Given that the televised conventions draw a public that has increasingly disengaged from both politics and an interest in policy; they may be a key to public involvement in American politics.

The media in US presidential project the candidate’s charisma, character and ideas. Caitlyn Rhodes (2004) describes Bush as “getting a robust bounce in the polls” after the close of the Republican convention. Before the convention which effectively provided home news that “only president Bush can keep our grand children safe from terrorist”. Some pollsters say things can change if Kerry decides “to abandon his gentlemanly style of campaigning and go for the jugular”. More so, signs show Kerry as having made a fundamental shift in his campaign style. During the republican convention, Terry McAuliffe roamed a room of fact checkers who monitored the republican speeches for accuracy. When distortions of Kerry record were found, Mc Auliffe emailed his rebuttal to the media. The wild eyed oratory by Zell Millner generated many democratic corrections and talking points.

Further more; the media portrays the candidate’s inability to address political issues at stake. As Chris Matthews ask Millner if he “really thought that Senator Kerry would try to defend the US against Al- Qaeda using spitball”-“that Kerry is weak on defense, it is an easy question to answer for someone who had done his research” (Caitlyn Rhodes 2004)

The media modifies the candidate’s personality, how he reacts to situations. Judy and Mark (2004) advertise President Bush consoling a teenage girl whose mother died in the world trade center on 11 September. The advert was inspired by a photo of Bush hugging Ashley Faulkner who is 16 years, while campaigning in Lebanon Ohio. “the photo was taken by the girls father was widely circulating on the internet, as Bush shook hands in the crowd, Ashley neighbors told him that she lost the mother on 9 11”. Bush on his part enfolded the girl in his arms and offered her comfort. Ashley says in the advert, “that he saw in Bush what I want to see in the heart and soul of a president”.

In this regard, Elizabeth Theiss-Morse, a political science professor in the University of Nebraska said “emotional advert like Ashley story are effective. One of Bush’s strength is that he’s considered to be a warm person”. This reminds voters about the 9 11 attack and his action right afterwards. “That’s another of his strength”.

The media in American presidential elections depicts a negative image about the presidential candidate. In this line, Wolf Blitzer (2004) of the CNN department wrote an article in which he titles it “the Democratic National Committee has filed a formal complaint with the Federal Election Commission over Sinclair Broadcast Group’s plan to air a program in prime time accusing John Kerry of betraying American POWs during the Vietnam War”. Mc Auliffe Democratic Party Chairman explains it as “absolutely outrageous and it’s illegal” to go out and pre-empt regular broadcasting to put a 90 minute attack against a presidential candidate. Sinclair Broadcast Group operates 62 local stations around the country, including stations in battle ground states such as Ohio, Florida, Lowa and Wisconsin. To them (Sinclair), “there is nothing wrong airing the program” and Stolen Honor sum it up as “Wounds that never heal”.

Sinclair Broadcast Group Vice President Mark Hyman in an interview with CNN said “this is definitely a newsworthy event. These Vietnam prisoners of war suffered horrific abuse and unspeakable torture for many years. Most of them maintained silence for 31 years and felt a need to respond to claims made by John Kerry”. The group has offer Kerry to appear on its station but Kerry’s campaign team says it’s not taking the offer seriously.

Further more, the media in presidential projects the candidate’s physical personality in relation to his competing position. In a write up by CNN Greg Botelho (2004) entitle “JFK, Nixon usher in marriage of TV politics”. He described the 43 year old Kennedy to “be radiating health”. “Kenney wore a dark suit, and had a wide smile and vivid tan; Nixon on the other hand, appeared pale and a bit listless”. He had just gotten from the hospital, where he had lost weight after a knee injury. Nixon looked “a pale shadow of aggressive composed Massachusetts Senator. “ I was listening to it on the radio coming into Lincoln, Kansas and thought Nixon was doing a great job” the former Senator Bob Dole comment, until “ I saw the TV clips the next morning and he …didn’t look well. Kennedy was young and articulate and … wiped him out”.

During the debate, many citizens tune to it and the New York Herald-Tribune Washington bureau chief Earl Mazzo credited Kennedy’s debate performance for lifting him over the top in a tight election.

The media tarnish the reputation of the Presidential candidate. Bill Clinton was dragged down though not defeated by the character issues brought unto question before his election. Kenneth Star unravels a tangled web of alleged sexual advances and affairs in Clinton’s past. The trail led to former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Clinton after months of denial admitted in august of 1998 that he had had a sexual relationship with the young woman during her internship period. This was immediately made available to the public. Many felt the report “filled with lurid details of Clinton’s sexual encounters with Lewinsky, to be a political attack against president rather than a legal justification for his impeachment”. As such Clinton was impeached for grand jury perjury and obstruction of justice (Borgna Brunner).

More so, the Lone Star Iconoclast, a weekly newspaper in Crawford, Tex, where President Bush has his ranch, endorsed his opponent, Senator John Kerry, saying that Mr. Bush ''let us down.'' The 1,000-circulation newspaper began publishing after the 2000 elections. W Leon a paper editor and publisher said that in the Kerry endorsement that the “part –time president” spend much time vacationing art his ranch. The 1,800 word editorial headlines “ Kerry will Restore American Dignity” which focused on four items; social security, ”the deteriorating state of American economy, “ a dangerous shift from away from the basic freedoms established by our founding fathers” and Mr. Bush’s “ continuos mistake regarding terrorism and Iraq( Jodi W 2004


Television is a bane and a blessing to presidential election in the US. It is a bane because their expense can drive party to bankruptcy. It depicts a negative image and features of the presidential candidate thereby forcing the masses to have a different image of the individual which results to his failure. It is a blessing because it brings a close up of candidate into every household. People are opportune to see the candidate’s compatibility, his charisma, dynamic attitude and personality which will eventually results to his success. However, media program in US election should be under censorship.


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Media wins elections in America
University of Kassel
American Presidential System
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Media, America, American, Presidential, System
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Dingha Ngoh Fobete (Author), 2004, Media wins elections in America, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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