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Campaigns: Whose Agenda Is It?

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WHEN President George Bush made his first l992 campaign visit to New Hampshire on the cold morning of Jan. 15, he displayed the full drawing power of an incumbent president.

The "media advisory," handed to the press the day before Air Force One touched down at Pease Air Force Base, stated: "Sensitive Information - For Planning Purposes Only - Not For Publication or Broadcast." The advisory listed the President's full schedule for the day with lots of detailed instruction to the press to ensure smooth and full coverage.

In addition to Air Force One, Mr. Bush's entourage that day included four black limousines, several vans loaded with United States Secret Service agents, other support cars, trained dogs for sniffing out potential explosive devices, an ambulance, and many other secret precautions necessary to rightfully ensure the President's security.

The prime objective on this singularly political day filled with banners, bunting, and cheers was for Bush to command the attention of the national press. The President's advisors knew how they wanted the day to play out. In a word often used by the press, this was the "horse race," and here was the big horse starting the biggest race of all.

It worked. The President got lead coverage on the three major networks that night including TV sound bites within the hour on CNN. Coverage in such newspapers as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times was equally prominent.

But some editors, media experts, critics, academics, and a few politicians are saying that the nature of the symbiosis between the press and political campaigning needs reform, particularly during a presidential election year.

Look at the l988 campaign, critics say. Genuine analysis and discussion of issues were often lost in the art of thunder and glitz, they charge. Events staged primarily for the press, like the President's New Hampshire trip, and secondarily for voters, dominated coverage during l988. TV "sound bites," so evident in l988, were not, and are not, nutritious mouthfuls, and television advertising like the Bush campaign's Willie Horton ads pandered to emotions.

Will l992 really be different?


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