Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Views of the News, Oct. 29, 2008

Election week in Columbia and around the nation: what's undercovered and overcovered? Panelists: Mike McKean, Lee Wilkins, Charles Davis, Jen Reeves.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Demagoguery Inc.

Demagoguery is finding real comfort in this week's campaign follies, as the brinkmanship displayed by Sen. McCain's campaign seeming loses any connection with reality. On today's show we pulled no punches in discussing the hysterical reaction among many of the Senator's emissaries. Now, in all fairness, Sen. McCain can't control these people -- Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) can't be stopped, obviously, or someone would have pulled her down from the ramparts a while ago -- but he COULD and SHOULD signal his disgust with the rhetoric employed by his increasingly disturbing legions of doom, complete with cries of "Terrorist," anti-Muslim stereotyping and the like. But alas, he remains silent.

Now Rep. Bachmann channels her inner McCarthy, and follows what has become a tired old script:

Step One: Say something regrettably stupid. In this case, say it to millions live on "Hardball."

MR. MATTHEWS: You put three words together — liberal, leftist and anti-American. How do they all fit together, those three terms — liberal, leftist and anti- American?

REP. BACHMANN: Well, that’s a good descriptor for Jeremiah Wright. It’s a perfect descriptor for Bill Ayers. And those are friends and people that Obama has pointed to as his mentors. In his book, Barack Obama had pointed to Jeremiah Wright as one of his mentors, and also Father Pfleger as one of his mentors. Two of the three mentors are Father Pfleger and Jeremiah Wright. Now, these are very strange, anti-American mentors.

But wait! There is more:

MR. MATTHEWS: So you believe that Barack Obama may have anti- American views.

REP. BACHMANN: Absolutely. I’m very concerned that he may have anti-American views.

Step Two: Deny it.

Despite the way the blogs and the Democratic Party are spinning it, I never called all liberals anti-American, I never questioned Barack Obama’s patriotism, and I never asked for some House Un-American Activities Committee witch hunt into my colleagues in Congress.

Step Three: Quietly admit to it after being shown Youtube video...but blame the press!

Bachmann is blaming Chris Matthews for her gaffe, telling a Rotary Club event in her district yesterday that she had never seen Hardball and should have avoided the trap Matthews laid for her:

"When I was on Hardball with Chris Matthews last week, I do believe firmly that a trap was laid, but I stepped into it," Bachmann said. "And I made a misstatement, and I made a comment that I would take back."

Ah, a trap! Claptrap, perhaps.

Views of the News, Oct. 22, 2008

Do the media caricature liberals and conservatives? Also, how differently are the media viewed across the political spectrum? Panelists: Mike McKean, Lee Wilkins, Charles Davis.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

If push polled, push back

Unlike most other folks at this time of year, I look forward to political phone calls. It gives me a different sort of insight into how campaigns are going--based on the tactics that the various campaigns are willing to use.

Three times in the last two weeks, my household has been pushpolled--which I regard generally as an act of a desperate campaign. Push polls are inherently deceptive--the pollsters act as if they want to hear your opinion when really what's at issue is feeding you a set of ever-more negative facts designed to sway you away from a particular candidate. You'll know them by questions phrased something like, "Would you be as likely to vote for {insert name of candidate} if you knew that s/he {insert reprehensible act or vote}." If you stay on the line long enough--20 minutes in one case--questions become increasingly negative. 

I think push polling is unethical because it begins with a deception--my opinion is not being sought, rather the person or group paying for the poll is attempting to change it through providing me with a slanted set of facts--some of which aren't very factual. The technique itself is in disrepute because candidates who do it risk a backlash, often from voters who have not yet made up their minds. Most often, push polls are commissioned by national political organizations or candidates. 

But, this election season has been different. This week I was push polled by Senator Chuck Graham's opponent(s), and earlier this month by opponent(s) of Gubernatorial candidate Jay Nixon.  Notice, I say opponents because it's never clear to me who is paying for this stuff.

While there's not much I can do about it, I do make an attempt to level the playing field. First, I keep the person on the phone as long as I can stand it. (If they are talking to me, they aren't talking to someone else--and talking to me can get expensive.) Second, I always ask to speak to a supervisor. When that person comes on the phone, I ask who is paying for the poll. Supervisors are generally instructed not to answer this question--so I ask to speak to that person's supervisor. Once I made it up the food chain to four supervisors until the folks at the other end finally decided I was so difficult to deal with, they hung up. (But, I had cost them time and money.) Third, I try to out the campaign--sometimes on Views of the News but always with my students. I figure what you do know, you can prepare to combat. 

I'd be curious to know how many others are sharing my experiences of local candidates using push polls--and what their strategies are for dealing with this practice. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Views of the News, Oct. 15, 2008

Media coverage of the campaigns: are stumping, debates, misbehavior at rallies, voter-fraud allegations, and the horse race overcovered? Panelists: Mike McKean, Lee Wilkins, Charles Davis.

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ACORN Fest Continues....

As I ranted about the Acorn "scandal" this morning, it struck me that perhaps the best thing for rational people trapped in the inanity of an election season is to just look away as the partisans scrum.

Voter fraud: This helpful piece from Salon quotes Lori Minnite, a professor of political science at Barnard College who investigated allegations of widespread voter fraud. Minnite explained, "From 2002 to 2005 only one person was found guilty of registration fraud. Twenty people were found guilty of voting while ineligible and five people were found guilty of voting more than once. That's 26 criminal voters -- voters who vote twice, impersonate other people, vote without being a resident ... Meanwhile thousands of people are getting turned away at the polls."

You don't get that sense from Fox News, aka the Acorn Network, which brings with each 15-minute cycle a fresh round of angst over "voter fraud." Note that it is never "registration fraud," which would actually describe the act to which they refer, and which happens by the thousands every election cycle ("Mickey Mouse registered to vote!" is a very different story from "Mickey Mouse voted!") but then, why let the truth get in the way of a good story.

Meanwhile, last week, the New York Times reported that "tens of thousands of eligible voters in at least six swing states have been removed from the rolls or have been blocked from registering in ways that appear to violate federal law."

Oh, Fox, where is they outrage? Lou Dobbs, Bill O'Reilly, where are your cries of outrage?

They're too busy railing against those dangerous radicals at Acorn.

A Truly Self-Serving Bit

Want to know how desperate the times are for American newspapers? Here's a measure that strikes close to home! The Dean of the University of North Carolina's j-school says the Philadelphia Inquirer won't be paying its student interns any longer. Instead, the paper wants school's to subsidize the internships!

Having come from the radio and TV world, unpaid internships are certainly nothing new to me. But union rules at most metropolitan papers prohibit students working for free. And j-schools are typically not flush enough to cover the costs of dozens or, in some instances, hundreds of intern-seeking undergrads.

One respondent on the UNC blog compares this development to a company cutting its R&D budget. And you can bet the Philly paper won't be the only one with it's hand out to (or putting its gun to the head of) journalism schools.

Campaign Grab Bag

Friends and family have been asking me this week, "Does John McCain want to win if he has to win THAT way?" You know, guilt by association, blaming the media, overheated rallies. We'll get a hint at tonight's debate since I assume Bob Schieffer will give him an opening to discuss William Ayers and "palling around with terrorists." Of course, Hillary Clinton raised Ayers, Reverend Wright and the like during the primaries. Some in the media hammered her for it, but nothing like the scorn some journalists and commentators are heaping on McCain.

It's encouraging, on the other hand, to see a little balanced reporting on the controversy involving Obama's connections to ACORN, the group that's apparently committed voter registration fraud in several swing states. If the margins Obama is racking up in the polls hold, that fraud probably won't affect the outcome of the election. But who knows? I particularly like CNN investigative reporter Drew Griffin's digging into the ACORN story:

Want a different election night experience? Check out or this blog. We'll be vodcasting from 8 pm-midnight from the Futures Lab of the Reynolds Journalism Institute. We'll take you inside the studio of KBIA as they bring you local and state news and analysis. We'll also go to KOMU for hourly updates. The Missourian's reporters and editors will drop by. We'll take the pulse of political bloggers. And we'll host a public watch party. But don't wait until then to weigh in. Send us your Views through this blog or email

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Views of the News, Oct. 8, 2008

The second presidential debate ... the perils of unfiltered citizen journalism ... and, how much is the business press to blame in the current financial crisis? Panelists: Mike McKean, Lee Wilkins, Charles Davis.

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If we'd had more time

Our discussion today about citizen journalism left out some important things. For example, news organizations are often willing to accept video of dangerous circumstances--tornados--without being willing to accept the responsibility for injuries that may occur in collecting that information. Similarly, some news organizations are using citizen journalists essentially as consultants--bring expertise to news reporting that most journalists don't have--for example, forensic accounting. There's a need for the profession to establish some "rules of the road" about how these folks will be "used" and what level of responsibility the news organization is going to assume, since it is obviously willing to profit from their contributions.

"That One"

The cable news analysts were desperate for a "hook" after last night's presidential debate in Nashville. As Charles notes below, the town hall format -- if you want to call it that -- didn't generate much real news. Too restricted. Too rehearsed. Boring. And in a phrase I'm really getting tired of, the pundits agreed it wasn't a "game changer."

So what to talk about all night? How about McCain, while answering a question about energy policy, referring to Obama as "that one?" Huh? The TV analysts tried to read all kinds of things into that admittedly weird reference to McCain's colleague in the U.S. Senate. Was "that one" proof that McCain was talking like a really old guy? Or was it a sinister attempt to reinforce the new message from the McCain camp that Obama is "not like the rest of us?"

I suspect McCain's tongue just got a split second ahead of his brain. What do you think? Didn't see the reference or want to see it again? Here's the YouTube clip courtesy of CNN.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Instant Windbagging From Tonight's Debate


I was unmoved by just about all of tonight's debate. The town hall format would be much better were it, well, a town hall, i.e., unscripted questions with give-and-take and lots of follow-ups. Both candidates labored at times, both did quite well at times, but I'd be surprised to see the needle move one way or the other on the heels of that snoozefest.

I was also struck by the dissonance between the borderline mobs that McCain and Palin are whipping up on the trail, in which reporters are verbaly assaulted and audience members scream death threats at Obama, and the polite and somewhat distant McCain on display tonight. Perhaps we have to behave a bit differently when everyone is watching?


Friday, October 3, 2008

Pseudo science for a pseudo event

It's too bad those &*()!# dial tests and focus groups make for such entertaining television because they're a pox on the political process. CNN ran that stupid emotion meter on the screen throughout the veep debate just as they did last week with McCain and Obama. Is dial testing a legitimate research tool? Sure. It gives you a moment-by-moment sense of which messages work and don't work with key demographic groups. But my guess is most folks watching last night couldn't help feeling they were watching a national, real-time referendum on Biden and Palin. In actuality, 36 "undecided" voters from Ohio (18 men and 18 women) were registering their feelings. There's nothing wrong with giving viewers insights into how well the candidates were programmed by their debate handlers. After all, the campaigns wanted (and the format allowed) a very scripted performance by both of them. But how lazy or stupid does CNN think we are that we have to substitute the "judgment" of 36 people for our own? And how weak were many of us that we actually used some brain cells following the little graph on the screen when we should have been paying attention to the candidates? Show the damn dial test AFTER the debate.

By the way, the focus groups conducted live by CNN and Fox were every bit as much bad science as the dial testing. CNN's Soledad O'Brien interviewed those same 36 Ohioans. She is not a trained focus group facilitator and couldn't even count correctly a couple of times when she asked for a show of hands. CNN's group said Biden won. Over at Fox News, professional audience researcher (and media ham) Frank Luntz conducted a similar focus group with "undecided" voters in St. Louis. Strangely enough, the vast majority of his group thought Palin had won. I don't doubt the sincerity of either group's participants. But who cares? While I share Charles' distaste for the blatant spin and bloviating by the cable news panels, at least they were focusing on the only things that really mattered from last night's debate: did Palin reassure base and swing voters that she's not in over her head and did Biden raise serious doubts about his good friend John McCain?

Can you blame the media for this silliness? Sure. But they use their magic tricks to keep you engaged because the campaigns won't let Obama and McCain engage in honest, free-wheeling debate. Sarah Palin suggested she and Joe Biden do some town hall meetings together. McCain tried that already. Too bad it didn't work. And let's not forget to look in the mirror for a second. Want a better brand of campaigning? Demand it. Stop accepting bread and circuses.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A Quick Reaction from Tonight's VP Debate

Watching the vice presidential debate on CNN was like peering into a Petri dish of all that’s wrong with broadcast television, and a microcosm of the damage wrought to the democracy by the surrender of journalism to naked partisanship wrapped in a greasy venire of hypertechnology.

The screens veritably shimmer with the latest in shiny bells and whistles, as what appears to be a dozen talking heads vie for airtime. The panel is divided, ostensibly for the purity of the news operation, into a howling pack of party operatives, out-of-work campaign flaks and ideologues, and oh yeah, reporters. No – I was mistaken – there are so many operatives that they bleed over to the reporter’s turf as well, and as Carl Bernstein – Carl Bernstein! – yields the floor to Ed Rollins, or Paul Begala, or Leslie Sanchez (?), one is left with the distinct impression that journalism has left the building, content to substitute partisanship for anything vaguely resembling analysis, or God forbid, reportage.

Too much work to put reporters to work examining the many factually challenged assertions that a casual observer could detect from tonight’s debate? Apparently.

Why report when you can wire up a few undecided voters in Ohio and track their every biorhythmic impulse?

Debate becomes slogan, slogan becomes spin, but hey, at least we still have that cool screen with movable comments. Cool!


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Views of the News, Oct. 1, 2008

Media coverage of the financial crisis and bailout efforts. Panelists: Mike McKean, Charles Davis, Lee Wilkins.

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