Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Media and politics

Michael Tomasky writes in the New York Review of Books:

One of the most fascinating things about the current election is that Barack Obama's campaign is less concerned about coverage by blogs and television than any other presidential campaign in the short history of this media age, and that John McCain's operation seems utterly consumed by it. And it's not merely that this is fascinating: each side's attitude toward its media coverage may well determine who wins the election.
The McCain campaign is organized entirely around daily news cycles—the belief that winning the media war will win the election. The two defining decisions of his campaign make this obvious. First, Sarah Palin was selected as his running mate to shake up the conversation on cable television and in the blogs. The selection was announced the Friday after the Democratic convention to deny Obama a prominent place during the next two or three days of news cycles.

Second, McCain's cynical decision to "suspend" his campaign (which he did not in fact do) and return to Washington for the bailout negotiations was solely about his recognition that he was losing attention in the news cycles and he had to do something to staunch the bleeding. Virtually every major move McCain has made has been about trying to win that day's headlines.

Obama has tripped him up, and no doubt confounded him and his handlers, by not playing the game. Even in Obama's post–Labor Day nadir, when he slipped in the polls and liberals everywhere were panicked, Obama didn't resort to stunts or grandstanding hyperbole.

From a culture & media perspective, I'm not sure what to make of this. Perhaps chaotic times make sobriety more appealing. We've had self-described men of action* in office for eight years and some of their decisions can be legitimately second-guessed. I, for one, am finding the criticism of McCain as "erratic" rather convincing. If anything, this other fellow who keeps an even keel and doesn't bow to the news cycle appears to be his own man, more so than the "maverick" who's manically flipping through every page in Karl Rove's playbook.

* I believe "forward leaning" was the expression of choice. Still sounds off-balance to me.


Ed Darrell said...

"Keep your eyes on the prize" was a rallying aphorism of the civil rights movement. Obama certainly seems to have learned it. He won't go for the daily news cycle boost if it cuts against the grain of his campaign.

Obama's campaign may be the most disciplined ever in U.S. presidential history. Real discipline always confounds its foes; generally it wins, too.

Scott Hanley said...

For example, Romans fighting Gauls, or religious conservatives electing school boards ... but not the Judean People's Front.