James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘networks’

2008 Election: the biggest TV night in four years, and why I’ll miss it

Posted by James McPherson on November 4, 2008

Considering the name of this blog, obviously election night is bigger for me than the Super Bowl and the World Series combined (and not just because I cheer for two Seattle pro sports teams that have never won a single championship). Normally tonight I might be at an election party, or hunkered down with my wife in front of the television from mid-afternoon on, sometimes yelling at the screen (much like I do during Mariner and Seahawk games), making occasional derogatory remarks about the comments coming from various spin rooms.

But as much as we love/hate election night television, my wife and I both have chosen in recent elections to be more involved in the process. We voted early by mail; as with most years, I voted for mostly Democrats and a couple of Republicans. She is volunteering with a get-out-the-vote effort that runs through the afternoon, then will be watching the election night coverage on her own or with a friend. She and most of you will know results before I will. (If you want some good tips on how to watch the coverage, check out Thomas Edsall’s Huffington Post piece.)

For my part, a bunch of my Whitworth University students and I (along with students and a few faculty from Gonzaga and Eastern Washington University) will be immersed in a small part of the electoral media process, a part in which no other universities in the nation outside of New York can participate.

Here in Spokane County, we’ll be working for the Associated Press keeping track of results of every race in 31 states. Those of us working in downtown Spokane will be the first to hear the results from Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, among others. If you hear the networks make a call for one of those key states, they’ll do so largely based on the numbers from here, which will be updated via computer and sent to major news organizations every 30 seconds. (Incidentally, the Associated Press may have been the only news organization not make a faulty projection call during the 2000 election.)

Those of us in the call center, though, will hear the results one county at a time, and will be immersed in keeping track of numbers given to us over the phone for individual races. We won’t have time to check out who is winning overall, or to listen to the talking heads on the various networks. I will videotape the coverage, though with my home technology it will have to be from one of the major networks–I don’t have TIVO and my old machine can’t record from our CNN, MSNBC or Fox News stations.

I’ll tape coverage on the local ABC affiliate, KXLY, mostly because one of my Whitworth colleagues (academic vice president and political science professor Michael Le Roy) will do election night commentary for that network and I know that he is very good at it. KXLY has also invested quite a bit in technology for this election. You can see a preview of it at the station’s Web site. Le Roy has done the KXLY gig for years, though I did get the opportunity to fill in for him when he had to be out of town during the 2006 election.

I won’t be on television tonight, but if you’re in the Spokane area you can catch me on AM 790 radio with local journalist Rebecca Mack from 8 to 10 p.m. I’ll take a break from the AP call center and walk a block to the studio for the two-hour live show, then hustle back afterward to rejoin the call center.

I’ll get home in the wee hours of the morning, check out CNN, Fox and MSNBC before I go to bed, then teach three classes tomorrow morning. Since several students from the various classes will be with me at the call center, I assume they won’t expect me to be particularly coherent in class. Assuming, of course, they ever do.

I hope you, too, have found meaningful ways to be involved in this historic election. The American electoral system has numerous flaws, and the past two presidential elections have cause many to become cynical about the process. For that reason alone, we’d probably all benefit more from a Barack Obama landslide (which even Karl Rove predicts) than from a narrow John McCain victory (though even if Obama wins Virginia and Pennsylvania, indicating a landslide is in the offing, don’t expect an early McCain concession speech–both parties learned in 1980 how Jimmy Carter’s early concession affected other races in the West).

Frankly, unless you’re in a “swing state,” your individual vote for president won’t matter much. But you have a much greater chance of affecting local races, so take a bit of time to study the issues and local candidates, or to discuss them with trusted and more knowledgeable friends. Regardless of your favored candidates, you’ll probably feel better if you vote–and it might actually make a difference in the outcome. As Sarah Palin and I would agree about whether voting matters: You betcha.

Posted in History, Journalism, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

McCain’s VP choice

Posted by James McPherson on August 30, 2008

So Sarah Palin it is. And even though I recommended her back in June, I’m surprised by the selection, in part because of some of the things that have happened in the past couple of months to cut into her approval ratings even in Alaska and in part because John McCain had spent so much time with better-known candidates while apparently having met Palin only once before her selection.

To me, her selection at this point is tinged with a bit of desperation, like the timing of Barack Obama’s selection of Joe Biden (whom I also had recommended). 

We’ll see how Palin holds up to national scrutiny, and whether the national media can focus on meaningful issues such as what she favors (including guns, teaching creationism in schools, and drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge) and what she opposes (including abortion, stem cell research, the Endangered Species Act and state health benefits for same-sex couples), rather than on her physical appearance (she has already repeatedly been termed “America’s hottest governor”) or her voice (two irrelevancies for which Hillary Clinton was regularly criticized).

We’ll see Palin speak on Wednesday night at the Republican National Convention. It will be tough for Republicans to draw the number of viewers that the Democrats did at their convention, for reasons I’ve discussed previously, but her address is bound to draw the curious. Republicans are no doubt hoping that McCain can draw as many viewers as his VP nominee the following night.

Posted in Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Out-on-a-limb prediction: Obama will win handily

Posted by James McPherson on August 20, 2008

Is Barack Obama on the ropes? Tonight CNN is running back-to-back programs to “reveal” the candidates, and though I obviously don’t know the entire content of either portrayal, last night’s promos by the network focused heavily on the positive aspects of John McCain (war hero cheating death) and the more negative aspects of Barack Obama (hard-knuckled Chicago pol). The online materials also offer more  (and more positive) portrayals of McCain–perhaps no surprise, since, despite right-wing claims, coverage of Obama has been consistently more negative than that of Obama.

Another minor distraction for the Democrats comes from PUMAs who continue to gain some media attention by attacking Obama and saying they’ll vote for McCain, even though their supposed favored candidate will endorse Obama–again. (One perhaps-interesting side note: PUMA Web sites seem to be far more likely than even hardcore conservative or liberal sites to delete the comments of those who disagree with them, regardless of how polite the disagreement. I suppose that lets them keep things warm and fuzzy inside their bubble as they continue to persuade a few others to fund their merry adventures. My suggested name for the PUMA motorhome: Rocinante).

Now, to the glee of Obama opponents, Zogby reports that for the first time McCain is leading Obama in its national tracking poll. That comes on the heels of some other national tracking polls that indicated the race was getting closer. In short, the Democratic candidate seems to be in a downward slide.

So, which all those factors considered, this seems like a perfect time for me to predict that in November Obama will win the general election by the widest margin seen since at least Bill Clinton’s 379-159 victory over Bob Dole in 1996, and maybe since Ronald Reagan slaughtered Walter “I-won-my-home-state-of-Minnesota-and-the District-of Columbia” Mondale 525-13 in 1984.

At least no one can accuse me of jumping on a bandwagon. And lest you think my prediction is mere wishful thinking, let me explain.

Aside from the fact that Zogby disagrees with virtually every other poll (though others have tightened), and despite what Fox News would have you believe, national polls are meaningless in an environment in which key states, through the Electoral College, will determine the outcome. And even Zogby’s electoral map has Obama leading by a significant margin in electoral votes (273-146, with 119 “too close to call), though John Zogby puts it this way: “For the time being, Obama maintains the edge and has the strength of a majority of electoral votes. … But too many of these states are close and a sizable number are undecided or choosing a third party candidate. So there is a lot of fluidity.”

Ah, fluidity–so perhaps things really are falling apart for Obama? “For the first time since mid-May, Obama is now below the 270 electoral votes needed to win,” VoteFromAbroad.org reports today, while offering its own electoral map. “He is behind in almost all the swing states (Florida, Ohio, Missouri, Colorado, and Nevada) and tied in Virginia. He is ahead in Iowa and New Mexico, but these are seem to be fairly solid for him and may not be seen as swing states any more.”

Well, yeah, but… If you look at the map, you’ll see that while Obama is short of the 270 electoral votes needed to win, he still leads 264-261, with a tie in the 13-vote state of Virginia. That’s razor-thin on its face, but look a bit closer and things look even better for Obama. The map breaks states down between strong, weak and “barely” Democratic or Republican states. If we go with just the strong states for each, Obama still only has a three-vote lead, 134-131.

Listed among the VoteFromAbroad “weak” states for Obama are New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Oregon, New Mexico and Iowa, all of which Zogby has more firmly in Obama’s camp. I would be surprised if McCain rebounds enough to win more than one of those. On the other hand, VoteFromAbroad lists only four states as weakly for McCain, and Zogby puts only two of those (West Virginia and Georgia) in McCain’s camp with Missouri and Indiana “too close to call.”

Even if McCain somehow manages to win all four of those and Michigan, Iowa and New Mexico (which I consider extremely unlikely), he gains a total of 66 more electoral votes, compared to 84 more for Obama. The generous-to-McCain running tally: Obama 218, McCain 197.

Turn now to the “barely” Democratic or Republican. VoteFromAbroad lists only New Hampshire and Minnesota (both of which Zogby now has Democratic) as barely for Obama, a total of 14 of “his” votes to lose. On the other hand, McCain’s “barely” numbers total 85, including Colorado (which Zogby has Obama leading) and the big states of Florida and Ohio. In short, of the very close states, with a total of 112 electoral votes, McCain has a lot more to lose–and even with the extremely generous running total above, would have to win 73 more, or almost two-thirds of what’s left.

Incidentally, the polls may have a misleading built-in advantage for McCain. Many surveys rely heavily on phone interviews, which tend to underrepresent college students and techno-savvy people who rely on cell phones and/or computer phone services instead of traditional landlines. Yet those people are the ones who seem to be among Obama’s most enthusiastic supporters. I would not be surprised in this election to see Obama’s numbers underrepresented by 5 percent or more in many polls.

Aside from the polls, which despite my lengthy discussion are fairly meaningless this early in the race, there are other reasons I believe Obama will win by a significant electoral margin. One is the news media. Having been called on their bias, perhaps they’ll start to look more critically at McCain. They’ll also lose interest in PUMAs within days of the Democratic Convention, though who knows what distractions the networks might find next.

Keep in mind that news organizations benefit from a tight battle, and you probably won’t hear any on-air pundits predict anything other than a close election. People watching television up until election day in 1996 probably thought Dole had a chance of winning, even though no close observers would have thought so.

McCain has benefitted in recent days from a flurry of negative campaigning, Russia’s invasion of Georgia, and the fact that Obama has been on vacation. But eventually McCain will have to say something about the economy–supposedly the top priority for voters this year. McCain has been spending more money than Obama during the past couple of weeks, but that will change about a week from now when Obama’s spending will increase dramatically just as McCain is forced to rely on far more limited federal funding. Obama also has been building operations in more states than McCain, putting more states in play. Ask Hillary Clinton if that organization matters.

McCain will keep hitting his supposed strong suit, international affairs, though at some point folks may begin to realize that foreign policy experience matters less when you’ve been wrong about most things and don’t seem to have learned from that experience. In fact, the Iraq War may help Obama. After all, Democrats swept into office two years ago largely because people were tired of the war. Though they may feel betrayed by Congress, they’re no less tired of the war today, and Obama has been a consistent opponent. Voters also are tired of Congressional corruption, and most of that (in recent months) has come from Republicans.

Wedge issues that have brought out large numbers of conservatives in recent presidential elections–especially abortion and gay marriage–will be on far fewer state ballots this year. Besides, it remains to be seen if McCain’s Saddleback Church appearance or his recent coziness with evangelicals has inspired conservatives. Many Republican voters may just stay home, especially since it seems clear that Democrats will gain even more seats in Congress. Someone who knows his or her favorite Congressional candidate is destined to lose may not bother to turn out for McCain.

The conventions and vice presidential choices to come in the next couple of weeks may make some difference, though probably not much (though if McCain chooses Joe Lieberman, that will signify some desperation). If VP choices matter, McCain might have more potential pitfalls, trying to choose someone who won’t offend abortion opponents or the women who make up much of the moderate middle.

So there you have it, my prediction that Obama will win fairly easily. Of course some unforseen October surprise could conceivable swing the election, or perhaps Obama’s masses will fail to show, but I doubt it. And if I’m wrong, you’ll be able to rub it in less than three months from now.

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

“Knowing” what isn’t true: Networks bash Obama more than McCain

Posted by James McPherson on July 29, 2008

We all know the mainstream media, especially the big three networks, love Barack Obama. John McCain’s campaign has complained about it at length, and I’ve recently written about it myself, here and here. A recent blog report of differing amounts of coverage devoted to the two fueled claims of bias.

The only problem? What we know apparently isn’t so, according to the nonprofit Center for Media and Public Affairs. Some anti-Obama bias has been clear, and no reasonable person expects anything resembling objectivity from the likes of Fox New, MSNBC, talk radio or bloggers. It also is true that Obama has received far more coverage–understandably so, because he is new, different, has been targeted by more negative bloggers, and has been doing far more interesting (that is, newsworthy) things than his Republican opponent. But contrary to the old public relations axiom that “any publicity is good publicity,” in fact Obama has drawn far more negative commentary (in both amount and percentage of coverage) than long-time media love object McCain.

The Los Angeles Times reports: “During the evening news, the majority of statements from reporters and anchors on all three networks are neutral, the center found. And when network news people ventured opinions in recent weeks, 28% of the statements were positive for Obama and 72% negative.”

The coverage is an apparent shift from primary coverage, when Obama received mostly positive coverage and Hillary Clinton was the target of the most media bashing.

Posted in Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

What McCain might say to news media: “Who do you think you’re foolin’? Love me like Barack”

Posted by James McPherson on July 21, 2008

I said a couple of days ago that the primary benefit of Barack Obama’s ongoing tour of the Middle East and Europe would be the media attention he would get. Even I have been surprised at the extent of that coverage, however, and how much easier it has been for Obama to get positive coverage than long-time media darling John McCain.

McCain, used to winning adoration from the media with semi-coherent “straight talk,” has to be shocked. Even Lou “illegal-aliens-are-out-to-kill-us-all” Dobbs paused from his nightly xenophobia for a few moments to complain about how uneven the coverage of the two candidates has become, and has a poll on his Web site asking, “Do you believe the national media is biased in favor of Sen. Barack Obama?” Of 7,879 respondents when I checked, 74 percent said yes. Obviously the poll has problems, both in the language of the question (Why not ask, “Do you believe the national media is biased in favor of Sen. Barack Obama?”), and in the fact that the only people who will see the poll likely are already mostly Dobbs fans (though it’s tough for me to believe that he has almost 8,000 fans), but Obama clearly is getting most of the attention.

All three network anchors are on the Barack-and-roll world tour, and all three networks are boasting about having “exclusive interviews” with the candidate. One wonders at the value of exclusivity when all three will likely ask the same kinds of questions–and the same questions they could ask Obama at home–but the Obama campaign is so far mostly hitting the right media notes.

Meanwhile, all McCain and his surrogates can do is to try to avoid attention-getting gaffes while taking potshots from afar and hoping something sticks. “If Barack Obama’s policy in Iraq had been implemented, he couldn’t be in Iraq today,” Joe Lieberman says. That may be true, of course. It’s definitely true that if Obama’s opposition to the war had been heeded, thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis wouldn’t have died there during the past five years.

McCain’s people have gone so far as to float the possibility that he will name his running mate this week. That would be a mistake, in my view, but it wouldn’t be the first poorly timed McCain event during this campaign. Still, I think such an announcement is unlikely.

One warning for the networks: Part of the reason the Democratic primary race may have lasted as long as it did was because many people who otherwise would not have been Hillary Clinton fans grew disgusted with how poorly the news media treated her while fawning over Obama. In coming weeks, McCain may benefit from the same kind of backlash.

Posted in Media literacy, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »