I write this post with ironic timing. Obama has just completed his speech about bin Laden’s death and the Twitterverse has exploded with speculation and excitement over the news. Fox News even jumped the gun and posted misspelled information to be above the action.
Political Communication 4473 has really made stop and realize how I get my news and on a night like tonight, I appreciate that insight. From receiving a text message to turn on CNN to immediately turning to Twitter as we awaited Obama’s speech, my world is full of new media interaction. This class has helped me appreciate that I live in 2011 and not 1960. I can choose which mediums I want to select for news (and have become a more active Daily Show viewer!).
As with many of my classmates, I agree that the most interesting part of the class was the coverage of the 1960’s campaign of Nixon v. Kennedy and The Selling of the President in the 1968 election. It was interesting to see how much television changed the political environment of the time. I had always heard about these debates, but to see them (especially on YouTube) was eye-opening. You really can see the difference between the two candidates – I appreciate that I know the history behind it and Nixon’s sickness and knee injuries. I feel like I can have more informed discussions. I am extremely interested in working on political campaigns someday and will keep my copy of The Selling of the President for a future career.
The least interesting part of the class would have to be reviewing the Graber book. I really liked all the articles, but when it was the only thing we did in class, it seemed repetitive and boring. I did appreciate when Professor Houston added YouTube clips, etc. to enhance the articles, but the days we left class early were boring. It was great to have a break (amidst all the craziness of this semester), but I appreciated when we went deeper into discussion beyond the articles in the books. Really, though, I have enjoyed this semester immensely. When I tweet now, I try and tweet with more purpose and newsworthiness! Thank you, Professor Houston!
My first thought when I read this blog topic was that, of course online politics are the same as “real life” politics. Politics are politics no matter where it’s shown, right? And aren’t we getting to the point where we’re just happy that people are interested in politics? Hear me out and I think I’ll be able to convince you otherwise, just like I was able to do in my own head!
This semester we’ve talked a lot about what goes into campaigning, from the Nixon election to the Obama election, and what is something that’s always seems to be evident? The whole idea of image perception. Now I know that these things can be construed through the internet, but not nearly as good as in real life. Think about a conversation that you have with someone on facebook chat and now think about a conversation that you had with the same person face to face. Completely different, huh? When things are portrayed online you miss out on expressions, tone of voice, and body language; all things that are extremely important when it comes to forming opinions of others. Another example would be online dating websites, that’s the same thing right? I wouldn’t ever be able to go off of a profile and picture alone when it comes to a relationship. There are just so many other factors that I take into consideration revolving around finding a partner, most of which can’t be displayed through an online website.
But what are the implications for politics online? The main thing that I can see is that there are so many sources for political information and if you aren’t highly informed on politics and just wanted to read up on something you could easily come across something on the internet that might not have any truth to it! Anyone can put information out there on the internet. Take a look at Wikipedia…when Matt Painter was being offered the head basketball coaching position here it Mizzou Wikipedia prematurely put it on his bio that he was already signed as the next head coach. Now if someone who knew nothing about the subject happened to stumble across his page and saw that they would assume that he was announced the
head coach, and then they would tell their friends, and their friends would tell their friends, and then a wildfire of false information has been created all because of a website that was wrong!
So politics online can be effective to a certain extent but there definitely has to be more to it. If something can be photo shopped to look like this then the limitations of online networking can be limitless, to a point of destruction!
Mr. Nixon is remembered for quite a few things. There was Watergate, of course. There was losing to Kennedy in 1960. There were even the disastrous televised debates between himself and JFK– the first ever televised presidential debates. Perhaps the most underrated of Mr. Nixon’s memories is his transformation of the 1968 presidential election campaign.
“Now you put him on television, you’ve got a problem right away,” Roger Ailes, Nixon’s PR man said.
“He’s a funny-looking guy. He looks like somebody hung him in a closet overnight and he jumps out in the morning with his suit all bunched up and starts running around saying, ‘I want to be President.’ I mean this is how he strikes some people. That’s why these shows are important. To make them forget all that.” (McGinnis 1988, 103).
Learning from his disastrous mistakes in 1960, the Nixon campaign used the media to its full extent in 1968. Staged panels and question- and-answer sessions–much like the one Ailes described above– emotional commercials that said little but made the audience feel a lot, a carefully crafted image that was about as genuine as Fox News’s commitment to unbiased journalism and far less genuine than Wolf Blitzer’s devotion to Twitter. Nixon, on purpose or otherwise, revolutionized the very campaign process by turning it into a battle for image, for domination of the media, for the package to look and sound better than the individual parts. Before 1968, campaigns were heavily focused on the issues. After 1968, campaigns were design to, as Ailes put it “make them forget all that”.
The continuities we’ve seen since the Nixon campaign are resounding, of course. That’s the nature of revolutionary technology isn’t it? It’s only revolutionary once and then after that it’s a matter of adapting it so seamlessly that the revolution itself is forgotten. For all of the hours Nixon’s campaign spent crafting his image so that he would appear balanced, patriotic, refreshing and not a dull old man with bags under his eyes, there is double, triple the staff today to take care of what Ailes and company were so hard-put to do in 1968.
Image is absolutely still an important factor in the presidential race. What should an image of John McCain in blue with a red tie and Sarah Palin in bright red, both behind a podium reading COUNTRY FIRST evoke but an identification in America and the subsequent mental link between the McCain campaign and wholehearted patriotism? It’s not that McCain and Palin aren’t naturally patriotic. More that this image, like all images on the campaign trail even today, is a carefully crafted one–supplied and sustained by the funds of the Republican National Party. That’s not to say, of course, that Republicans are the only ones suspect. What are the Democrats but equal rivals not only in votes but in image conjuration as well?
No, politics is just as much of a con game as it was during Nixon’s time. Nixon might have used eerie music and chilling images to mask his political messages:
But even the 2008 political campaign saw advertisements where flashy images spoke more than the actual political stance itself:
What do you notice more here? That McCain has a firm stance in domestic and international policy? Or that Obama is a celebrity because there are camera bulbs flashing everywhere he goes? Carefully calculated images and political advertisements. Political campaigns are still barely more than a popularity contest and it’s just a matter of who has the winning outfit combination.
That isn’t to say that Nixon’s elevation of the presidential candidate to a “celebrity” or “god” status is necessarily the only component in today’s political campaign. That would be unfair to say. Sure, image plays a critical role, but unlike in 1968, there is a lot more exposure to different platforms and pieces of information today. In 1968, you turned on the television and saw the one Nixon campaign or the two televised debates. Maybe you read about it in the newspaper. The distribution of campaign material was very narrowly focused and so was consumption.
Today, social media has changed everything. No longer can Obama or McCain simply air commercials with flashing images and hope that the audience will ignore the fact that there is no substance behind it. For every journalist who ignores the substance for the image, there are two dozen bloggers waiting to analyze just exactly what it is that Obama and McCain said–what was their rhetoric like, was there any substance behind it, did they focus on domestic or foreign policy, did they change stances from previous votes?
The media has always been considered the watchdog of politics. Today, they aren’t alone. Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, the entire internet serves the function of a watchdog. Mr. Nixon’s image revolution is still critical, but the issues have re-emerged as important too. It’s not so easy to bedazzle the entire public through carefully constructed messages and images anymore. After all,
It’s not just that individual voters had access to a wider range of information about candidates and their positions on issues. Unlike in any other Presidential election, the electorate could harness a panoply of social media tools—blogs, social networks, photo and video sharing sites—to broadcast to the world their thoughts about the candidates and their experiences of the electoral process. (Businessweek)
There’s a lot more media and a lot more image construction for the presidential candidate to consider these days. There’s no such thing as a simple commercial or a PR team that can manipulate the entirety of America simply through emotional tactics. That’s not to say that it can’t be done to a certain extent–doesn’t your heart still skip when you hear Yes we can?–but politics has evolved beyond just looking good for the camera. Social media’s pervasiveness has made the necessity of the presidential candidate to be a double threat absolutely critical. Not only does Obama need to look flawless, but he needs to sound it too.
No doubt if Nixon was surrounded by so much technology and media today, so much media and noise would push him to the brink of paranoia and he would try to break into the Democratic Party’s Headquarters to get specific intel. Oh wait! Whoops. xoxo!
This is the beginning of a whole new concept. This is it. This is the way they’ll be elected forevermore. The next guys up will have to be performers.
Since I was born in 1989, presidents from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama are the most relevant to me. These prophetic words by Roger Ailes, consultant to the Nixon campaign, are especially fitting for Ronald Reagan who was literally a performer. Some used this to question Reagan’s qualification the office of President. This skill set, however, certainly did not hurt his campaign. You can see and hear how Reagan’s ability to perform were an asset to his campaign here.
Reagan may have fulfilled the performer role required of a campaigning politician, but Barack Obama is said to be the first celebrity President. Celebrities are given their status through wide dissemination of information about their lives and their careers. Presidents and politicians like Barack Obama no longer have the option of if they want the press involved in their campaign; they can only attempt to control how. A great example of political celebrity is Sarah Palin and her new show Sarah Palin’s Alaska:
The commentators in this video are very skeptical of the authenticity of this show and of Sarah Palin. And Joe McGinnis, author of The Selling of the President and the inspiration for this blog post, has taken up residence next to the Palins! This is an excellent example of the increasing tension between the press and politicians as well as their mutual parasitic relationship. It also raises the question about what we might call a campaign. Is the campaign cycle truly never-ending? Will we ever be able to say for sure that a politician is doing good for the sake of doing good, or will we forevermore suspect publicity stunts?
The objective of campaigns since 1968 until now have remained the same. What has changed is how that objective (winning office) is attained. Every campaign builds on the innovations and advancements of the previous campaign.
One of the most significant advancements in the campaign process since 1968 has been the speed and availability of information. In this video, Pat Buchanan, aid to Richard Nixon, and others explain how technology including cell phones and the Internet have fundamentally changed the way that campaigns operate internally and externally with the press.
The Nixon Campaign did what it could to actually exclude the press from the campaign process. Today, that is not an option. American citizens demand transparency and immediacy from politicians and journalists. Politicians don’t have a choice about whether to interact with the press. They must choose instead how they interact with the press. Still, in the pursuit of objectivity and their watchdog responsibilities, journalists publish information or opinions unfavorable to all candidates. Candidates today consequently have less control over their own image and must work even harder to maintain not only the creation of their own messages, but to react to the impact of messages distributed in the increasingly vast network of information.
Finally, This article from The Pew Research Center explains how voters used media in the last Presidential election. It forecasts that the Internet will continue to play an even bigger role in future elections as younger voters rise in the political process.
We’ve been talking about the presidential race between Nixon and Kennedy through our group presentations and we’ve been gaining an understanding of how important “image” was in the success of JFK and the failure of Nixon. After that election, dubbed by many historians as the “advent of the modern Presidential campaign,” the idea of image that would be presented over TV and other mediums would only become more important. In Joe McGinniss’ book, he basically illustrates Nixon’s journey to re-brand himself as a new man from the ’60 election to the ’68 election.
Idealistically, elections would be decided based on the heart of the man and the intentions of the leader, but in this shallow world, the realistic truth is that image is everything. What the public perceives is what their decision relies on, and candidates do everything in their power to control that image. As an student majoring in advertising, I’ve spent most of my time studying the communication of image, and I can understand the immense challenge that presidential hopefuls face in convincing a nation that they can lead. Candidates must focus on communicating specific feelings when addressing the public through TV or other mediums. I see the Obama election of 2008 as a great comparison to Nixon’s of 1968. Both candidates tried to promote feel-good ideas of unity as their core messages (among other things, obviously). Here are two ads from Nixon’s and Obama’s campaigns that were highly successful at establishing their message, and are also eerily similar to each other, both in underlying message and the images shown.
The packaging of a president has to be a unified effort. Both in the goal of the candidate to encourage the public to perceive him as a unifying figure, and in the overall consistency of the candidate’s campaign. Nixon’s efforts to achieve that consistent branding in order to change the public’s perception of him draw comparisons to modern election strategies. Nixon used a unified message based on the idea “Nixon’s the One,” and his campaign spread the idea through all possible channels. Similarly, Obama used his phrases such as “Hope” and “Change,” as well as his signature logo to unify his message.
Though the general unified goal of campaigns has remained relatively consistent over time, there are significant differences in the strategies. In Nixon’s time, there weren’t quite as many mediums through which to communicate. He could correct the mistakes he made with TV in 1960 and change the way he presented himself, but the overall goal of achieving strong message strategy could be covered by focusing on TV, radio, and print, among a few others. Today, candidates have to go through TV, internet, social media, radio, and print, among other mediums. Also, they must be able to navigate the maelstrom that is the 24-7 barrage of news coverage and analysis. In addition, I think the growing diversity of the country has changed the landscape of political communication entirely. Not only must they deliver their message in direct, specific ways, but they are also forced to tailor their message to every conceivable community that this country can create.
Overall, the core idea behind candidates’ campaign strategies has remained relatively consistent, but the ever changing world and the ever growing needs and demands of the public will consistently complicate the process of running for president. However, the political powers will be always vigilant in finding ways to communicate with the people. We can look back at the election of ’68 and wonder where the simplicity of those days went (knowing full well that the politicians of the time would not have felt them to be simple), while at the same time we realize that the essence of the presidential campaign will continue to remain a constant.
Campaigning since Nixon’s run in the 1968 presidential election has focused on the idea that in order to be successful, a campaigner for public office must “advance from ‘politician’ to ‘celebrity'” (28). It’s no surprise that Nixon’s campaign employed this strategy to its fullest, as Nixon’s advisers had to transform a man who, eight years prior, was seen by the general public like this:
…into someone who looked more like this:
The idea of the President as a heroic figure, “…a combination of leading man, God, father, hero, pope, king…” (26) is one that was cultivated heavily during Nixon’s second run at the Presidency. It was during this campaign that campaigning as advertisement was used to its fullest and most successful, allowing a man who had for so long been considered a loser, a grouch, a man out of touch with the sensibilities and trends of his time to rise to the status of celebrity, a true man of the people, for the people. This was done thanks to the notion that appealing to the emotion, rather than the logic of the television viewer, would garner the most votes. In the following, this method is used heavily, evoking a television viewer’s sense of fear in the hope that by implying that Nixon was the only one to save America from nuclear destruction, Communist takeover and the hardships of war, voters would come out in droves to vote for him (spoiler alert: it worked).
In this sense, little has changed in terms of how Presidential candidates campaign on television. So often, how a candidate says something, rather than what his stance on the issues is, takes precedence. In this McCain ad, McCain delivers an appeal to pride without once speaking to any relevant issues of his time, similar to how Nixon appealed to fear in his 1968 ad.
In this ad, Obama also appeals to an American sense of pride and charity. He does, however, touch on some relevant issues of his time, but most of the commercial focuses on what a great guy Obama is, rather than logically explaining why health care reform was necessary, for example. The inspirational music in the background implies that what Obama did in his past was indeed the right thing to do, without any mention of why it was right or how it would allow him to lead the country as a whole, rather than the smaller, more specific communities he lead in his past.
The point of this comparison is to show that presidential television campaigns are very similar to as they were during Nixon’s campaign, honing in on a viewer’s emotions more than logic. As Raymond K. Price noted when writing about the best way to appeal to voters,
We seek to engage his intellect, and for most people this is the most difficult work of all. The emotions are more easily roused, closer to the surface, more malleable… (38)
Perhaps the most striking difference between the campaigns of then and now is the viciousness with which modern candidates attack their opponents. Two instances most recently evident include this Obama ad and this McCain ad. During the 1968 campaigns, such negative ads were non-existent or, at least, less shameless than these examples. Additionally, the advent of the Internet and social networks have allowed candidates to reach younger audiences at rates unseen in the past. This, of course, lead to the number of young voters (18-29) to turn out in slightly less embarrassing numbers, rather than their typical dismal numbers in the 2008 election, primarily for Obama, who used the Internet and Facebook more than McCain to campaign.
So, even though the concept of appealing to emotion rather than reason remains a hallmark of political TV campaigns, they have also become more typical of a Miller Lite campaign that bashes its competition, the shortcomings of that competition and makes implications on how supporting that competition will make one’s life markedly worse as the primary appeal for why one should vote for a candidate. (Note: my apologies for making people watch that Miller Lite commercial. I really hate them, but the similarities between its shamelessness and the shamelessness of the aforementioned campaign ads had striking similarities, in my view. Also, most political campaign ads, like Miller Lite, are tasteless, misleading and only sell well because of the image they create, not necessarily the product they produce.)
Since the Presidential campaigns of the 1960s, candidates have been using the media, specifically television, to get their message and their views out to the citizens of the United States. Some people, like Richard Nixon and more recently Sarah Palin, have had tougher times getting a positive message relayed to the public due to one problem or another.
For Nixon, the problem getting a good message across to the public was that he did not know how to properly use the television media. He hated using make up and wore suits that blended in with the backgrounds of the screen. In the book The $elling of the President, it shows how much Nixon is unsure of what to say in his television commercials and is always asking his media crew how to perfectly stand and look and speak to make sure the message he is trying to make gets done properly. His uneasiness with television shows when he does these commercials.
For Palin, her use of media became a negative for her as well in regards to her television interviews. One famous interview done with Katie Couric was a low point in her campaign in 2008. Having a better understanding of how to properly use the television media to get your message across and being confident in what you are trying to say would have helped Palin succeed in her interview with Couric.
In regards to what has changed since the 1960s, in my opinion, Presidential campaigns have predominantly used the media, specifically television, to launch ridiculous amounts of attack advertisements against their opponents. During election season, television commercials are littered with hatred of one candidate towards another. I feel as though candidates are shaping their campaigns now around attacking the opponent more instead of using their campaign to focus on what THEY can do and what THEY are wanting to achieve. Commercials, like the one below, have become a thing of the times and seem to always and forever be used in a campaign for any prospective elected official whether it be mayor or the President of the United States of America. I believe this change in campaigns to using the media to attack their opponent is getting out of hand and should be reduced.