How Does Television Affect the Coverage of Political Campaigns?

Nieman Reports, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

How Does Television Affect the Coverage of Political Campaigns?


Sheila Tate, President, Powell Tate, and former press secretary: "I've had the field producer for a major network come to me in September of the election year and say, `George Bush will not be on our network tonight because he didn't throw red meat.' This meant he didn't attack Michael Dukakis. He gave a significant speech on education. [And] at that point in the campaign it was vitally important to be on television every night.

"Actually it's even important what your place is on the show. It affects numbers. It's just bizarre but it does. And so it doesn't take more than a few episodes like that to realize that the candidate is being told by television, `If you want to be on, start throwing the red meat. Start attacking because you're not going to be on otherwise.' And then you might not get elected and you might not have a chance to put all these policies into effect. It's an ugly process. It really is. I wouldn't want to go through it again, frankly. Television has an enormous amount of power over elections."

Judy Woodruff, Anchor and senior correspondent, CNN: "I certainly can't speak for all of television, but clearly that has been and continues to be a real problem for those of us in television who cover politics. In the heat of the presidential campaign, when we're vying to see who gets on the air, unless you work specifically for a political program like `Inside Politics' you're competing with everything else going on in the world and you are concerned about keeping an audience. And those are very real concerns."

Susan Page, White House Bureau Chief, USA Today: "We've got a presidential candidate now in Bill Bradley who's trying not to follow the traditional way of getting attention. Gore makes a charge, and he declines to respond. He's going about this his own way and a different way than throwing red meat. We'll see. I mean, he's had some success so far, unexpectedly. We'll see how he does. I wonder also--while television is, of course, enormously powerful--if the profusion of outlets both on cable and C-SPAN and the Internet don't dilute that somewhat and make it less important what one field producer for one network can do, even if it's one of the three major networks. …

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