Uncivil Wars: Political Campaigns in a Media Age

By Bucy, Erik P. | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Autumn 2001 | Go to article overview
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Uncivil Wars: Political Campaigns in a Media Age

Bucy, Erik P., Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly

Uncivil Wars: Political Campaigns in a Media Age. Thomas A. Hollihan. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001. 308 pp. No price listed. Over the last few years the field of political communication has become saturated with both factually oriented textbooks and normative critiques of news and democratic processes. Readers of this volume will find equal parts of both. Unfortunately, Hollihan's penchant for media bashing and campaign criticism undermine the book's pedagogical value. This is not the text to assign to students who prefer to weigh the evidence and make up their own minds-Hollihan has already done that for them.

As a textbook, Uncivil Wars does an admirable job of covering the necessary terrain, with readable chapters on political socialization, advertising, image making, the role of new communication technologies, opinion polling, campaign financing, and televised debates. Hollihan's writing is for the most part accessible and engaging, which is refreshing for a textbook.

At manyjunctures, however, the analysis falls short of the mark. Chapter 5, for instance, on how the news media shape political campaigns, discusses gatekeeping and agenda setting but only briefly mentions the more recent theories of framing, priming, and second-level agenda setting (none of which show up in the index). Readers thus come away under-informed about political communication effects.

Throughout the book Hollihan's approach is to be deliberately provocative about the state of political campaigning. The drawback to this approach is that, as a piece of criticism, there is much to disagree with here and, as a result, dismiss.

Building on the theme suggested by the title, Hollihan makes the somewhat tired argument that political apathy, distrust, and alienation are products of a manipulative campaign process overly reliant on fundraising and professional consultants. Although unelected and behind-the-scenes, consultants should be held accountable for the choices they make in the conduct of campaigns. He insists that "we should not tolerate their willful disrespect for the integrity of the political system."

So much for exploring the central role consultants play in the campaign process in an unbiased fashion.

Hollihan, whose roots are rhetorical, next trains his sites on "mass-mediated politics" and accuses broadcast news in particular of relentlessly delivering the cynical message "that the government is not only ineffectual, it might be downright criminal." This is a problem, he rightfully points out, because news coverage significantly shapes people's political cognitions and impactshow politics is understood and valued.

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