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Press Bashing Is for Naught: Republican Campaign Slogan 'Annoy the Media, Re-Elect President Bush' Fails to Win a Voter (Reader/viewer) Majority

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Press Bashing Is for Naught: Republican Campaign Slogan 'Annoy the Media, Re-Elect President Bush' Fails to Win a Voter (Reader/viewer) Majority

Article excerpt

AS OFTEN HAPPENS during election years, those "nattering nabobs of negativism" took a bashing from the presidential candidates and their supporters.

The disparagement even got to the point where the slogan "Annoy the media, re-elect President Bush" became a familiar Republican rallying cry.

This is nothing new. The battle between the press and politicians is as old as our political system itself.

What was innovative this time around, however, was the way the candidates used alternative media to their advantage, while at the same time belittling more mainstream outlets.

Independent candidate H. Ross Perot, who warned supporters before the election, "You gotta stop letting these people in the press tell you who to vote for," spent millions of dollars taking his unfiltered message directly to the public through television infomercials that aired during prime time.

Perot, nevertheless, publicly launched his first shot at the White House on the Larry King Live talk show.

Further, after he had re-entered the race, Perot was quick enough to tell the press about the alleged Republican dirty tricks that had led him to quit the first time. But as soon as he was asked to provide proof for his accusations, Perot called reporters "teen-age boys" and "jerks" and said he was fed up with their questioning his integrity.

Some of the most vitriolic attacks on the media, however, were delivered by the incumbents, from the vice president's jousting with a fictional tv newswoman and his criticism of the "cultural elite" to the president himself, who charged this was "the most biased year in the history of presidential politics."

The day before the election, the president told a crowd in Ohio, "Every one of you knows that there has not been objectivity in the coverage."

As Election Day neared, crowds for the Republicans got into such an anti-press frenzy they began kicking and physically abusing journalists to the point where the president had to ask them to stop.

Lest he allow the watchdogs from the Fourth Estate go completely unscathed, however, while he urged the crowd not to abuse the joumalists at the rally, who were only doing their jobs, he still called on them to "Take it out on the talking heads in the national press that come on and tell us everything that's bad about America."

Following the election, however, Bush campaign manager Robert Teeter on the Today show conceded that the "sluggish economy," not the press, was to blame for Bill Clinton's victory.

Newsday Washington bureau chief Gaylord Shaw, who remembered the media bashing from the Nixon administration, said he found this campaign's rhetoric had "a little bit different pitch and tone," which he found "troubling in some respects."

"What people need to understand is that we're not doing this to get the candidate. We are there to represent the people," Shaw noted. "The stories are intended to be read by many of the people who seem very eager and anxious to bash us. We have to do a better job of educating the people on the street as to what our job is."

Shaw, who knows a photographer who "got clobbered" from behind while trying to take pictures at a Republican rally, said the word media is "a very big umbrella. It runs from me and you and the beat reporters to Geraldo Rivera and Phil Donahue."

American Society of Newspaper Editors president Seymour Topping said that he deplored the bashing of the media, but added, "From the point of view of tactics, it was understandable. The press was reflecting quite accurately what the trends were among the electorate. These trends that were being reported were unfavorable to the Bush administration.

"There was a fear that the reporting of these trends, no matter how accurate would prejudice the opportunities, or the results of the election, and tilt it in the favor of Clinton," said Topping, who is editorial development director for the New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. …

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