Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Tune out the Media Watch

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Tune out the Media Watch

Article excerpt

There's a part of the newspaper that political professionals find even funnier than "Doonesbury." It never fails to give me a chuckle, especially when I consider what serious business it is to the news executives who dreamed it up.

It was created, in this age of made-for-TV elections, to give journalists a chance at deflecting the powerful impact of candidates' commercials, and also to give newspapers a chance at competing with TV.

Politicians win elections by talking directly to voters through advertising, a conversation reporters and editors find woefully one- sided. Just as depressing is the increasing dominance of television over newspapers. Why not solve both problems, editors reason, by making the paper more like TV? Put a TV monitor on the page, credit the agency that made the political commercial, add pungent analysis with zippy names like "Ad Watch" and "Reality Check," and faster than you can say "edgy" you've got what media people call a "hot book."

My morning newspaper devotes half its coverage of the Democrats' new commercial on prescription drugs to a word-for-word repetition of the script and detailed description of the images on the screen. Add a photo showing Al Gore and the tag line "Taking on the big drug companies," and I'd say this particular corner of newsprint is a nice big valentine to the Democrats.

But wait, there's more. Under "accuracy" and "scorecard" the reporter gets to add his two cents. "On its major point, a stretch," and "this is almost entirely an attack advertisement." Goodness gracious, really?

I think most voters, like most consumers, realize that advertising puts a product or candidate in the best possible light. You don't see McDonald's spending millions promoting the slogan, "Terrible for you, but tasty." Similarly, viewers understand that Al Gore and George Bush are not going to advertise their shortcomings or flaws in their policies.

The intent of the media's criticism might be to illuminate distortion, but the actual result is to amplify the impact of the ad. This is the Deaver Rule, named for Ronald Reagan's PR man Mike Deaver. …

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