Commentary by Randall Rothenberg

AN ELECTION MEDIA MARKETING QUIZ

Looking Back at The Circus of Opening Primaries

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Quick quiz: Where were more media people present? The Iowa caucuses, the New Hampshire primary or the Golden Globe Awards?

Yeah, I don't know, either. But for a solid two weeks, it certainly seemed like a transcontinental circus of political entertainment. Herewith, the observations of one couch potatoe (pace, Dan Quayle):

The whoop loop: After his loss in Iowa, Howard Dean gave a speech to his campaign workers that made news not only in the U.S., but across Europe, where I was spending the week. Widely described as a "rant" and an "angry tirade," his war whoop was blamed by the punditocracy for his precipitous plunge in the polls. Naturally, I was eager to see it. When I finally did, on CNN about five days after its delivery, my reaction was the same as most other neutral observers I know: It seemed like a fairly conventional, post-loss don't-lose-heart rallying effort. Clearly, it couldn't have taken on the destructive dimensions it did without the media buying in to spin doctors' disinformation. It was another reminder politics is a market, and media people are brokers; as the corporate scandals have shown, the former are always prey to manipulation, and the latter prone to unthinking corruption.

'Til death do us part: In his state of the union address, President Bush indicated he would support a constitutional amendment to ban homosexual marriage. "A strong America must also value the institution of marriage," the president said. "I believe we should respect individuals as we take a principled stand for one of the most fundamental, enduring institutions of our civilization." I agree! So why not try something far more potent and sponsor a constitutional amendment to prohibit divorce? I'm sorry, Mr. President, I can't hear you ...

Speaking of Howard Dean and marriage: One of the more bizarre non-corrections ever run in The New York Times was published Jan. 24. The page two editor's note reported that the newspaper's Sunday magazine had profiled a young Dean volunteer who joined the campaign after his engagement plans evaporated. All details, The Times noted, were accurate. Yet because the paper hadn't consulted the ex-fiancee, it "regret[ted] the publication of the identifying details." The ghost of the William Kennedy Smith rape trial lives on at The Nice York Times.

Not so nice: To a campaign bestiary that already includes "Atari Democrats," "soccer moms" and "Joe Six-Pack," include this season's most peculiar political bipeds: Atkins Republicrats. These are the renegade "radical" comedians, who, fresh on the scent of Fox's Bill O'Reilly, have transformed themselves into red-meat ranters of the right. Think Dennis Miller and Bill Maher, which is to say persistently unfunny and unoriginal. Humorless insufferability used to be a disease of the left. Maybe these smug right-wingers will at last send audiences back to the center -- of the borscht belt, if nowhere else.

Politics is a market (part two): A Factiva database search of the past year's news clips shows that glue pots still live on in America's newspapers, if not on the makeup desk then in the word processors of reporters who managed to connect candidates and cliches to the following degrees.

  • Howard Dean and "rant": 129 clips
  • John Kerry and "patrician": 99 clips
  • John Edwards and "boyish": 68 clips
  • President Bush and "weapons of mass destruction": 11,719 clips

On to Super Tuesday!

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Randall Rothenberg, an author and longtime journalist, is chief marketing officer at consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton.

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