Message Delivery

I’m a Republican…and I’m a Mac

Humor can be most effective in political advertisements, especially when it’s used to ridicule your opponent.  I think it can be most effective when used against the right-wing extremists and when there is intentional misinformation.  But just a simple spoof of the Apple vs. PC commercials is catchy, too.  Note that they use a woman as the Democrat and a smarmy white guy as the Republican. (Thanks to Political Wire.)

Obama Grabs the News Cycle on Healthcare

The president just finished a rather unusual Friday 4 p.m. statement – without taking questions.  It was on healthcare, and it again demonstrated his ability to take the long view.  More important, it was a demonstration to the public of his ability to do just that.  It positions him as someone who cares about the future and not about political points. 

Obama has a knack for demonstrating to the public that he is thoughtful.  This statement was exactly that.  He took, in his words, “the long view” of the healthcare debate.  Just knowing someone is taking that view reassures the public.

He first focused on the idea that we have a consensus that something that needs to be done.

He then ticked off those who support him by listing the organizations that have either agreed to concessions or who have endorsed his plans – the pharmaceutical Industry, hospitals, nurses and the AMA.  What that does is reassure people that “your doctor is behind me.”

He also talked about the need to improve “preventive and wellness programs.”  Which is a way of saying, “Americans, you need to take responsibility for your health, without sounding like a fitness nut.

He used words like “stability and security,”  which can resonate in these uncertain times.

He then talked about keeping coverage even if you lose your job and not losing coverage for preexisting conditions.  Those are two key points.

He then addressed how we pay for it.  He discussed not adding to our deficit, paying for immediate changes and slowing long-term health costs.  He repeated that point, and sure enough, the news program I was watching, Bloomberg, emphasized that point. 

He made a plea for controlling costs by having independent doctors and others over seeing costs. Which means taking Medicare payments control away from Congress.

He finished by saying, “Now is not the time to slow down” on healthcare reform.  If we step back, we we assigning our children to crushing deficits and increased healthcare costs.”  It’s always a good idea to frame the debate with cherub faces.

He also said that “If we don’t get this down, no one insurance is secure.”  Which polls suggest the public understands.  Even if they like their current insurance, they know we have a problem.

Sure enough, the Bloomberg anchor, led with “Sounding confident, Obama…” and then mentioned the support he has among key players.

This guy is as good if not better than Reagan.

21st Century Political Communications

Among all the analysis you will read about President Obama’s Egypt speech, nothing is more important than this:

For Obama’s nearly hour-long speech, the State Department opened telephone lines for callers worldwide to register for free text messages of the speech in Arabic, Persian, Urdu and English. The also were posting the speech in nine other languages.

I Love Dick Cheney

Just listening to chatter on cable TV about Dick Cheney’s comments regarding torture and how Obama has made us less safe, etc.  And I’ve got to say, “I love this guy.”  There is no better way to keep the GOP tied to the failed, discredited, incompetent former administration than have this guy out there day after day reminding the American people of why they voted for Obama.

What’s Wrong with Print Journalism?

Veteran reporter Walter Pincus has a fine piece in the Columbia Journalism Review examining what’s wrong with print journalism and how it can be saved.  It’s a good read and an educational review of how we got here.

One prescription he has is to, frankly, follow the lead of public relations professionals.  One of the tenants of the PR business is that repetition and a sustained effort is often needed to influence the news.  If you are trying to increase attendance, say, for a jazz festival, as I am doing for a small festival in Colorado, one news release is not going to cut.  Reporters and editors must become familiar with it, hear different facts over time and eventually a smart angle might get good coverage.  One tactic is to keep the information in small, quickly digestible bites.  Pincus thinks that’s a good prescription for keeping newspaper readers.

Over the past ten years, The Washington Post has won nineteen Pulitzer Prizes. But over that same period, we lost more than 120,000 readers. Why? My answer, unpopular among my colleagues, is that while many of these longer efforts were worthwhile, they took up space and resources that could have been used to give readers a wider selection of stories about what was going on, and that may have directly affected their lives. (emphasis added) Readers have limited time to spend on newspapers. The number has been twenty-five minutes, on average, for more than thirty years. In short, we have left behind our readers in our chase after glory.

…[O]wners, editors, and reporters should push issues they believe government is ignoring. They should do it factually and in articles short enough to read daily, but spread over time. That is how Americans absorb information—by repetition.  (emphasis added)

One issue that frustrates me in today’s print journalism is the “faux fairness” doctrine.  Print journalists too often act as secretaries transcribing comments and going to great pains to give each side its due, even for such one-sided issues as evolution.  There’s no other viewpoint here of any scientific import.  But conservative, for a long time, have effectively demanded and received this “faux fairness.”  Pincus gives us the history.

The celebrity of Woodward and Bernstein, along with financial rewards that accompanied Bob’s continued hard work, set new goals for others in the profession. At the same time, the impact an aroused press could have on government and politics was not missed by conservative supporters of the Nixon administration. Their response was twofold: demand more conservative columnists on newspaper op-ed pages and equal treatment in news columns for politicians and experts from “both sides” of issues. It was an informal way of applying the fairness doctrine, which was required of the electronic media, to print.

…Today, mainstream print and electronic media want to be neutral, presenting both or all sides as if they were refereeing a game in which only the players—the government and its opponents—can participate. They have increasingly become common carriers, transmitters of other people’s ideas and thoughts, irrespective of import, relevance, and at times even accuracy.

Pincus also provides a look at how the PR superstar Mike Deaver impacted the news.  What I didn’t know was that it wasn’t until Reagan’s administration that The Post almost mandated a daily White House story.

In 1981, at the beginning of the Reagan administration, Michael Deaver—one of the great public-relations men of our time—began to use early-morning “tech” sessions at the White House, which had been a way to help network producers plan the use of their camera crews each day, to shape the television news story for that evening. Deaver would say that President Reagan will appear in the Rose Garden to talk about his crime-prevention program and discuss it in terms of, say, Chicago and San Francisco. That would allow the networks to shoot B-roll. The president would appear in the Rose Garden as promised, make his statement, perhaps take a question or two, and vanish.

After a while, the network White House correspondents began to attend these sessions, and later print reporters began showing up, too. On days when the president went off to Camp David or his California ranch, Sam Donaldson, the ABC News White House correspondent, began his shouted questions to Reagan, and Reagan’s flip answers became the nightly news—and not just on television. The Washington Post, which prior to that time did not have a standing White House story each day (publishing one only when the president did something newsworthy), began to have similar daily coverage.

At the end of Reagan’s first year, David Broder, the Post’s political reporter, wrote a column about Reagan being among the least-involved presidents he had covered. In response, he got an onslaught of mail from people who said they saw Reagan every night on TV, working different issues. It was a triumph of public relations.

When President George H. W. Bush succeeded Reagan and occasionally drifted off the appointed subject, criticism began to appear that he “couldn’t stay on message.” When Bill Clinton did two, three, or four things in a day, critics went after him for “mixing up the daily message.” Being able to “stay on message” is now considered a presidential asset, perhaps even a requirement. Of course, the “message” is what the White House wants to present to the public.

You think newspaper are partisan?  Is The Post and the New York Times liberal, and the Washington Star and the Dallas Morning News conservative?  Well, that’s the way the founding fathers thought it should be, according to Pincus.

Newspapers across the U.S. were often begun by pamphleteers, political parties, or businessmen who wanted to get involved in local, state, or even national affairs. The founding editors of The New York Times started that newspaper as supporters of the Whig party and later switched to the Republican party. Adolph Ochs, who bought the Times in 1896, was helped in his negotiations by a letter from President Grover Cleveland, who wrote that Ochs’s management of The Chattanooga Times had “demonstrated such a faithful adherence to Democratic principles that I would be glad to see you in a larger sphere of usefulness.” The Washington Post’s publisher Phil Graham helped put Lyndon Johnson on the ticket with John F. Kennedy.

They used their presses to influence government, but that is what the founding fathers contemplated when they wrote the First Amendment. The idea was that citizens in a democracy were to read more than one paper or pamphlet, weigh all opinions and facts as presented, and make up their own minds. (emphasis added)

Which is what we web surfers do, isn’t it?

The only disappointment I had with Pincus’ article is that he teased us with a phenomenon I wished he had explore:  the proliferation of print media pontificating on television.

While most corporate owners were seeking increased earnings, higher stock prices, and bigger salaries, editors and reporters focused more on winning prizes or making television appearances.

What do print reporters do to get access?  Are they paid and how much?  Do they put aside objectivity for bombast, the drug of choice for cable news?  How does the appearance of T
he Post reporters on a cable show impact the coverage the paper gives – or downplays – about that media outlet?  What do journalist compromise to ensure a return engagement?

Still, it’s a good read.

Cell Phone Use

This is a paradigm shift, as they say, with significant implications for politics and pollsters.

For the first time, the number of U.S. households opting for only cell phones outnumber those that just have traditional landlines in a high-tech shift accelerated by the recession.

In the freshest evidence of the growing appeal of cell phones, 20 percent of households had only cells during the last half of 2008, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey released Wednesday.

…Further underscoring the public’s shrinking reliance on landline phones, 15 percent of households have both landlines and cells but take few or no calls on their landlines, often because they are wired into computers. Combined with wireless only homes, that means that 35 percent of households — more than one in three — are basically reachable only on cells.

The changes are important for pollsters, who for years relied on reaching people on their landline telephones. Growing numbers of surveys now include calls to people on their cells, which is more expensive partly because federal laws forbid pollsters from using computers to place calls to wireless phones.