Thursday, September 16, 2004

MSNBC : This ain't your 1960 presidential election

Web logs, tell-alls, films, outside groups find new power
By Tom Curry
National affairs writer
Updated: 5:11 p.m. ET Sept. 15, 2004

WASHINGTON - This is the year that the old model of running a presidential campaign and reporting on one may finally have been discarded, for better or worse.

The mainstream news media and the traditional rituals for candidates — rallies, speeches, town hall-style meetings before sympathetic audiences — are increasingly being outflanked or overshadowed by unconventional outsiders.

From muckraking author Kitty Kelley, whose new book on the Bush family was published this week, to director Michael Moore and his anti-Bush film "Fahrenheit 9/11," to blogs such as and, who challenged the authenticity of documents that CBS News said proved Bush had shirked his National Guard duty 32 years ago, outside agents are now wielding the power to pull control of the campaign away from the campaign managers and the traditional news media.

In the old model of presidential campaigns, the rules were clear:

  • The mainstream media — the New York Times, the Washington Post, the wire services, the three broadcast television networks — were the principal sources of information for most voters.
  • Candidates communicated to voters on broadcast television through advertising.
  • Candidates met in televised debates and stuck to a gentlemanly, serious discussion of foreign policy and domestic issues.
  • The personal lives of candidates — marital infidelity, illicit drug use — and their actions as young men were not thought to be an appropriate or relevant subject for news media coverage.
  • Presidential campaigns were very much top-down operations with the important decisions made by a candidate and a half-dozen or so of his advisers.

    Reading Theodore H. White’s classic “The Making of a President 1960” from the perspective of a 2004 campaign style, the most striking thing about 1960 was that the power to make decisions affecting the course of the race was concentrated in the hands of candidates Richard Nixon and John Kennedy, their top strategists such as Kenneth O’Donnell for Kennedy, and the incumbent president, Dwight Eisenhower

    In 1960, no one could start a political blog and second guess the strategies of the campaigns or the media coverage of them.

    Now the barriers to entry have been dramatically lowered, opening the way to a do-it-yourself kind of politics.

    (click on the title for the whole article)


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