Election 2008

campaign against the media, palin media elite, palin mccain media fight
Alex Brandon/AP

McCain, Obama Campaign Against the Media

September 09, 2008 03:31 PM
by Liz Colville
Both presidential candidates have accused the media of bias and elitism—a novel tack for candidates but nothing new for sitting and former presidents and vice presidents.

Candidates Take On the Media

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin took aim at the media in her speech at the Republican National Convention saying, “I’ve learned quickly, these past few days, that if you’re not a member in good standing of the Washington elite, then some in the media consider a candidate unqualified for that reason alone. … I’m not going to Washington to seek their good opinion—I’m going to Washington to serve the people of this country.”

This is not the first time in the presidential campaign that the media has been criticized; in Ariz. Sen. John McCain’s July “Celeb” ad, which compared Ill. Sen. Barack Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, the campaign drew on the attention Obama had been receiving from reporters during his trip to Europe and the Middle East; McCain and his staffers also made numerous jokes about the media hype surrounding the Democratic candidate.

For their part, the Democratic presidential candidates boycotted Fox News for months, arguing that it was too biased in favor of the Republicans. After a summer meeting with Fox executives including owner Rupert Murdoch, Obama finally agreed to appear in a series of interviews on “The O’Reilly Factor.” The first interview took place on September 4.

Historical Context: Chastising the media

In the past, the media has been a target of presidents and vice presidents, notes Peter Brown in The Wall Street Journal. Notably, Vice President Spiro Agnew, under orders from President Richard Nixon, “railed against the media elites of New York and Washington.” Vice President Agnew “became known for his colorful speeches attacking dissidents and the news media.”

Vice President Dan Quayle, an unpopular choice for running mate in 1988, also took aim at “media elite” while in office, beginning with his “Murphy Brown” speech of May 1992: “I know it is not fashionable to talk about moral values, but we need to do it. Even though our cultural leaders in Hollywood, network TV, the national newspapers routinely jeer at them, I think that most of us in this room know that some things are good, and other things are wrong.”

But targeting the media goes back even farther than Vice President Agnew, according to a New York Times letter to the editor written shortly after Quayle’s media-bashing speech; it credits former President Dwight D. Eisenhower. “At the 1964 Republican National Convention in San Francisco, which nominated Barry Goldwater, the former President, on the third night, attacked ‘television commentators and political columnists,’ shaking a fist up at the television anchor booths as he did.”

Opinion & Analysis: The media responds

Following Quayle’s speeches on the media, commentators in the Seattle Times accused Quayle—whose family owned a chain of newspapers, and who, along with President George H.W. Bush, received the majority of newspaper endorsements prior to the 1988 election—of “intimidating media professionals into softer coverage of the White House,” echoing, they said, the attempts of Agnew two decades before.

Confirming that the Agnew approach should actually be credited to President Eisenhower, Mark Leibovich wrote in The New York Times this month that what he calls a “Republican tradition of media-bashing goes back decades, at least to the convention of 1964 when former President Dwight D. Eisenhower called out ‘sensation-seeking columnists and commentators’ at the Cow Palace in San Francisco on the third night of the Republican National Convention of 1964, which nominated Barry Goldwater.

Spiro Agnew’s most famous line, Leibovich adds, was calling the press corps “nattering nabobs of negativism.”

Peter Brown, the assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, hints at the “change” platform that both the Republicans and Democrats are now pushing in a blog entry for The Wall Street Journal. He believes the McCain–Palin ticket’s strategy “builds on frustration with almost all things Washington, D.C., and the public perception that the news media is just another part of the governing elite there.”

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