Category Archives: Barack Obama

Reality and Our Accounts of It

For all of the new dimensions and innovations he has brought to the worlds of politics and government, Barack Obama still recognizes the value in some tried and true practices that have proven successful over the years.

Case in point: Say something over and over enough times and it will start having an impact on public perception. It’s a strategy that has worked before in New Jersey, and it could be a factor in this year’s campaign for Governor. Back in 1997, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim McGreevey barely uttered a sentence without mentioning that New Jersey had the highest property taxes and auto insurance rates in the nation – and he nearly defeated the incumbent Governor in what would have been a stunning upset. Continue reading

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Upcoming Events

The New Jersey Political Science Association will conduct its annual meeting on Friday, February 27, at the Eagleton Institute at Rutgers University.  I will be one several speakers on the panel discussing New Jersey’s 2009 campaign for Governor.

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My research essay on media coverage during the Vietnam War era has been accepted for presentation at an academic conference in New York City (March 14 at Marymount Manhattan College).

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I will be a panelist at the New Jersey Communication Association Conference (March 28 at Kean University), discussing personal privacy on the internet.

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On April 24, I will take part in “A Fiscal Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste,” the Annual Symposium of the State Chapters of the Association of Government Accountants and American Society for Public Administration. I will be on a panel that will discuss “How the Media Crisis Affects the Government Crisis.”

A ‘Super’ Time to Choose a State Song

When Super Bowl XLIII gets underway in Tampa on Sunday, neither of the NFL teams that play their home games in New Jersey will be on the field. But one New Jerseyan who has performed for large crowds at Giants Stadium will be there at Raymond James Stadium when the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers square off to determine this season’s NFL champion.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will provide the halftime entertainment, joining the ranks of Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and other superstars who have performed at the 42 previous Super Bowls. While this provides a great opportunity for Springsteen to appear before a capacity crowd of 72,500 and a television audience of up to 100 million viewers, it also represents a plus for New Jersey because of the unique and important role that the Garden State plays in his music and his lyrics. Continue reading

How Should Barack Obama Handle the Media?

On the heels of his successful campaign and historic election, Barack Obama would not appear to be a man in need of advice on dealing with the news media. Ever since he emerged on the national scene at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, he has enjoyed largely favorable, positive press coverage. In fact, his treatment by the news media was so flattering and so complimentary that his rivals in the primary and general elections frequently voiced complaints. Nevertheless, the dynamics are likely to change. As the nation’s 44th president, Obama will be judged by how he governs, instead of how he performs on the campaign trail.

During my career, I have had the opportunity to offer media advice to several individuals making the transition from candidate to officeholder, albeit at the state and local levels. But if Barack Obama were to seek my advice, here are ten recommendations I would offer to guide his media operations: Continue reading

One Campaign Over, A New One Begins

While Barack Obama assembles his cabinet and works on other transition issues, New Jersey already is thinking about another election – the state’s 2009 campaign for Governor.

On the Democratic side, there is little drama. Unless he is offered a cabinet post in the Obama Administration, incumbent Jon Corzine in all likelihood will be on the ballot seeking his second term.

For Republicans, several party members have expressed interest in the Governor’s Office, but U.S. Attorney Chris Christie is regarded as the GOP’s leading candidate. It is easy to see why. As U.S. Attorney, Christie has built a strong reputation cracking down on public corruption, successfully prosecuting some of the most the state’s most powerful political leaders.

All things considered, however, Christie may be better off if he sits out the 2009 race and sets his sites on 2013 instead. Here’s why.

At the moment, New Jersey Democrats are flexing their muscle. Barack Obama carried the state by a comfortable margin on Tuesday and Frank Lautenberg cruised to re-election in the U.S. Senate. Democrats also gained control of a Congressional seat that has been in GOP hands since 1882. And don’t forget that in addition to having a Democrat in the Governor’s Office, the party also holds majorities in both houses of the State Legislature. Add an Obama presidency into the mix and it may not be the most opportune time for a Republican challenger, especially if the Democratic president’s favorability numbers are still riding high next year. Only New Jersey and Virginia will be holding gubernatorial elections next year, so it is conceivable that Obama could come into the Garden State to boost the Democrat cause.

Secondly, at the present time Christie is a one issue candidate and that issue – corruption – seldom resonates with New Jersey voters. It did not work for Tom Kean Jr. when he ran for U.S. Senate two years ago, and Doug Forrester’s attempts to paint Corzine as a candidate created by political bosses failed to take hold in the 2005 gubernatorial campaign. This year, Republicans were unable to win any freeholder seats in Bergen County even though two of the county’s most powerful Democratic leaders were under indictment. Likewise, campaign ads raising questions about John Adler’s connection to a controversial state grant program failed to keep victory out of his hands on Tuesday.

So what does Chris Christie do for the next few years? He should take a lesson from two former Governors.

After Jim Florio lost the 1981 Governor’s election by the narrowest margin in state history, he was considered the frontrunner for the 1985 contest. But with incumbent Governor Tom Kean enjoying great popularity with the New Jersey citizenry, Florio sat out the race and chose instead to run in 1989 when there would be no incumbent on the gubernatorial ballot. The decision proved to be the correct one. He was elected Governor in 1989 with 61 percent of the vote.

There also is a lesson to be learned from Christine Todd Whitman. After she almost upset Bill Bradley in the 1990 U.S. Senate campaign, she used her time wisely to build support for her successful run for Governor in 1993. Hosting a radio talk show (as Whitman did) may not be in the U.S. Attorney’s future, but there are plenty of ways he could make good use of the time between gubernatorial elections.

With a Democratic Administration about to take hold in Washington, D.C., Christie’s days as U.S. attorney are numbered. He can return to private practice with a law firm that will give him the time he needs to sow the seeds for a run in 2013. In the interim, he plays the good soldier in the 2009 gubernatorial race, raising money, delivering surrogate speeches and building goodwill for the GOP standard bearer.

If Corzine wins the election, Christie then has four full years to wage his campaign for Governor. During this time, he can expand his platform beyond the single issue of corruption. He can become a vocal and visible critic of the Democratic Administration, using the populist appeal that has served him well as U.S. Attorney. He can travel around New Jersey and build a stronger statewide identity by speaking at Kiwanis Club luncheons, VFW meetings, county fairs and the like.

From a strategic standpoint, Christie would be at an advantage by not holding a public office where he would be forced to vote on controversial issues. Instead, his public record would be his long list of successful prosecutions as U.S. Attorney. And he gets a few more years to put some distance between a run for Governor and the most serious controversy of his career – the $52 million contract awarded to former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft’s company to monitor t a criminal settlement.

The big question, however, is whether Christie has the patience to wait until 2013. Politics is a world in which people want things now. But Chris Christie has experience at being patient. Among his hobbies and interests outside the office, he is a fan of New York Mets, a team whose last few seasons have tried the patience of even its most ardent followers.

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A Quick Take at the Election Results

For New Jersey, the most significant developments took place at the Congressional level. As anticipated, Barack Obama carried the state by a comfortable margin and Frank Lautenberg cruised to victory. Although coattails from the top of ticket helped Democrats win the third district seat, they failed to materialize in either the fifth or seventh districts. This is a slight warning sign for Democrats who must defend the Governor’s Office and their Assembly seats next year. And it offers a very dim light of hope for Republicans on a rather dark evening for the GOP.

How News Frames Shaped the Super Tuesday Coverage

Almost without exception, the state’s daily newspapers led their New Jersey primary stories with language indicating that Hillary Clinton had held off a challenge from Barack Obama:

Gannett – Hillary Rodham Clinton defeated the late-surging Barack Obama in New Jersey’s Democratic presidential primary Tuesday…”

Courier-Post – Hillary Rodham Clinton overcame a fierce challenge from Barack Obama to win New Jersey’s Democratic primary Tuesday…”

The Record – Hillary Clinton held off a surging Barack Obama to win New Jersey’s Democratic presidential primary Tuesday as party power brokers, Latino voters and labor unions helped her avoid an embarrassing loss.

Star-Ledger – New York Sen. Hillary Clinton withstood a furious, final-days challenge from Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in her own backyard to win the Democratic primary in New Jersey yesterday amid a record-shattering turnout by voters.

True, Clinton had long maintained a convincing lead in the polls and Obama had narrowed that gap in recent weeks. But by portraying Obama as the challenger, these stories created the impression that Hillary Clinton already had won something in New Jersey.

That’s fine if you are writing about a prize fight in which a boxer is challenging a heavyweight champion who has won several bouts to earn his title. But in the New Jersey primary, the fact is Hillary Clinton had not won anything before Tuesday. When the polls opened at 6 a.m., she and Barack Obama had exactly the same number of votes – zero.

Yes, Clinton was ahead in virtually every voter poll conducted prior to the primary, but the credibility of polls took a beating in New Hampshire earlier this year. And as candidates are fond of saying, the only poll that matters is the one that takes place in the voting booth.

By framing stories in this manner – whether or not intentionally – journalists have the ability to shape events, according to Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania.

“The press both covers events and, in choosing what to report and how to report it, shapes their outcome,” she wrote in The Press Effect.

In discussing the disputed 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, Jamieson contends that the frame became one in which Bush was perceived as the winner and Gore as the challenger, even though there was no clear-cut winner. This in effect made it more difficult for the Gore team to gain support.

Moving back to New Jersey, the lead of the Star-Ledger’s national story on Super Tuesday created an air of invincibility for John McCain:

“Sen. John McCain continued his march toward the Republican presidential nomination…”

Now that Mitt Romney has bowed out of the GOP primary, it appears that McCain most likely will “march toward the Republican nomination.” But on Wednesday, when this story appeared, Romney was still a candidate, albeit a weakened one. Yes, McCain’s nomination appeared inevitable, but nothing is inevitable. Just ask the New York Mets, whose chances of playing in the 2007 post-season were considered inevitable before their historic collapse.

When journalists create a sense of inevitability, it can have a direct impact on public perception.

For example, a study by Jack Lule of Lehigh University found that news reports prior to the 2003 war in Iraq were based upon the assumption that war was inevitable. In turn, this assumption had profound implications in terms of public support for the war. This conclusion was based on six weeks of coverage by NBC Nightly News in which the network titled its reports Countdown: Iraq, Showdown: Iraq, and Target: Iraq.

“By using Countdown: Iraq as a structural metaphor, particularly in the middle of February 2003, NBC Nightly News affirmed the inevitability of conflict with Iraq at a time when many Americans and nations around the world were still attempting to prevent the conflict,” Lule wrote in Journalism Studies.

One could argue that the consequences of framing Hillary Clinton and John McCain as candidates in commanding positions on Super Tuesday may not be as great as the frames that helped build public support for the war in Iraq. That is true, but with Super Tuesday, we also are talking about a process that ultimately will determine who will serve as the nation’s next chief executive in one of the most challenging times in our history.

And that is a decision that deserves to be made carefully and thoughtfully by a well-informed electorate.

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Related Post:

Has Election Coverage Entered A Brave New World?