Saturday, March 13, 2004
# Posted 3:00 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
Anyhow, there was one paragrpah from Bumiller that struck me as somewhat disingenuous:
Generally, the campaigns of the 19th century were meaner than the ones today, in large part because the newspapers of the era took sides and were often subsidized by the political parties. "There was almost no restraint on what could be said in the partisan press," said Bruce J. Schulman, a professor of history and American studies at Boston University. "Party organizations were much stronger, and the partisan attachment of voters was much more loyal. Politics then was not about trying to convert voters based on issues. There were more or less no swing voters. It was all about getting your army of voters to the polls."Although no expert on the subject, I think Prof. Schulman is right about the changing nature of partisanship. Nonetheless, Bumiller is really pushing the envelope when she credits the relative civility of modern campaigns to the rise of objective journalism. As Harvard prof Thomas Patterson documents in his excellent book Out of Order -- not to be confused with the Rod Stewart album of the same name -- the modern media has taken upon itself the mission of exposing every presidential candidate as a liar, an exaggerator and a hypocrite.
To be fair, the candidates often do much of the journalists' work for them. Even so, journalists have chosen to focus their coverage on the candidates' inconsistency and spin rather than the substance of their policy proposals. Now, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps voters should have a healthy cynicism about the candidates they elect. In fact, the modern press may do a far more effective job of character assassination than the partisan press ever did because today's journalists are detached enough to focus on actual lies and inconsistencies rather than generating the outrageous rumors of yesteryear (or of post-Soviet Russia). Whereas 19th century voters could easily discount the output of the other side's spin machine, today's journalists are neutral enough to ensure that whatever they report has to be taken seriously.
Perhaps the best way to put it is that thanks to the media, the negativism of modern campaigns is more substantive and disciplined than ever before. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
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