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Glenn Garvin of the Miami Herald had an interesting article — actually two in one — on cable nets dominating political coverage as of late (such as at the conventions) and on why the end of the Bush Administration will not mean the end of Fox News.  The nut paragraph is here.

For years, hostile TV critics and political columnists have been writing that Fox News was some kind of weird transitory political phenomenon, the video equivalent of Pet Rocks or Ross Perot, that would soon disappear. Isn’t it time to start acknowledging the obvious — that Fox News is here to stay?

 


  

 

After both party nominating conventions and with less than two months until Election Day, here are nine things we now know about the candidates running for president and vice president:

 

  • Sarah Palin can “field dress” a moose
  • Barack Obama is not a Muslim
  • John McCain owns a lot of houses, he’s just not sure how many
  • Joe Biden’s son is a lobbyist (the lowest form of life in this year’s election narrative)
  • Sarah Palin is married to the “first dude”
  • Barack Obama now wears a flag pin, but didn’t for a while
  • John McCain has seven top advisors who were “Washington lobbyists”
  • Sarah Palin’s 17 year-old unwed daughter is pregnant
  • Sarah Palin’s husband had a DUI arrest 20 years ago (okay, I think we actually may already know too much about Sarah Palin)

These trivial tidbits of information have two things in-common – each has received extensive coverage in the mainstream media (and unending attention in the blogosphere) and none of them have anything to do with the candidates’ ability to lead the country.

 

This dynamic is by no means unique to the 2008 election and it is the subject of quadrennial hyperventilating by pundits wringing their hands over the state of America’s democracy.  But the disconnect between what matters and what is covered has never been as pronounced, or as damaging, as it is this year.

 

With two wars, a deepening recession, a health care crisis, global warming and $4/gallon gasoline all awaiting the next president and an American electorate that overwhelmingly feels the nation is “on the wrong track,” what passes for political discourse is a discussion of flag pins and lobbyists.  Something has gone seriously amiss.

 

As always in politics, there is plenty of blame to go around. 

 

Certainly the candidates and their campaigns play a major role in trying to focus attention on the trivial and deflect attention from more difficult or controversial issues.  There is also always the hope that one of these trivial issues will take hold in voters’ minds and play a pivotal role in determining the outcome (think about Al Gore’s sighing during the first debate against George Bush – meaningless until the conventional wisdom took hold that it was a sign of Gore’s unrepentant arrogance).

 

Among losing campaigns there is always a tendency to blame the voters, and it’s probably true that voters get the politicians and campaigns that they deserve.  That said, by all indications voters this year are looking for concrete solutions to the very real problems the country faces.

 

Finally, there is the media.  In an election that has generated so much interest for so long, there is tremendous competition among media outlets and the digerati to be the source of political information. 

 

One would hope that this competition would result in a better product.  Instead this competition has led to a significant “dumbing down” of the campaign coverage; a race to the bottom to see who can uncover the most innocuous but potentially salacious details about the candidates, their families, advisors and pets.

 

The mainstream media appear to believe that the way to beat back the onslaught of the blogosphere is to emulate them – focus on the trivial, the prurient, the outrageous rather than the substance.  This is a battle that the mainstream media simply cannot win.

 

Rather than trying to outshout the bloggers, the media might find their vanishing relevance restored by focusing on the substance of the campaign.  Reporting and analyzing the very real differences between the McCain and Obama approaches to taxes, health care, energy policy and Iraq would not only provide a public service, but re-establish the media as a trusted source of important information. 

 

Each campaign has spelled out specific policy proposals in all of these areas.  The problem is no one is reporting on the policy differences, so it’s hard for us humble voters to find them behind all the noise created by flag pins, lipstick on pigs and field dressing a moose.

Time’s Bryan Walsh weighs in on Al Gore’s “We” Campaign.  Translating his review review into a numerical score, I estimate he gives it between a 5 and a 6.

Given Time’s support for an activist green agenda, I would have expected a better rating from the magazine’s environmental reporter.  However, his criticism of the campaign ties in nicely with the findings of the Forrester study I referenced earlier — namely it doesn’t make the case for significant change in lifestyles (which Americans are not predisposed to do so far) nor does it have a call to action for those who aren’t already predisposed to Gore’s “act now or else” message.

In addition, the fact that the one specific example referenced in the article talks about ad with Pat Robertson and Al Sharpton, two long irrelevant charlatans whose heyday was in the 1980s, demonstrates that the campaign has problems beyond just “the ask.”

Update:  Google’s Eric Schmidt offered his own plan to solve global warming on September 8.  You can read Matt Nauman’s story in the San Jose Mercury News here.  I won’t comment on the merits of the plan, but the key sentence in the story is here:

The fight against global warming is a big deal, Schmidt said, and he doesn’t understand why more people don’t realize it.

Bad or misguided PR campaigns, perhaps…

I was going to write a post regarding MSNBC’s decision to drop Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews from their position the cable network’s political coverage anchors for the rest of the year.  However, I have to admit I agree almost 100% with what Jeff Bercovici wrote on his Portfolio.com media blog and about 80% of what the Kansas City Star’s Aaron Barnhart’s writes in his column on TV Barn.

ESPN the Magazine’s Rick Reilly writes about an attempt to stifle free speech and free expression on a college campus that should know better.

Some background.  The University of Virginia made a major investment in Al Groh, the former New York Jets head coach, that included big bucks and a potentially long-term contract that included yearly options to renew and big bucks for Groh every time it was.  After several years where the Hoos made it to second tier bowl games (two trips to Charlotte and trips to Boise and Nashville), the team missed a bowl appearance in 2006.

The 2007 season started with a 23-3 loss against unheralded Wyoming.  That led to calls for the firing of the head coach (including a prominent sign on campus that was torn down by campus police).  While the 2007 season was much better than expected (record: 9-4), it ended with embarrassing losses to hated cross-state rival Virginia Tech (a loss made worse by the University’s willingness to bend over backwards to show solidarity with the Hokies after the tragic campus shooting in Blacksburg earlier in the year — something that drove football fans who pay big bucks AND are required to contribute to the university’s scholarship fund to guarantee season tickets furious) and Texas Tech in the Gator Bowl.  Needless to say, fans and donors weren’t happy.

The 2008 campaign started with a 52-7 blowout loss to the #3 USC (Trojans, not Gamecocks) that got national coverage.  This lead to escalated calls for Groh to be fired.  But the university seemed to continue to wrap itself in not upsetting the coaches and players as an excuse to stifle dissent, however mild.

In some ways, this is worse than some attempts to stifle free speech and free expression in the name of political correctness.

Oh, and for the record, I went to Drew University, a school without a football team.

Matt Nauman of the San Jose Mercury News had an interesting article while I was on vacation regarding consumer attitudes about “being green.”  Long story, short (for when the link disappears)–

Even consumers who identify themselves as environmentalists don’t always act on those beliefs, a new study shows, put off by high prices and the hassles of buying green products. And a Santa Clara University researcher says negative feedback in how-green-am-I surveys sometimes keep people from taking positive steps.

Nauman bases his article on two surveys, the first by Forrester Research.  That study found…

most people said they recycle paper, bottles and cans (63 percent) and have bought energy-efficient light bulbs (57 percent). These are actions where the hassle factor is low.

But just 14 percent said they’ve brought toxic materials to a community recycling center, just 11 percent recycled their last TV or PC and only 7 percent say they’ve paid more for an energy-efficient appliance.

“These actions have a much higher hassle factor,” [Ted] Schadler [of Forrester] said. “And asking consumers to spend a premium on a green product is the most hassle-filled commitment at all.”

The second survey, done by Amara Brook of Santa Clara University for a paper presented at an American Psychological Association, found…

the apparent disparity between attitude and action. While a majority of Americans consider themselves environmentalists, just 13 percent have contributed money to green causes and only 14 percent use alternative transportation, according to past studies.

That suggests, she writes, “that only a small minority of those who want a healthier environment and consider themselves environmentalists engage in environmentally sustainable behavior.” Knowing how to increase those actions is “essential” for future improvement, she said.

“We need to recognize that people have a limited time to think about and deal with these things. Asking people to even spend a little more time (on green issues) is a big deal.”

These surveys validate some of the other things that I’ve posted about the so-called “greening of America.”  I readily admit to being a skeptic, not becuase I am a global warming denier, but because I think the marketers of the global warming crisis have done a poor job of creating a sense of urgency in the minds of most Americans (outside of the folks on both coasts) that global warming merits the sort of effort they say is necessary to effectively combat it.

This failure explains why Americans were so willing to change their long-standing opposition to drilling on the outer continental shelf when gas prices spiked (forcing policy flip flops by both Sen. Obama and the House Democratic leadership) or why Americans haven’t been willing to pay extra to buy carbon offsets when they fly.

Moreover, now that we are in an economic slowdown, those efforts will be even harder.  All one has to do is to look across the Atlantic to see how Great Britain’ efforts have faltered.

Of course, this is my view.  The Mother Ship (Ogilvy & Mather, for non-Ogilvy readers) has a different view and has founded a sustainability consulting agency, called the Greenery, to help global companies “create mission-based brands.”  You can read their take on this issue at their blog — The Greenery@Ogilvy.

Given I’ve been on vacation for the past eight days and needed a chance to decompress (or at least as much as I can), I largely avoided the Denver and St. Paul conventions and the news surrounding them (I defaulted to ESPN and ESPNews).  That said, I have to admit I was originally more than a little confused by Sen. John McCain’s choice of Gov. Sarah Palin for his vice presidential candidate.  While I had heard of her, thanks to her upset of former Gov. Frank Murkowski and Bill Kristol plugging her on “Fox News Sunday,” I wasn’t sure how she’d do in front of a national audience (was she, as one of my traveling companions argued, the new Dan Quayle?).  I guess I wasn’t the only one who wanted to see how she would do (from TV Week)….

Palin’s TV Audience Hits 37 Mil, Rivaling Obama

An estimated 37 million people watched Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican nominee for U.S. vice president, during her star-making debut at the Republican National Convention Wednesday night, according to preliminary local data from Nielsen Media Research.

Gov. Palin’s audience eclipsed the 26 million who watched Sen. Hillary Clinton’s speech on the second night of the Democratic convention last week and the 24 million who watched the speech delivered on night three by Gov. Palin’s Democratic counterpart, Sen. Joe Biden.

Gov. Palin’s numbers are comprised of viewers on NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC. The Democratic convention was covered by two additional networks that aren’t airing the Republican convention: TV One and BET.

Gov. Palin’s audience was just a million viewers shy of Sen. Barack Obama’s convention record audience of 38 million on the Democrats’ closing night.

The audience for last night’s affair in St. Paul, Minn., also dwarf’s the total for the comparable hour of programming four years ago at the Republican convention.

How well she did is another question, but given the way analysts on CNN and CBS were crowing in their immediate reaction and how Joe Biden responded this morning in his various interviews, I’m guessing she did just fine.

Having watched the replay of her speech on replay on CNN, she accomplished the three things she needed to do.  First, she showed she could walk and read a teleprompter at the same time (not a high bar, but a minimum level for politicians).  Next, she showed she didn’t have horns, which you might have believed based on initial press accounts and op-eds from various left-wing feminists.  Finally, she showed she could be the play the attack dog role that vice presidential candidates are supposed to play, but do it with a sense of humor.

Admittedly, this wasn’t a high hurdle, but she did what she needed to do.  And she charmed many in the media.   My guess is that the McCain camp will use her to shore up the Republican base and potentially Republican-leaning supporters in states such as Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Iowa.  She’ll stick to a version of the convention speech until she can get up to speed on issues where previously she has had no previous level of expertise, such as foreign policy.  At the same time, she’ll concentrate on small and medium sized media markets and avoid the Sunday talking heads shows.  As she gets more comfortable, some of the restrictions will be removed.  Her next challenge will be her debate with Biden in a month.

FWIW, based on CBS News’ most recent polling (taken before her speech), Obama’s convention bounce is gone and the race is tied with 60 days to go.

Update: Contrary to previous conventions, the Republicans outdrew the Democrats in the ratings.

Funny story re: THE text.  A friend of mine is a Midwestern African-American Democrat who is a huge Obama supporter.  She  worked for Obama in South Carolina and Indiana and is currently flying out to Denver.  Her boyfriend is a former Democratic House staffer now in the private sector here in Washington.  He’s also an Obama supporter, but a little more cynical about the Senator’s path to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. She went out Friday night and then went to bed at a decent hour.  He stayed at home and  was watching cable news.  She woke him up at 3 AM saying, “I got the text!  It’s Biden.”  He replied with his usual withering sarcasm, “I know dear, it’s been known since about midnight.”  According to him, she sounded quite deflated.

Now this story is much funnier if you know the two of them and I had to leave out a number of details to protect their identities (and to clean up the language) … but there is a point here.  The announcement of Joe Biden as Obama’s vice-presidential candidate was a great stunt, mitigated by the fact that choice was widely known and reported several hours before someone pushed send on the text message when most recipients were in bed.  In this case, those who signed up were NOT the first to know.

As for the selection itself, I think it is too soon to tell.  Biden’s first appearance yesterday was a good one, but the challenge will be how well Biden can stay on message and keep it short.  While groups such as Media Matters will attempt to argue the Kinnock plagarism story was overblown or Jamie Rubin will try to explain to anti-War liberals why his former boss and Obama voted in different ways about Iraq,  I think the bigger story is that much of the media will now be on Biden gaffe watch.  For better or worse, in a media environment where every vocal misstep is twittered, blogged and uploaded to YouTube, Obama “status quo” pick may not be so safe after all.  I wonder what the over/under is until Biden has his first “Macaca moment.”

Finally, me thinks the NetRoots (Daily Kos, MoveOn.org, The Washington Note, etc…) protest too much about Ron Fournier’s analysis of the Biden selection.  The piece, linked above, is clearly labelled analysis — something that the Associated Press has done more of in recent years in an attempt to be more edgy and stay relevant in the age of the Web.  Fournier’s analysis is that Biden was a safe pick designed to shore up a perceived weakness and be willing to be fill the traditional vice presidential role as the attack dog.  It was and he is.

Okay, I admit, I have no idea who it will be.  One rumor has it that the candidate will be announced Thursday morning.  Another has it that Obama will wait until the weekend when the Olympics are all but over to announce his choice.  That said this is a blog about politics and the Internet, so a couple of thoughts along that front…

First, the Obama campaign’s announcement that it would make its pronouncement via a text message to supporters was a great PR ploy to get people to sign up on the campaign’s Web site, thereby expanding the list of potential donors.  That will be important since, as The Wall Street Journal and others have reported, the campaign has started spending more than it is taking in.

That said, the wait for the announcement has exposed the fact that the split in the Democratic Party is still deep.  It is not just about how much exposure Sen. Hillary Clinton will get at the Pepsi Center.  Specifically, I am talking about the campaign that has been launched on the Web by Obama supporters to undercut Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana because of his support of Sen. Clinton in the primary.

There are lots of reasons to not choose Bayh — his lack of charisma is just one.  But, as the most recent NBC-Wall Street Journal poll points out, one of the reasons why Obama has seen his lead shrink (or in the case of the Reuters/Zogby poll disappear so that he is running behind) is that a good number of voters, including many voters who cast a ballot for New York’s junior senator have yet to be convinced that Obama can be president.

At least to my Republican mind, it would SEEM to make sense that Obama would consider a Clinton supporter to unify the party and keep Indiana in play (according to several Electoral College trackers, despite Obama’s early strength, the Hoosier state is trending back to its Republican roots).  But the campaign that Obama supporters have run in recent weeks has sought to portray Bayh as unworthy because he supported Clinton.  They want someone who has been an Obama supporter.

Admittedly, there has been lots of push back on the Republican side about two potential Republican candidates — Mitt Romney (a Mormon) and Tom Ridge (pro-choice).  But most of the blowback has been through more traditional channels and, in both cases, it has not been to punish one of the candidates for a decision made during the primary season.

But here is where is why I see the problem is bigger on the Democratic side.  In short, Obama ran to the left of Clinton in the primary and needs to run back to the center to win the election (a classic strategy).  McCain ran to the center compared to Romney and Huckabee.  The battle in 2008 is for independent voters — the traditional key to any election.

If the Democratic NetRoots get their way, one potential move to the center by Obama would be blocked.  For McCain, the situation is different.  Given what he did in the primary, it will be easier for him to choose someone that will put a traditionally Democratic state in play than worry about the blowback from Republican stalwarts in the core states.

Just my $0.02.

P.S. I have to give a partisan shout out to whoever (whomever?) offered the following analysis of a Obama-Kaine ticket –  four years ago Obama was an Illinois state senator and Kaine was the mayor of Richmond.

The IOC…Still Feckless After All These Years:  Well, it appears that bad publicity has forced the IOC to push the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee to loosen up on some of the restrictions the government has placed on media access to the Internet.  The Washington Note has a screen shot here.  But, at the same time, it is still far less than what the government in Beijing promised back when it won the Games in 2001.  The IOC should be ashamed. (but it won’t be).  Gwenn Knapp has an interesting piece in the San Francisco Chronicle on this topic.

Other Views of China: With the Olympics less than a week away and with President Bush going to the Games, there has been a lot on commentary on U.S. policy towards China.  Rather than regurgitate the commentariat here in the States is saying, I wanted to point out several interesting from non-American points of view.  First, despite the red meat title given it by The Washington Post, Newsweek International’s Fareed Zakaria (also of CNN) has a nuanced article on U.S.-China relations from a multi-polar world perspective (it also touches on the Doha Round — a double plus).  Next, China was the subject of this week’s cover story in Der Spiegel.  Titled “Beijing’s Balancing Act,” it’s an interesting look at China’s future from a European persepctive.  Finally, Bruce Stokes of National Journal has an interesting piece, not because of the views expressed by many of the experts, but because of the Pew research data on Chinese views on key issues and other countries’ views of the United States and China.

Maybe It’s Not Always Global Warming:  Joel Achenbach has an interesting piece on the ties between global warming and all of the weather related problems of late (hurricanes, floods, forest fires, etc…) in this week’s Outlook section of The Washington Post.  His point, which is one that you don’t often hear from the politicos he sometimes covers, is that while global warming has a small role in making these problems worse, there are a significant number of other problems that are really to blame. Remeber that when you start hearing stories about Hurricane Edouard or another hurricane later this summer.

Not U2: I don’t know whether it was a diktat from the NFL or not, but both ESPN and the NFL Network used U2’s “Beautiful Day” through out their broadcast.  I have nothing against U2 and do like the song, but I got sick of the song very quickly (it aired on the back end of practically every commercial break).  On a related note, it was also interesting to see that the NFL Network made sure to talk over and generally cover-up the fact that ESPN’s Chris Berman was the master of ceremonies on the main stage.

Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide