Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Why Obama won

Why Obama won

My friend Greg Mitchell, who's the editor of Editor and Publisher and knows Bruce Springsteen (which almost makes me a friend of Springsteen once removed) has a new book that's a great early snapshot of how the media -- old and new -- covered a presidential race that will go down in the history books for forever changing the ways that candidates and voters connect.

The book is called "Why Obama Won: The Making of a President 2008." (You can purchase it here.)

You can also read an excerpt from the book that was published online today. It really raises the question of how the 2008 campaign might have played out in an earlier era, before private citizens and small publications had the ability to get video and soundbites out to millions of people:

How did sites with names like Politico and FiveThirtyEight and Eschaton and Crooks and Liars and AlterNet collectively come to rival the three television networks in influence, even if partly by influencing the networks themselves? It's been more than thirty-five years since "The Boys on the Bus" were anointed and celebrated. Now Huffington Post's "Off the Bus" site often made headlines with on-the-scene bulletins and audio/video snippets from some 3000 contributors. It was there that Mayhill Fowler's two major scoops in the campaign were posted.

Defending her second one -- on Bill Clinton's "sleazy" attack on Todd Purdum of Vanity Fair captured along a rope line in South Dakota -- Jay Rosen, who runs that section of the Huff Post site, said, "Professional reporters are going to have to decide whether they want to view citizen journalists as unfair competition, which is one option, or as extending the news net to places that pro reporters can't, won't or don't go, which is another -- and I think a better -- way to look at it."

I would argue that videos featuring Bill, not Hillary, Clinton led to the true turning point in the primary race, when on three separate occasions he was caught making what some took to be "racial" remarks and/or losing his temper with voters or reporters -- all in informal settings captured by amateurs or small town reporters and then beamed to millions. Countless Democrats, and particularly African-Americans, who had always revered the Clintons, switched to Obama in the space of a week or two. Even if they still liked Hill they did not want another four or eight years of Bill. Obama won eleven primaries in a row and the race was all but over.

What I think is going to be interesting about press relations in the Obama era will be the tension between the stated desire for a highly transparent and open administration and Team Obama's strong interest in communicating with the public without the media filter. I hope they'll have enough confidence in the goodness of transparency that they realize an open administration is going to lead to news coverage they don't like -- some of it may be shoddy journalism but a lot of it will be well-deserved. The only alternative to that is a closed administration, and that trick never works.

Just ask our own Michael Nutter here in Philly.

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Will Bunch
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