School of Communications
Advisory Board members representing the film industry, the Internet,
public relations and communications marketing discussed politics
and the public interest at a Sept. 28 panel discussion titled "Formula
for American Democracy: Politics, Public Relations and the Public
led by Frances Ward, an associate professor in the School of Communications,
included Reggie Murphy, director of research for Gannett's newspaper
division (publisher of USA Today); Lee Rainie, director of the Pew
Internet & American Life Project and former managing editor of U.S.
News & World Report; Joe Gleason, managing director of Manning
Selvage & Lee public relations in Washington; and Kelly Carlton,
creative director of motion graphics for Intralink Film in Los Angeles.
the changing landscape of the media world and noted that today's
voters have a wider variety of choices when it comes to news.
this election, more than any other election, we as citizens have
a unique challenge, because we have so many outlets to go to when
it comes to news," said Murphy. Murphy also discussed a recent USA
Today survey of undecided voters in Ohio. He said the paper found
that "ads that were most memorable were also the most negative."
He also pointed out that voters said the negative ads would not
influence the way they plan to vote.
citizens, are faced with a unique challenge," Murphy said.
"We have so many places to get information... How do we sift
through all this information? How do we find accurate accounts of
the candidates' records? ... We have to ask ourselves, 'What is
it that these candidates
are going to do for me and my community?' Base your decisions on
state, local and national levels on careful research."
this takes more effort than most people are giving it right now.
"Most of us are lazy, and we don't go out and work to get the
information," he said. "We get snippets and bites here
and there, and we're not focused on that information because we're
doing other things simultaneously as we take it all in ... We can
hope people will get more energized to do the right research before
what passes today for campaign advertising and planning. "If
you look at what's going on, it is sinister and it is not public
relations," said the former Capitol Hill press secretary. Gleason
said the various Web sites and media events being arranged by political
campaigns are propaganda, not public relations.
He said the
media once did a better job of fairly filtering information for
citizens. "The fractionalizing of media and the advent of the
Internet have forced a streamlined presentation of news," he
said. "...There is a use of propaganda to hold off public opinion,
it's the sheer weight of information coming to you as a consumer
- you're not really being informed. If we were to (package information
this way) in the commercial environment, we'd be fined, and we might
even be put in jail. You can't regulate this stuff because of freedom
He was critical
of ads that attack a candidate's character. "I caution all
of you to be careful of the attacks on character you see in campaign
ads," he said. "Those are designed to make you doubt ...
Most campaigns then leave people with the choice of the 'lesser
of two evils.' It's what turns voters off. Try to find out what
the candidates are for." He also said that once one side in
a political race employs the negative approach, the other is forced
to follow. "In this environment, it's a slugfest," he said.
"If you just keep taking punches, you lose."
on television ads for Michael Moore's film "Fahrenheit 9/11." He
discussed the limits placed on advertising for the movie by federal
election laws, and said legal issues made it difficult to edit together
the advertising spots for the film. "We produced spots and gave
them directly to the lawyers to ensure compliance with election
laws and third-party laws," he said. "Michael Moore says the
media is biased, and it is his job to let people see another side,
so they can make up their own minds. A film is a two-hour message
that commands people's attention, and they don't turn the channel
- although they could walk out."
"Fahrenheit" has made a powerful statement about films
as political messengers. "I think we're starting to see the
conservative side coming back to use cinema to tell their side of
the story," he added.
discussed the Internet and its growing influence on the political
process. He said the growth in technology and opportunities for
people to vote before election day are good things.
"We have multiple
news sources now," he said. "I think that's good for our
democracy. There are more ways for people to get engaged because
of these new media sources, and we do have big things to talk about."
He traced the
history of politics and the Internet in a quick briefing: 1996 -
Bill Clinton sent the first political e-mail and Bob Dole gave the
wrong e-mail address for his Web site during a debate and nobody
cared. 1998 - Jesse Ventura won the governor's race in Minnesota
in great part due to an e-mail grassroots campaign, what Rainie
labeled, "a fabulous breakout moment of hope." 2000 -
There were now many citizens online, and the Internet was reaching
a mainstream audience; John McCain's campaign taught everyone you
can raise campaign money online. 2003 - The Howard Dean campaign's
use of social networking on the Internet was an overwhelming success
that every other candidate began to copy.
that citizens still rely on television and newspapers more than
the Internet for political information, but it is making some inroads
and its influence is now felt more than ever before. He said it
is especially significant in an age in which Americans are seen
to be retreating into themselves and becoming more isolated. He
cited Robert Putnam's book "Bowling Alone" as evidence
of the trend. In the book, Putnam draws on evidence including nearly
500,000 interviews over the last quarter century to show that we
sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations that meet, know
our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and socialize
with our families less often. We're even bowling alone - more Americans
are bowling than ever before, but they are not bowling in leagues.
Rainie said the Internet can help rebuild our social networks in
new ways. "There are smart things happening subsurface that
are going to be important," he added.
common criticism that today's media allows people to limit their
information intake so that it only matches their own political ideologies,
Rainie said he believes the multiple sources are good. "There's
a serious concern that these technologies allow us to tailor information
to only that with which we agree," he said. "My little
information bubble has my favorite partisan sites, and my neighbor
has her own bubble and we never share. But our most recent data
- it hasn't been released yet - shows that broadband users - the
hungriest of all users - don't confine themselves to limited information
bubbles. They are enjoying the feast. They go out there and see
it all. Research shows that the heaviest users of NPR are also looking
at Fox and everything else and reading newspapers. They're not the
ones we need to worry about."