Election 101 — Media, Gossip, and Scandal

Introduction

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“The medium is the message,” or the manner in which we receive information is itself information. This is an important lesson to consider in the early stages of the 2012 presidential election cycle, one expected to be the most expensive in history. The American people will be inundated with the message. In 2008 presidential campaign spending topped $1.7 billion. How will all this spending occur? Mostly through two modes of campaigning called “the ground war” and “the air war.”

In his new book Ground Wars: Personalized Communication in Political Campaigns, Rasmus Kleis Nielsen provides us with a behind the scenes view of the ground war, the classic strategy of door-to-door canvassing by paid staff and volunteers to ask for votes. There was a time when the ground war was on the wane, but it is back in force, updated with twenty-first century technology. There surely are favorable and unfavorable dimensions of this most basic type of political communication in its current form.

However, unless you live in a battle ground state, you will likely experience the campaign through the “air war” – paid advertisements on radio, tv, or print – or through coverage of the candidates in the news media. Jonathan M. Ladd’s Why Americans Hate the Media and How It Matters shows us how a pervasive distrust of the news media arose in the mid-1970s and how this has impacted American politics. The public’s beliefs and voting behaviors are now increasingly shaped by partisan predispositions and we need to consider new ways to augment our mode of political information. We need a new medium.

The Virtues of Our Vices: A Modest Defense of Gossip, Rudeness, and Other Bad Habits embraces partisan rancor. Philosopher Emrys Westacott suggests that our overt disdain for the other side of the political spectrum – whichever side that may be – isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Snobbery and rudeness by the Fox News viewers toward their fellow PBS viewing patriots helps us both to make useful distinctions and to convey information that might be otherwise hard to deliver. Virtue and vice have their uses.

Yet what remains is our responsibility, as consumers of the message, to think for ourselves. We need to detect the truth from the false and the false from, well, the bullshit. As Harry G. Frankfurt opens his enduring classic On Bullshit, “One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.” Something tells me On Bullshit was written in November.

I’m Eric Schwartz and I approve this message.

–Eric Schwartz, Editor in Sociology and Cognitive Sciences, @ei_schwartz

 

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Excerpted from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History.

 

Featured Book

 

jacket

Ground Wars
Personalized Communication in Political Campaigns
Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

 

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reading list

 


 

The Reading List

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How to Win an Election

An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians
Quintus Tullius Cicero Translated and with an introduction by Philip Freeman
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On Bullshit

Harry G. Frankfurt
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Why Americans Hate the Media and How It Matters

Jonathan M. Ladd
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Ground Wars

Personalized Communication in Political Campaigns
Rasmus Kleis Nielsen
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The Virtues of Our Vices

A Modest Defense of Gossip, Rudeness, and Other Bad Habits
Emrys Westacott
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Congress, the Press, and Political Accountability

R. Douglas Arnold
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The Presidency in the Era of 24-Hour News

Jeffrey E. Cohen
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The Myth of Digital Democracy

Matthew Hindman
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The Blame Game

Spin, Bureaucracy, and Self-Preservation in Government
Christopher Hood
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Liberty and the News

Walter Lippmann
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Republic.com 2.0

Cass R. Sunstein
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The Art of the Public Grovel

Sexual Sin and Public Confession in America
Susan Wise Bauer

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