Monday, January 07, 2008

Kathleen Hall Jamieson on Obama, Huckabee and the Press

I have long been an admirer of the analysis of Kathleen Hall Jamieson - of polls, politics and political communications.

She was interviewed by Bill Moyers this week about Iowa. Here are two excerpts:

BILL MOYERS: What did you hear with Obama and with Huckabee? With Obama?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Obama delivered a speech in which he cast himself in the role of the President of the United States, as opposed to a candidate seeking that office alone. The speech is an attempt to try on the presidency and see that it fits. Obama's a very strong stump orator. And one of the things that we realize when we see the extended speech of Obama is that he is a much weaker debater. He's much weaker when he's speaking one on one to reporters. He's much weaker when he's speaking to camera. And he's good in all those formats than he is as a stump speaker. As a stump speaker, he is a master.

BILL MOYERS: And Huckabee?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Huckabee demonstrated that he is very good at speaking intimately. Less well crafted speech — he wasted a lot of time at the beginning of the speech. But where Obama's a natural stump orator, Huckabee's much more effective at intimate use of a stump platform. Ronald Reagan could do both. He was a great stump orator, and he was great at intimate communication. Huckabee is very good at kind of low key, intimate conversational engagement. Obama, much better at rallying the masses.

But here's why both of those speeches were important. They were good speeches. They talked to the nation in the role of a candidate who is speaking as a president to a people. Giving people a chance to say how would you fit in that role. And we forget sometimes that speech making is a very important role in the presidency. There are times in the nation in which the president is the only one who can speak to us and for us. And whether it's the president we wanted elected or not, that person has to be able to play that role for all of us. Obama has that capacity, and I believe Huckabee does as well.

And an interesting point on media distortion of Hillary:

BILL MOYERS: Let's turn to the press. You and I both know that every primary creates a new reality, just as every experience creates a new reality, so that the press today has a new narrative. What's the narrative you're reading now about the primary process?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Something pernicious happened last night in press commentary. The commentators on each of the networks that were covering live — so the major cable networks — managed to say at, at least one point, that two-thirds of the Democratic voters had rejected Hillary Clinton. And then they provided explanations for why they had rejected Hillary Clinton. Nothing in the polling data tells you that anyone rejected Hillary Clinton. But the press frame is an either-or frame, a zero sum frame game. And as a result, it doesn't open the possibility for its viewers that people could look at the Democratic field and the Republican field and say, "Those are fine candidates. Any of those would be a good president. I would support any of those, but I prefer this candidate."

BILL MOYERS: It's a statement of preference, right?

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: It was a statement of preference.

BILL MOYERS: Not opposition.

KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: And then, when after having set up this rejection of Hillary Clinton by two-thirds of the Democrats, then they provide the rationale for what the rejection means. Well, it's because she's too polarizing, she's too divisive. They also don't know that from the available evidence.

Full transcript is here.

My favourite book of hers is Eloquence in an Electronic Age.

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