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The year in politics, print and electronic press

BY GUEST OPINION | DECEMBER 09, 2010 7:10 AM

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This year we witnessed convoluted relationships between American politics and both the electronic and print press. Newspapers were dissed and rewarded, television news continued its effort to appear to be an ethical source of political information and opinion, and Internet outlets regularly outflanked radio, TV, and news magazines in pursuit of juicy politics. Even NPR, for goodness sakes, got caught up in newsy political controversy when it fired Juan Williams. Consider:

• Texas Gov. Rick Perry refused to do interviews with newspaper editorial pages during his re-election campaign, citing statistics showing an endorsement might actually do him more harm than good.

• Yet, WikiLeaks used “serious” newspaper outlets to reveal the Iraq-Afghanistan diaries and, more recently, diplomatic gossip and catty chatter. Newspapers kept these stories flowing day after day thanks to the mountains of information contained in the stolen documents.

• Sarah Palin blessed Fox News with her presence and snappy banter starting in March, while President Obama called the network “destructive” in his September Rolling Stone interview.

• Palin shaped her profile as a presidential candidate, yes, but also roamed through a series of political-cultural settings to up her celebrity ratings. She spent 2010 Tweeting whatever was flowing through her head, endorsing various candidates for Congressional offices, joining her daughter Bristol’s rehearsals and performances on “Dancing With The Stars,” addressing the National Tea Party Convention, hosting TLC’s documentary-biopic about her Alaska (5 million viewers on opening night), and surfacing at book signings though allowing no pictures or interviews.

She drove the press crazy as they tried to assess her presidential ambitions even as she was raking in a campaign war chest and serious personal income. Her celebrity status skyrocketed. An ex-vice presidential candidate is challenging Oprah’s position as top U.S. female celeb.

• The Tea Party itself commanded news coverage on an almost daily basis as “the” political story of the year. Its costumes and crude, handwritten signs about national taxes and services, strict constructionist views of the U.S. Constitution, and a Washington, D.C., purge made for good television and YouTube clips. Coverage of the Dems and GOP was eclipsed.

• Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s Washington “Rally to Restore Sanity” and “March to Keep Fear Alive” was the only event whose coverage rivaled that of the Tea Party. Comedy Central is a major political news source. Infotainment rules.

• Well, OK, the fight over the spelling of Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s name as she became the first person in the 21st century to be elected to national office as a write-in candidate earned almost as much coverage.

• Well, OK, also the Democrats’ fear of running on their considerable one-and-a-half-year record of legislation and executive orders — they were whipped silly by all communication media during the midterm election. Frank Lutz’s published battle plan for eroding health-care legislation was deemed a success in spite of passage of first steps toward a health-care revolution. He showed Mitch McConnell and John Boehner how to turn Dems into weenies.

The United States will welcome 2011 with print journalism unsure of how to cover politics, both print and electronic news having trouble deciding what and whom to write domestic political stories about, and the Internet not caring what either of them think as long as Technorati and Hitwise demonstrate it is being read.

Goodness. Just over a year until the Iowa caucuses. Hang on!

Bruce Gronbeck, a professor emeritus in the University of Iowa’s communications studies department, is an expert on politics and the media.


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