Last Thursday, I revealed that, with the fall campaign rapidly approaching, my CampaignUSA 2012 blog would transition in a few days to a new focus on the increasing influence exerted by media coverage and TV and Web ads–what many, rightly or wrongly, now consider the "real campaign." As previously, I’ll cast a critical eye at campaigns from the state level right up to race for the White House. So to kick it off, let’s set the stage with a final look at 2008 and the campaign/media lessons learned then, at least in the presidential contest.
The nomination of an African-American for president by a major party, and the Republicans’ first selection of a female candidate for vice president, were not the only historic aspects of the 2008 election campaign in the United States. This was also the first national campaign profoundly shaped—even, at times, dominated—by the new media, from viral videos and blog rumors that went “mainstream” to startling online fundraising techniques.
James Poniewozik, the Time magazine columnist, observed at mid-year that the old media are rapidly losing their “authority,” and influence, with the mass market. “It’s too simple to say that the new media are killing off the old media,” he declared, while highlighting a pair of influential scoops for the Huffington Post by a hitherto unknown “citizen journalist” named Mayhill Fowler. “What’s happening instead is a kind of melding of roles. Old and new media are still symbiotic, but it’s getting hard to tell who’s the rhino and who’s the tickbird.” He concluded, with an oblique reference to the late Tim Russert: “Maybe we’ll remember this election as the one when we stopped talking about ‘the old media’ and ‘the new media’ and, simply, met the press.”
Now flash forward to 2012: Obviously this trend has only continued, if not accelerated, in all realms, including fundraising and attack videos. Twitter was not even a factor in 2008. Just consider how quickly, and fully, Mitt Romney’s "shambles" in London this past week saturated the news cycle, thanks to blogs and tweets and, yes, mainstream news reports and videos online.
For some context, you might consider the following, which I used, in a different form, as the preface to my book and ebook, Why Obama Won—and Lessons for 2012 (Sinclair Books).
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The rules of the game have been changed forever—by technology. It was more than the “YouTube Election,” as some dubbed it, or “The Facebook Election” or “hyper-politics.” James Rainey, the longtime media reporter for the Los Angeles Times, declared that there is a “new-media revolution that is remaking presidential campaigns. Online videos can dominate the evening news. Or an unpublished novelist ‘with absolutely no journalism training’ can alter the national debate,” a reference to Mayhill Fowler.
In June 2008, the alleged Obama “terrorist fist bump” went from viral to The View in just three days. Fortunately, the candidate was able to laugh it off, which was certainly not the case after the Reverend Wright videos went viral—another example of the unpredictable power of web politics. More evidence: after wrapping up the nomination in June, the Obama campaign launched an extensive website devoted solely to shooting down viral rumors and innuendo.