Vol. 20, Issue 1/2, 2010

Features

Editors Welcome

Round Table Discussion: "The First Year: Did Whitehouse Political Communicators Measure Up?"
Invited Contribution: "The View of the Whitehouse from Europe"

Books Reviews

Researchers Wanted for Study

Political Psychology Call for Papers Special Issue

Symposium Report

Books about the Obama Presidency

Editors Welcome

This edition of Political Communication Report spans several volume and issue numbers. Previous newsletters did not appear due to the ill health of the editor.

In this edition we have some interesting perspectives on the communication from the White House of Barack Obama. We look at it from the United States and also from Europe. We have a long list of books that have been written about the Obama presidency and book reviews on the media and politics. There is a call for papers for an important conference, and a reflection on a global seminar held recently in Spain.

— Richard Stanton
Editor

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Round Table Discussion:

"The First Year: Did Whitehouse Political Communicators Measure Up?"

The White House Channel on YouTube and Health Care Reform

G R Boynton

The Obama campaigners used video, which they placed on YouTube, quite effectively. In the campaign against John McCain they posted more than 700 videos to YouTube. When they moved to the White House it seemed completely in character for them to set up a White House channel and begin posting videos there. There was an initial complaint from internet cognoscenti who objected to the cookies YouTube uses. Once that was resolved they have been producing videos that are available at the White House website and YouTube. They have placed approximately 900 videos on YouTube in the first 13 months of the administration.

The weekly presidential address has moved from radio to YouTube. The roughly twice a week press briefing, running from 20 to 30 minutes, goes on to YouTube the same day it is held. The White House organized a series of musical events with both popular and classical performers. There is, of course, the Easter egg hunt, Christmas, fourth of July and other special cultural celebrations in video from the White House. Winning athletic teams appear at the White House to be congratulated by the president who managed a game of hoops with the NCAA women’s basketball champs. And there are policy related videos: the president talking, vice president Biden welcoming groups concerned with one policy or another, questions taken from an unseen internet audience that are answered by administration experts. When you produce 900 videos in 13 months there is room for great variety.

President Obama made health care reform one of the priorities of his first year and video production followed that lead. The first video, White House Forum on Health Reform, was posted to YouTube March 6, 2009. That was followed by 114 more health related videos through March 20, 2010, which includes a very small number about H1N1, and AIDS. The distribution by month is given in figure 1.


Figure 1 Health Care Reform Videos per Month

Figure1

 

The banking system and a deep recession occupied much of the attention of the administration for the first months in office. The push for health care reform began in July with 17 videos, was followed in August with 22 and 15 and 14 in September and October. The Senate passed health care reform in December. That was followed by a surge in videos in February and March as the House considered and passed reform. The big push was late summer and early fall. That was followed by another substantial push in February and March.

That was administration activity. How was it received? YouTube produces a daily cumulative count of views for each video. In order to both capture almost all views and make the count comparable across videos I took the count after one month for each video. [New Media and Politics the Iowa Collection] Figure 2 displays the average number of views by month for videos posted to YouTube that month.

Figure 2 Average Views Videos Posted Each Month

Figure2

While the number of videos in May was only 5 the average number of views for the 5 after a month was over 60,000. The average number of views June through October ranged between 58,000 and 20,000. But November through March the average number of views was below 10,000. As the campaign heated up the attention given to White House videos declined precipitously.

It is much too early to go very far with the consequences of the attention White House videos attract. But it is not too early to compare this trend with the trend of favorable and unfavorable views of health care reform. Figure 3 is taken from Pollster.com and is an aggregation of the polls that were taken asking about health care reform for the period.

Figure 3 Favor or Oppose Health Care Plan

Figure3

Favoring the administration's plan did not change very much. It started at just below 50% and ended at 43.9% with a few 'wiggles' along the way. Opposition, on the other hand, changed dramatically. It began at roughly 10% and ended at 48.8%. Comparing the change in opposition to the attention given to Obama videos favoring the plan produces what seems an anomaly. As the administration was most active and had the greatest attention to its videos -- July through October -- opposition was climbing very rapidly. As the number of views of the administration videos decreased -- specifically January through March -- the opposition to the legislation declined slightly.

My supposition, which will require much more research, is that the two step flow of communication is at work here (Lazarsfeld and Katz). It is an idea Lazarsfeld first proposed in 1944, Katz developed it further in 1955 and 1957. How it works here, if it does, is the administration lost the opinion leadership battle for most of the campaign. A visible manifestation of that is in the blogging and microblogging world. That you have opinion leadership is particularly easy to track in Twitter. [Boynton] And when following the microblogging during the fall and winter it was clear that the opponents outnumbered and were more outspoken than the supporters. Eventually the supporters became more vocal in their support, which is parallel to the small increase in support February and March.

The administration had the video advantage. If you wanted to know anything about health care reform it was on the White House channel in abundance. It seems plausible to make the argument that video advantage is not enough. They had the video advantage in the campaign. They also won the social network [opinion leadership] war. Why once and not the other time takes one past the use of video and is wide open for research and analysis.

References
G R Boynton (2010) Sarah Palin did what? The Importance of Redundancy http://www.boyntons.us/website/new-media/analyses/redundancy-palin/redundancy-palin.html.

New Media and Politics the Iowa Collection includes the daily counts for every video the administration puts on YouTube. The url for the data is http://lamp-a.its.uiowa.edu/youtube/index.php?

Pollster.com, http://www.pollster.com/polls/us/healthplan.php, The figure changes daily as new polling results become available. This is the distribution at March 20. March 25 it is different. Everything here is a moving target.

Paul Felix Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson, Hazel Gaudet, The people's choice: how the voter makes up his mind in a presidential campaign, Columbia University Press, 1944, p. 151.

Elihu Katz and Paul Felix Lazarsfeld, Personal Influence: the Part Played by People in the Flow of Mass Communications, 1955. ISBN 1412805074 (new edition), p. 309.

Elihu Katz, "The Two-Step Flow of Communication: An Up-To-Date Report on a Hypothesis", The Public Opinion Quarterly 21:1 (Spring, 1957), pp. 61-78.

Bob Boynton is Professor of Political Communication at the University of Iowa

Losing the Narrative

Stephanie Burkhalter

When considering the question of whether or not Obama’s White House communicators have been successful in their first year, I find it helpful to consult the basic functions of White House communications that Martha Joynt Kumar (2007) presents in her book, Managing the President’s Message: The White House Communications Operations. Based on her long-time observations among the White House press corps and communications officials, Kumar maintains that advocating for the president by attempting to set the policy agenda on his terms and explaining the president’s policies and actions in a persuasive way are two important goals for the White House communicators to pursue and to be measured by. Other functions are defending the president from critics and coordinating government-wide publicity. Since the first two have been the focus of media criticism of the Obama White House I will focus on evaluating how the communicators in the Obama White House have performed those functions.

While President Obama’s oratory has been generally warmly received, the political media have not been happy with the White House message operations centered on advancing the President’s agenda and explaining his policies. Like the Clinton White House in 1993-1994, expectations for Obama White House communications were high based on the success of the communications operations of the campaign. President Obama was especially praised for his use of social media during the campaign, and this praise followed him as he continued his use of it in the White House.  In an August, 2009, New York magazine piece titled, “The Message is the Message,” reporter Jennifer Senior gushed over how technology-savvy the Obama White House was (including a description of its Flickr account stocked with press-ready photos), how fluidly President Obama moved from different types of press events, and how Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel skillfully massaged the press corps. Indeed, this is the first White House to use Twitter to both break news and to conduct rapid response and the first to have a channel on YouTube to post the president’s weekly addresses and other official communication.

For all its benefits in reaching targeted audiences, however, the tech-savvyness may have led the White House to focus too much on the trees at the expense of the forest. It has been difficult to discern a centralized message as consistent as the “hope” and “change” message of the campaign.  In the otherwise favorable New York article, Senior reports on the initial confusion of a White House press corps reporter when that reporter was confronted daily with so many official communications on a variety of issues; it seemed to the reporter that Obama was undermining his communications by “stepping on his message”. Reporting in a recent New Yorker article, John Cassidy describes the introduction of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Obama’s first major legislative initiative, as “in the category of ‘Ishtar,’ smokeless cigarettes, and New Coke”; in other words, a flop. The recent “Tea Party” movement has capitalized on the White House’s inability to explain why big investment houses like Goldman Sachs and massive insurance companies like AIG needed to be “bailed out” with taxpayers’ money or why mandating that everyone carry health insurance will eventually reduce the deficit and benefit the middle class. A polished Web site, www.recovery.gov, allows a visitor to track where the money from the Recovery Act is going (“View Recovery Information in Your Neighborhood”), but it seems mainly designed for the press, who don’t seem to be consulting it to spread the good news.

Much of the blame for the missing big-picture message has fallen on David Axelrod, President Obama’s chief political advisor, as described in a recent New York Times profile succinctly titled, “Message Maven Finds Fingers Pointing at Him”. In his January, 2010, article, “For Obama, a Tough Year to Get the Message Out,” Dan Balz of the Washington Post interviewed former Bush communications advisers who describe the Obama White House as having “lost the narrative”—the long term communicative umbrella under which presidential initiatives and responses are consistently framed. This may be the result of not having strong leadership in the communications office in the form of someone like Karen Hughes, counselor to the President and overseer of all presidential communications in the first George W. Bush administration. Martha Joynt Kumar writes positively (from a political communications perspective) of Hughes’s ability to understand how much communications matters to the political success of policy proposals, how disciplined she was in pursuing her communications goals, and how well she worked with chief political adviser, Karl Rove, to link communications and political strategies. In contrast, the Obama communications operation seems scaled back; this is how Michael D. Shear of the Washington Post has described the relationship of communication advisers in the Obama White House:  “If Axelrod is the protector of Obama’s message and [Press Secretary Robert] Gibbs is in charge of delivering it, [Communication Director Dan] Pfeiffer is the presidential operative tasked with making sure that someone is writing or broadcasting or blogging about it”.

Long-range communications planning in which advocating for the president and explaining his actions are framed through a consistent narrative has not been the focus of this triumvirate; rather they seem to be driven more often than not by short-term explanations and dissemination of information. That imbalance may be about to change, however, as Shear reported in February that the White House, having evaluated its 2009 communications strategy and finding it lacking, was revamping it to regain control of the message. One tactic is to put President Obama out front advocating for his agenda outside of Washington; Dan Pfieffer is reported as saying “in 2010, the president will constantly be doing high profile things to be the person driving the narrative”.  A second strategy is a “return to the disciplined messaging that was a hallmark of the 2008 campaign, in which unhelpful themes were filtered out in favor of topics that advanced the candidate’s goals”.

A thread running through several of these articles is the White House communicators’ view that the communication environment in the White House is more complex than in a campaign, simply due to the unceasing demand for information, the number of unexpected events that the President can’t control, and the breadth and depth of policy issues that the president is responsible for that are difficult to explain to the average person. Yet, the requirements of long-view campaign communication are becoming increasingly necessary in the White House for those who want to succeed politically while governing. This was a reality that Obama and Axelrod, who were so comfortable campaigning, were slow to realize. Perhaps this was because White House communicators were confident that good policies would sell themselves or because they were too busy making sure the president’s views were represented in every type of media available.  As Axelrod has reportedly said, “it’s easy to lose the forest for the trees—there was some of that, yes.”

As Obama begins to gear up for his 2012 re-election campaign, and Obama campaign guru, David Plouffe, becomes more involved in message strategy, we can expect more consistent and skilled advocacy of the president’s agenda and more persuasive (to the average person) explanations of his policies. For better or worse, long-view campaign communication with its consistent narrative and message discipline may be one bar that we should use to measure communication success—certainly the political media have used it without the encouragement of political communication scholars.  White House communicators who lose the narrative, no matter how strong they are in other aspects of communication, will find it difficult—if not impossible—to effectively promote the president’s agenda and explain his policies, ultimately placing the President in a perilous political position endangering his re-election.

References

Allen, M. (February 24, 2010). Exclusive: White House privately plots 2012 campaign run. Politico. Retrieved March 26, 2010 from http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0210/33411.html.

Balz, D. (2010, January 10). For Obama, a tough year to get the message out.  Retrieved March 26, 2010 from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/09/AR2010010902198.html.

Calderone, M. (2010, February 15). W.H. messaging in 140 characters.  Politico.  Retrieved March 26, 2010 from http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0210/33005.html.

Cassidy, J. (2010, March 15) New Yorker.

Kumar, M. J. (2007). Managing the President’s message: The White House communications operation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.

Leibovich, M. (2010, March 6). Message maven finds fingers pointing at him. New York Times. Retrieved March 26, 2010 from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/07/us/politics/07axelrod.html.

Senior, J. (2009, August 2). The message is the message. New York.  Retrieved March 26, 2010 from http://nymag.com/news/politics/58199/.

Shear, M.D. (2009, November 26). Dan Pfieffer, eager to the message across” Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/25/AR2009112502759.html  Retrieved March 26  Retrieved March 26, 2010 from  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/25/AR2009112502759.html.

Shear, M. D. (2010, February 15). White House revamps communications strategy.  Washington Post. Retrieved March 26, 2010 from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/14/AR2010021403550.html.

Stephanie Burkhalter PhD, is Assistant Professor Humboldt State University

Open-ness and transparency hallmarks of first year

Marie A. Sherrett

If there is one thing the administration of United States President Barack Obama is certainly all about it is open-ness and transparency: Be open and above board (“without any trickery” per http://www.phrases.org.uk/ meanings/22300.html) for the sake of the Presidency in general. So, all White House press briefings take place online or on television in real time. Everything is accessible to the American public and there appear to be few, if any, secrets. This is American democracy in action.

Prior administrations were the exact opposite: Secrecy and paranoia were the norm in The White House of President Richard M. Nixon.  The debacle known simply as “Watergate” showed the American public and the world just how bad things could get in The White House per http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/watergate/.  Administrations after Nixon – both Democratic and Republican – struggled to convince the American public they “got it;” that they could be trusted.  Yet, mistakes continued to be made, so the Obama White House is trying very hard to do the exact opposite.

While prior administrations sent staff to speak to members of the public on talk radio and television news shows, from the start – meaning during the campaign – now President Obama’s staff blanket media outlets speaking on behalf of his administration and, thus, with his blessing.  These things are clear: Openness, honesty, clear-mindedness, and, above all, transparency, rather than what was experienced during the administration of former President George W. Bush/Vice-President Dick Cheney who tried telling and convincing everyone – using their White House communicators – weapons of mass destruction were under every rock in America.

Now, “Did White House political communicators measure up” during their first full year with Barack Obama as President? The unabashed, positive response is: Absolutely, they did and still do. During the last Bush Administration The White House went through numerous press secretaries.  Sometimes, that Bush Administration went through two White House press secretaries in only one year!  By contrast, though, the current White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, has worked with Barack Obama since 2004. Continuity alone verifies how much Gibbs trusts and gets along with this ethically-minded president, a necessity in order to help congress, all government officials and members of the general public work together for the good of the country.  Gibbs speaks for the president and the presidency in general in a straightforward, serious way.

Listening to any members of President Obama’s cabinet, Vice-President Joseph Biden, chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel, press secretary Robert Gibbs, and secretary of state Hillary Clinton, one gets the distinctive impression each speaks to the others regularly. As above, when each talks, you know beyond a shadow of a doubt they speak for the president.
So, did they all “measure up?”  They did that and more:  After eight long years, the current roster of White House political communicators finally put ethics back in The White House, making it a top priority.  Let’s hope it stays that way for decades to come.

Marie A. Sherrett is an MPA student at Strayer University, Washington, DC.

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Invited Contribution:

"The View of the Whitehouse from Europe"

Obama and Internet Politics One Year After:
A First Look at the Digital Presidency

Gianpietro Mazzoleni & Cristian Vaccari

In the 2008 Presidential campaign, Barack Obama masterfully employed the internet as a platform for fundraising, citizen engagement, volunteer organization, and message distribution. After the election, many observers and citizens on both sides of the Atlantic expected that the internet would enable the people who had helped elect Obama to stay connected with each other and to support the President in the business of government. Two million profiles on my.barackobama.com, almost four million donors, five million contacts on social networking sites and thirteen million email addresses could be powerful allies in the “permanent campaign” and could even lead to an overhaul in the tools and strategies for Presidential “going public”, which was originally conceptualized as a television phenomenon and could now be expanded to digital media. Obama himself claimed that the engagement tools on his campaign website would remain active during his presidency for citizens to use in order to engage in the political process and provide input and support to the President.

Looking at the Obama presidency from Europe fifteen months after inauguration, it seems to us that most of these promises are still unfulfilled and that the potential of the internet as a tool for government politics has been underdeveloped compared to Obama’s spectacular use of the new media for electoral politics. In these reflections, we wish to discuss how the President has so far employed the internet to engage public opinion and issue publics in order to mobilize consensus on policy proposals, put pressure on stakeholders in the legislative process, and keep supporters involved. As Ronald Reagan reinvented the bully pulpit for the television age, many expected that Obama would update Presidential communication for the digital age. In this essay, we argue that it has not yet happened and suggest various possible explanations. Our observations come from a distance, as we have witnessed the American debate from Europe. We hope that, from our particular viewpoint, we will be able to provide an interesting angle on these phenomena.

The State of The Art: Criticism, Disillusionment, Disconnection?
While it would be premature to claim that the story of Obama’s online political success has come to an end, many signs point to a disappointing record in this first part of his tenure. First, since Obama’s inauguration the real success stories of internet politics in the United States have been Bob McDonnell’s win in the Virginia Governor race and, above all, Scott Brown’s surprising victory in the Massachusetts Senate special election. Both candidates share two characteristics: they are Republican and they successfully employed new media – from text messaging to “money bombs” – to raise funds, engage supporters, and spread their message. Secondly, while Organizing for America – the vehicle within the Democratic party tasked with keeping Obama’s movement alive – is portrayed by most as a sleeping giant rather than an active political force, the rise of the “Tea Party” movement, mostly mobilized online, demonstrates a remarkable effervescence on the right. Thirdly, Obama’s and Democrats’ hegemony in may internet platforms is being challenged and often overturned. In sum, observers of internet politics seems to be closer to disappointment than excitement in their assessments of the Obama presidency. The most pointed indictment has been written by Micah L. Sifry, who on December, 31, 2009 posted an analysis titled “The Obama Disconnect: What Happens When Myth Meets Reality”, in which he concludes:

I suspect that when the full history of Obama's presidency is written, scholars may decide that his team's failure to devote more attention to reinventing the bully pulpit in the digital age, and to carrying over more of the campaign's grassroots energy, may turn out to be pivotal to evaluations of Obama's success, or failure, as president.

Another reprimand to the President’s communication strategy came from Marshall Ganz, Harvard Professor and Obama campaign advisor on organization. In an interview conducted in the aftermath of the 2008 election, Ganz claimed that the key to Obama’s success as a candidate was that he ran an organizing campaign, based on mobilization and relationship-building, as opposed to a marketing campaign based on persuasion via broadcast channels:

There is a big difference between running a marketing campaign where you are trying to provide people with symbols and sources of information that will hopefully influence their behavior, and drawing people into relationships with one another and mutuality of commitment that in fact does shape behavior, and that’s what organizing is all about, so the move from marketing to organizing was something that [the Obama campaign] were very clear they wanted to do. (quoted in Vaccari, forthcoming)

By contrast, in the summer of 2009 Ganz co-authored a Washington Post op-ed with Peter Dreier titled “We Have the Hope. Now Where's the Audacity?”. Dreier and Ganz argued that in the public opinion battle for healthcare reform President Obama was reverting to the same marketing approach that he had repealed as a candidate:

In short, the administration and its allies followed a strategy that blurred their goals, avoided polarization, confused marketing with movement-building and hoped for bipartisan compromise that was never in the cards. This approach replaced an "outsider" mobilizing strategy that not only got Obama into the White House but has also played a key role in every successful reform movement, including abolition, women's suffrage, workers' rights, civil rights and environmental justice.

We do not think that a final word can yet be said about these developments and we see the adaptation of internet campaigning techniques to the business of government, the transition from an “internet candidate” to an “internet President”, and the morphing of a social movement into a lasting political force as complex processes that will require time and that will proceed by trial and error more than conscious design. In our reflections, we will propose a multi-causal reading of these developments that comprises political, social, and communication variables. Our goal is to offer scholars a set of working hypotheses that may guide future research on this stimulating case study.

The Political System and the Online Obama Presidency
Political dynamics go a long way towards explaining the difficulties Obama is experiencing in re-engaging the movement that supported his candidacy, both online and offline. First, in an institutional system based on checks and balances and on the sharing of power between Congress and the Presidency, it seems to us that unified government has been a mixed blessing for a candidate that has come to the White House through an “outsider strategy” based on supporter mobilization rather than establishment support. As Democrats control the majority in both the House and Senate, the key legislators with whom Obama must negotiate are moderate fellow partisans rather than the opposition. Thus, he cannot fully rely on his grassroots supporters to threaten those representatives who are reluctant to move his agenda forward, as Reagan’s activists did in the 1980s with Democrats controlling the House. Encouraging constituents to put pressure on their representatives to support the President would create frictions within Obama’s own party, as shown by the fact that, when Organizing for America urged its members to call their congressmen and demand that they support healthcare reform, the representatives asked the White House to abandon this tactic, which OFA eventually did. Because Obama needs backing from key members of the Democratic Washington establishment to enact his agenda, he has less “outsider” manoeuvring room than during the primary battle against Hillary Clinton, when the building blocks of his movement campaign strategy were set.

The transition from campaigning to governing has also affected the breadth of activity available to the President’s supporters. To account for the organizational varieties that are observable in contemporary politics, Andrew Flanagin, Cynthia Stohl, and Bruce Bimber (Flanagin et al., 2006) have proposed the concept of a “collective action space” organized around two axes: one contrasts personal (i.e., with direct contact and development of relationships) with impersonal (that is, with no reciprocal engagement among participants) modes of interaction; the other distinguishes between entrepreneurial (that is, spontaneously activated and bottom-up) and institutional (i.e., bureaucratically controlled and top-down) modes of engagement. The Obama campaign was a hybrid organization that offered its members the opportunity to participate in various arrangements: it featured institutional activities, both personal (such as volunteer training camps and activities in local party and campaign chapters) and impersonal (e.g. email signup and online fundraising requests), as well as entrepreneurial activities, again, both personal (such as participating to activities organized by Obama local groups independently from campaign headquarters) and impersonal (such as sharing contents via blogs and social networks). The Obama campaign sought to control most of the efforts that were undertaken by its volunteers through a combination of database techniques, explicit encouragement, and provision of selective incentives. However, the campaign also left room for spontaneous activities, especially at the early stage of the primaries when it did not have the resources to control everything that its supporters were doing and it did not have an interest in limiting these activities since in many States spontaneous volunteer efforts exceeded what the official campaign could do. Candidate Obama’s organization had a strong institutional dimension, as all effective campaign must have, but it also had a significant entrepreneurial space that made it attractive for prospective supporters, since barriers to entry were low and the “grassroots” feel of the campaign enticed citizens interested in movement-like participation. While the campaign was not organized as a bottom-up effort, it did have a bottom-up component that motivated supporters.

Since Election Day, Obama’s supporter organization has shrunk to a much narrower playground, where most of the involvement seems to be institutional and impersonal. Members of OFA are encouraged to engage in individual, directed activities such as forwarding emails, calling representatives, sharing stories, and submitting questions, but most of the other types of activities that were possible during the campaign, particularly the entrepreneurial and personal ones, seem to have withered. This dynamic might have two negative consequences for OFA: first, it paints a duller portrait of the organization compared to the rewarding experience of the campaign; secondly, it puts OFA in a disadvantageous position compared to other competitors on the progressive side which may seem capable to engage supporters in more diverse ways than OFA.

This situation is by no means irreversible, however. In the final ten days before Congress passed healthcare reform, OFA claimed that its members made nearly 500,000 calls to Congress, sent 324,000 letters to Congress, held nearly 1,200 events with more than 10,000 attendees, sent nearly one million text messages, and called nearly 120,000 supporters. While most of these activities still fall under the rubric of institutional and impersonal collective action, some seem to exhibit entrepreneurial and personal traits as well. Whether this was an exceptional effort motivated by the high-stakes quality of healthcare reform, or a first step toward an expansion of OFA’s collective action capabilities constitutes a promising subject for future research.

Public Mood and the Obama Movement
The 2008 Presidential election showed that the internet is an effective mobilization tool, but it also proved that technology is more of a channel than a driver of citizens’ predispositions: Obama’s use of digital media was successful because there was a significant degree of enthusiasm for the candidate, but without this positive emotional investment, even the cleverest online tools would have had little impact. The problem for Obama is that, while during the 2008 campaign there was an enthusiasm gap that worked in his favour, with Democratic voters energized and Republican voters apathetic, the current mood in public opinion seems to be opposite to that, with the Republican base looking more enthusiastic and eager for a political fight. The excitement among Republicans can be partially explained by the fact that, particularly in unified government, the opposition party has many windows of opportunity to score political points and motivate its supporters through dramatic rallying cries, as shown in the fight against healthcare reform. Moreover, declines in enthusiasm for Obama are probably a consequence of the fact that his generally vague campaign promises had to be translated into a policy agenda in which choices are more complex and have less of a black-or-white character than in electioneering rhetoric.

Finally, the social identity of Obama’s following must be taken into account. During the 2008 campaign it was often claimed that Obama’s supporters constituted a social movement more than traditional candidate loyalists, because they were involved in a coordinated effort that aimed at challenging the power structure within the Democratic party and American government through collective action made possible by leadership and mutuality of commitment. While the grounds on which the movement was challenging the status quo were rooted in a set of values that went beyond the election of a candidate, success at the ballot box was the immediate target. However, because this part of the challenge has been met, Obama is now in the key position of power in American government, which implies that any movement-like conduct challenging power holders by his base might threaten him as well. The effectiveness with which the “Tea Party” movement has voiced its contention against government shows that these mobilization strategies are more accessible to those out of power than to those that hold power. Because online mobilization is enhanced by movement-like effervescence, the outcome of Obama’s internet Presidency depends on the extent to which his supporter base will continue to resemble a social movement rather than an ordinary electorate, a difficult task now that the leader of the movement is President.

Media System, Communication Tactics, and Narratives
Various aspects related to the American system of political communication and to specific techniques by the Obama White House might also be playing a role. Many observers of internet politics have noted that most consultants in Washington still have an ingrained broadcast mentality that is unreceptive to digital media. In his “Obama Disconnect” analysis, Sifry quotes Obama campaign manager David Plouffe’s post-election memoir:

Our e-mail list had reached 13 million people. We had essentially created our own television network, only better, because we communicated with no filter to what would amount to about 20 percent of the total number of votes we would need to win. (Plouffe, 2009: 364)

The functional comparison between an email list and the audience of a television network is a sign that the conversational and engaging character of online politics is still underappreciated, even by the architect of Obama’s mobilization campaign. While the internet clearly has a role in White House communication strategies, it seems to be more peripheral than it was in the Obama campaign.

That a broadcast mentality advocated by well-paid advertising firms and consultants still dominates White House communication can be related to both organizational and macro phenomena. At the organizational level, Obama’s internet operations appear to have been diminished in the passage from campaigning to governing. First, while during the campaign the internet team reported directly to the campaign manager and enjoyed equal authority as the communication staff, in the White House the internet team is more traditionally subordinated to the communication department. The authority of the internet team within the cadre of President Obama’s consultants has also been weakened by the departure of its two most revered campaign officials, Blue State Digital founding partner Joe Rospars and Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes, who have both gone back to their private businesses. Finally, it has been observed that the amount of resources that OFA can marshal is remarkably smaller than that which was available to the campaign internet team.

While organizational arrangements and resource deployment are relevant issues, we suggest that a broader perspective might also be helpful, particularly with respect to the intersection between communication strategies and campaign finance. While candidates and parties are beginning to appreciate the role of digital media for organization, mobilization, and message delivery, the internet’s fundraising effectiveness has so far been the strongest motivation for them to invest in new media. The Web’s fundraising potential has become particularly relevant for campaigns after the passage in 2002 of the campaign finance overhaul known as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act. Because BCRA prohibits large donations to parties and candidates from corporations and unions, collecting a large number of relatively small contributions has become very important in order to meet the skyrocketing costs of large-scale campaigning. Although the notion that Obama’s campaign was fuelled by small donors significantly more than his major-party predecessors has been questioned, the internet is allowing an expansion of the donor base of campaigns, which could partially loosen economic elites’ grip on electoral finance. This trend, however, could soon be reverted as a consequence of the January 2010 Supreme Court decision (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) to lift the ban, included in BCRA, on independent electoral spending by corporations advocating for or against specific candidates. While the ruling does not affect spending by candidates and parties, the new campaign finance environment that it may usher in could benefit those candidates that corporations independently advocate for. In this scenario, the value of the internet as a tool to expand candidates’ and parties’ donor base could be reduced, as coordinated corporate capital might trump even millions of small-scale donations. Should this financial strategic turnaround take place, we cannot take for granted that investment and experimentation in online campaigning by candidates will continue growing as they have in the last decade.

One final issue involves the content of President Obama’s communications: particularly, the narratives he employs and the way he relates to his audiences. During the 2008 campaign, Obama offered voters a narrative that emphasized the collective nature of the effort he was proposing (“Change we can believe in”, “We are the ones we have been waiting for”, “Yes, we can”). The story of Obama’s campaign was centered on “we” and “us”, that is, Obama’s supporters and, by extension, voters, not on “I”, that is, the candidate himself. This collective narrative dovetailed with the organizational story of the campaign, that is, its reliance on grassroots engagement and volunteer efforts, thus giving the enterprise a consistent “medium is the message” character. Today, many observers lament a weakening of President’s ability to project a compelling collective narrative about where the American people are headed. Others, most notably Sifry, have also noticed a more profound change in Obama’s communication—the near-disappearance of inclusive pronouns “us” and “we” and the ubiquity of “I” and “we” used as majestic plural. While as a candidate Obama emphasized the collective nature of political action, as President he has reverted to what Sifry calls a “transactional” relationship in which he acts and citizens respond. Such analysis is based on just a few speeches and excerpts and it would thus be inappropriate to generalize it; however, this intuition should be tested and further developed, for example by looking not only at Obama’s speeches, but also at content published on the White House and OFA websites. Because mobilizing activism online requires an engaging message, from these partial observations it seems that the contents of the President’s communication and the relationship with his followers that are implied therein could be undermining his ability to nurture his internet following. The passage of healthcare reform might alter this situation, as Obama can now present a compelling exhibit of change at work and a victory of “we, the people” against “them, the powerful”. The developments of Presidential rhetoric in the internet era deserve close attention, as they can affect the motivations of online supporters and thus influence the effectiveness of digital media strategies.

Still a Long Way to Go
In concluding our reflections, we would like to restate our initial warning that the processes we have described should be considered as fluid, open-ended, and often ambivalent. Furthermore, we emphasize once again that we do not believe that these developments can be explained by one single factor and that it is far from clear at this stage which variables have the biggest, and decisive, impact. Not only might our proposed explanations be concurrent rather than mutually exclusive, but they could also be hierarchically nested.

As European political communication scholars, we saw Obama’s mastering of the internet in the 2008 Presidential campaign as a very significant development with potential to transform our entire field of study, both in the United States and overseas. The story of Obama’s use of digital media once in government is equally interesting and relevant for our field and needs to be carefully studied.

References

Flanagin, A. J., Sthol, C., Bimber, B. (2006). Modeling the Structure of Collective Action, in “Communication Monographs”, 73(1): 29-54.

Plouffe, D. (2009). The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama’s Historic Victory. New York: Viking.

Vaccari, C. (forthcoming). “Technology is a Commodity”: The Internet in the 2008 United States Presidential Election, in “Journal of Information Technology and Politics”.

Gianpietro Mazzoleni is Professor of Political Communication at The University of Milan
Cristian Vaccari is Professor of Political Communication at The University of Bologna

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Book Reviews

Schudson, Michael. (2008). Why Democracies Need an Unlovable Press. Cambridge: Polity, 147 pp., ISBN 978-0-7456-4453-0 (paperback) $24.95.

Emilie L. Lucchesi

Considering the First Amendment is a complex endeavor. The relationship between free speech and democracy is tangled and unclear at times. One notable book considers the relationship between free speech and democracy, frankly reminding readers that “journalism is not a perfect vessel of truth” (2) and “journalism and democracy are not the same thing” (11).

Michael Schudson’s book Why Democracies Need an Unlovable Press focuses on the news industry and its historical relationship with government. He begins by examining American democracy before considering the function of journalists in society. “Democracies need not only an unlovable press but a self-divided government, one that has managed to find ways — inadequate and incomplete like all human institutions, but invaluable nonetheless — to direct attention to disagreeable facts” (9).

He next examines the historical role of journalists and journalism before looking at the practice of covering politics and national events.  Free speech and democracy are related but separate, with journalism best serving democracy with a dose of tough love through warranted criticism while shunning sensational demands, corporate pressures, and political expectations.

Schudson’s journalistic approach enables him to be specific when considering the role of journalism and democracy. “Different features of news serve different democratic functions” (8): obituaries validate a community, and investigative reporters perform a watchdog duty. Journalism also informs the public, investigates, analyzes, promotes social empathy, serves as a public forum, encourages mobilization, and offers a mode of publicity.

Media professionals operate within an established political framework. “Journalists take for granted that the official norms of American government, identified primarily in the Constitution, are good, or even among the nations of the world, exemplary” (68). Violations of norms such as freedom of the press regularly make news. Violations of the civil liberties of radicals or criminal rarely make news.

The government also successfully manipulates or keeps information from the press. One form of government manipulation springs from the need for experts in journalism. Experts such as lawyers or historians benefit news reporting, but politicians serve as experts in the news — an unnerving reality. Should their expertise reflect the needs of their constituents? political advantage? personal interest?

Why Democracies Need an Unlovable Press bounces between the practical and philosophical, considering the concept of conversation as well as the role of journalists, for example. Organizing the chapters into identifiable parts would have provided more guidance to the reader. The book begins critically before moving into a historical analysis and ending with an editorial voice. The shifting tone makes the chapters feel disconnected and leaves readers to piece together a larger meaning. But having Schudson’s published essays together makes the collection valuable and does succeed in drawing key connections between democracy and free speech and relating their historical and current contexts.

Emilie L. Lucchesi is a doctoral student in the Department of Communication, University of Illinois at Chicago

What’s so Funny about Politics?

Review of Politica Pop: da “Porta a Porta” a “L’Isola dei famosi,” by Mazzoleni Gianpietro and Sfardini Anna. Bologna, Italy: Collana Contemporanea, 2009

Also included —

Baym, Geoffrey. (2010). From Cronkite to Colbert: The evolution of broadcast news. Boulder, CO: Paradigm.

Jones, Jeffrey P. (2010). Entertaining politics: Satirical television and political engagement (2nd ed). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Kevin G. Barnhurst & Federica Fornaciari

In democracies today, politicians become pop stars who must manage their image (Cardo and Street, 2007), using the media to construct an image that tracks with their popularity. Political leaders appear to focus more on surface appearances and on their performance on the public stage than on their political commitments and programs. Like celebrities, politicians who are pop icons also become “hostages of media” (Van Zoonen, 2005, p. 24). The mediatization of politics may fill a vacuum left by the collapse of great ideologies (Hjarvard, 2008).

Gianpietro Mazzoleni and Anna Sfardini label the phenomenon “pop politics,” the title of their new book in Italian. Politica Pop describes a political media environment emerging from the collapse of traditional TV genres, such as newscasts, sit-coms, and talk shows. Mazzoleni and Sfardini present a neutral analysis (remarkable for a book on Italy) of their country’s politics and media environment. Although political communication scholars may be agnostic on Italian media, it is difficult to take a dispassionate view of Italian politics. Berlusconi’s conflicts of interest that connect politics and media ownership result in something known as the “Italian anomaly,” a subordination of media to political needs peculiar to the recent period. Mazzoleni and Sfardini’s insightful approach is a strength of their book, which can then widen its focus from Italy to western politics today.

The mixing of genres they describe, which blends politics with pop culture, information with entertainment, reality with paradox, and comedy with truth, may seem dangerous. In his book, Entertaining politics (now out in a second edition), Jeffrey P. Jones argues that one can deride and dismiss the changes in media and politics by claiming “that entertainment culture has polluted the important business of democracy” (2010, p. 13), especially given the cynicism and disdain that greet politicians’ links to entertainment industries.

The consequences of pop politics in the media environment involve the hybridization of TV genres. In his new book growing out of several previous studies, From Cronkite to Colbert, Geoffrey Baym describes “The Daily Show” as a hybrid of news and entertainment. When news, comedy, entertainment, and information are no longer separated, he says, public affairs in the media become “simultaneously informative and comedic, serious and silly” (2010, p. 105). Analogous examples in Italy include the comical role of former RAI correspondent in the United States Maurizio Crozza in the political talk show “Ballarò,” as well as the comedic turns by Antonio Albanese and Luciana Litizzetto in “Che tempo che fa,” an evening talk and variety show.

Mazzoleni and Sfardini cover two common formats for pop politics. Infotainment is the new TV genre pursuing the double aims contained in its name. Entertainment disguised as information presents news in the structure of variety shows, with comical characters who mimic political leaders. It can become information against (Machado-Borges, 2007), because comedy seems a safe way to attack power. In Entertaining politics, Jones argues that “citizens know that public artifice exists,” and satire points out how funny it is (p. 183). Infotainment offers critique along with facts and interpretation of news events to inform viewers. As it redefines political journalism, news audiences are reformulating what they want from political communication. In Italy, the talk-show-cum-political-satire “Parla con me,” the blog by comedian Beppe Grillo (http://www.beppegrillo.it/english.php), and other programs likewise inform citizens about political and economic issues while engaging in critique. They may be part of a similar redefinition of political communication.

The other new TV genre, politainment, includes entertaining politics as well as political entertainment. Political leaders engage in entertaining politics by using hip language, for instance, to gain cheap popularity. Political entertainment introduces politics into other products of popular culture such as movies, TV shows, gossip columns, and scandal news. In From Cronkite to Colbert, Baym gives the example of Clinton’s “love triangle,” which NBC defined as a “drama worthy of Shakespeare” (p. 52) because it brought audiences the personal relationships of a politician using a language very similar to gossip. In Brazilian society, telenovelas attract some 40 million viewers and play an important political role. The “telenovelas re-style Brazilian politics” negatively (Machado-Borges, 2007, p. 173) and, by promoting individual action, can “create and reproduce preferred readings” of what it means “to be political in Brazil” (p. 174). The blending of politics and entertainment generates in turn a hybrid political communication.

In western societies today, the new “–tainment” formats are information shortcuts that citizens use to lower their intellectual effort. It becomes acceptable to consider gossip, reality shows, and soft news among the sources one can count on for information. Reality television may introduce “plebiscitary industries” as intermediaries between popular media and their consumers, causing a “shift from ‘modern’ democratic processes to a new paradigm based not on representation but on direct participation” (Hartley, 2007, p. 21). Viewers join in a process of democratic choice by receiving the opportunity to vote, a process not comparable to political action in the government voting booth on election day but mimicking and perhaps opening the way to direct participation.

The downfall is that the new political-media genres offer minimal information and may contribute to the establishment of thin citizenship (Barber, 1984). The substantial carelessness about political issues, low levels of civic interest, and low political commitment—all typical of television viewers of recent decades—are characteristics Mazzoleni and Sfardini associate with the phenomenon of pop politics.

Besides blending genres, recent conditions also merge the identities of the citizen with the TV viewer. In Italy, the identification of citizens with the media public defines the audience “as a sum of citizens who watch TV as an activity to get information, build one’s opinion on world news, and ‘get involved’ in politics,” according to Mazzoleni and Sfardini (p. 106). Presenting politicians such as Sarah Palin or Barack Obama as celebrities may call the people into the political arena. Jones, in Entertaining politics, cites the instance of the U.S. program “Politically Incorrect,” which drew large audiences and “provided an accessible forum” for them to “hear others speak in a language they understood” (p. 232). When information is a consumer product, politics must follow the logic of product-pushing media to gain visibility. But pop politics also makes political life enjoyable, and play is one road toward political engagement, Jones argues. Mazzoleni and Sfardini point out that many Italians see the fake newscast “Striscia la notizia” as a way to catch up with the news, just as “The Colbert Report” does for U.S. audiences, especially among the young.

Pop politics also simplifies the political message. In the early 1990s, Jones shows in Entertaining politics, U.S. “populist rhetoric” became the way to address political matters to a broad audience, common sense became the solution to complex problems, and “political celebrity became the point of public identification with new types of politics” that the public found “more appealing” (p. 51). Issues must be simple, the rhetoric assumes, to reach audiences interested in celebrities and conflicts, but paradoxically the content must not be too shocking or too controversial to attract and sustain commercial sponsorship. Making political messages simple is another way that politics tends to follow the rules of commercial media. Pop politics then demands performers, fast thinkers who can express superficial opinions in a variety of topics (Bolin, 2007). When the main purpose of the media is not enlightenment or education, selling prepackaged information leads to tabloid forms and sensational contents. As the media have brought the public sphere into the home and personal spaces, the boundaries between private and public have faded. The privatization of the public sphere accompanies another element of media logic, the publication of the private sphere (van Zoonen, 2005).

The notion of pop politics highlights how current citizenship explodes the myth of rational citizenship (Barnhurst, 2003). In the older ideal, as Jones says in Entertaining politics, the voter is “one who does his or her civic duty by voting and not wasting her time on frivolous matters such as the distractions of mass entertainment” (p. 25). Serious information necessary to inform citizens, in this view, should be separate from entertainment that may threaten thinking. The normative ideal of informed, responsible citizenship is unrealistic today, when the people get political material through trivial and playful daily activities. On the other hand, popular culture programming such as “Big Brother” and “Pop Idol” are “extremely capable of creating short- and long-lived fan communities” (van Zoonen, 2005, p. 66), elements fundamental for politics to create bonds between voters, candidates, and parties. Scholars of political communication need to explore how fandom, participation, and citizenship connect, because “fan groups are social formations…structurally equivalent to political constituencies” (van Zoonen, 2005, p. 58).

Geoffrey Baym’s From Cronkite to Colbert contributes a perspective going back to the origins of the current period, from when celebrity first emerged among broadcast news anchors in the United States. Jeffrey Jones’s Entertaining politics contributes especially well from the perspective of citizenship and engagement. And Mazzoleni and Sfardini contribute a distinctive view from Italy. They describe the formats, audiences, and consequences of pop politics in clear and accessible Italian, and they make their narrative understandable by including a brief description of each Italian TV show they mention. They also describe political actors, such as Vladimir Luxuria, an openly transgender member of the Italian Parliament representing the Communist Refoundation Party, whose fame grew through appearances on “L’isola dei famosi,” the Italian answer to the U.S. reality show “Survivor.” All three books present thorough research, supporting their arguments with data and examples, to analyze and document the hybrid forms of media that return laughter to politics.

References

Barber, Benjamin R. (2004). Strong democracy: Participatory politics for a new age (2nd ed). Berkeley: University of California Press.

Barnhurst, Kevin G. (2003). Subjective states: Narratives of citizenship among young Europeans. Multilingua 22, 133–68. Available: http://www.uic.edu/depts/comm/lifehist/Documents/AnalysisPages/UAeurobarphen.html

Bolin, Göran. (2007). The politics of cultural production: The journalistic field, television, and politics. In Politicotainment: Television’s take on the real, 59–82. Kristina Riegert (ed). New York: Peter Lang.

Cardo, Valentina, and Street, John. (2007). Vote for me: Playing at politics. In Politicotainment: Television’s take on the real, 75–89. Kristina Riegert (ed). New York: Peter Lang.

Hartley, John. (2007). “Reality” and the plebiscitary industries. In Politicotainment: Television’s take on the real, 21–58. Kristina Riegert (ed). New York: Peter Lang.

Hjarvard, Stig. (2008). The mediatization of religion: A theory of the media as agents of religious change. Northern Lights: Yearbook of Film & Media Studies, vol. 6, 3–8. Bristol: Intellect Press.

Machado-Borges, Thaïs. (2007). Brazilian telenovelas, fictionalized politics, and the merchandising of social issues. In Politicotainment: television’s take on the real, 151–80. Kristina Riegert (ed). New York: Peter Lang.

Riegert Kristina, ed. (2007). Politicotainment: Television’s take on the real. New York: Peter Lang.

van Zoonen, Liesbet. (2005). Entertaining the citizen: When politics and popular culture converge. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Kevin G. Barnhurst is Professor, and Federica Fornaciari, is a doctoral student in the Department of Communication, University of Illinois at Chicago, USA

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Researchers Wanted for Study

Accuracy of Broadcast Media Hosts

I am looking for research partners to discuss the possibility of a project that rates conservative/neutral/liberal TV and radio personalities on their level of factual accuracy. The project will require a formal study, fact-checkers and a good methodology.

I see the project taking random clips/segments of TV/radio personality shows (Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olbermann)  fact-checkers (hired for the study or those at one of the already utilized places like Factcheck.org) or get folks from across the political spectrum to judge. Given the scrutiny such a study would bring, it will be important to take as many steps as possible to be ideologically neutral or balanced.

I hope you or a center or organization you are associated with might consider taking on the project, for which I am certainly willing to do initial brainstorming on needed methodology—and maybe working beyond that. I think that besides just interest in seeing where different commentators stand (and if there are any trends regarding their ideology or media outlet), it would also make hosts more accountable and wary in the future to stay accurate. It also provides a good service to stakeholders. I know it would get great media attention—if only from the media hosts rated!

I visualize it starting as a one time rating/study, so it is manageable and not too costly. If it proves of value, I think there would be funders who would be willing to help make it an ongoing effort. Let me know of any possibilities or other ideas you have.

Neil Wollman; PhD; Senior Fellow, Bentley Alliance for Ethics and Social Responsibility; Bentley University; Waltham, MA, 02452; email - NWollman@Bentley.edu; 260-568-0116.

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Political Psychology Call for Papers Special Issue

Obama at the midterm
Paper deadline December 31, 2010
Anticipated publication late 2011/early 2012

January 20, 2011 will mark the middle of President Barack Obama’s 4-year term. Much has been written in the popular press about his historic election, and what having an African-American president means in the United States. As we reach the middle of Obama’s 4-year term, Political Psychology invites papers for a special issue on Obama at the Midterm. Papers may take any one of a number of political psychological perspectives on Obama and the Obama administration, including, but not limited to, assessments of Obama himself and his role as President, policy maker, the impact of the Obama administration on domestic or foreign policy, perspectives on America’s role in the world under this administration, examination of elite or mass perceptions of Obama from abroad, public opinion (both American and international), and the impact of the Presidency of Obama on issues of race and ethnicity.

Papers should be no longer than 6000 – 8000 words and must be submitted through the journal’s online submission process at https://www.journalmanager.org/polpsych/public/check_cos.php.

As with all submissions to Political Psychology, papers will be evaluated for scholarly rigor, innovation, international perspective and potential impact on the field through our standard peer review process.

Professor David Redlawsk, editor of the special issue on Obama at the Midterm for Political Psychology
Alex Mintz, editor-in-chief, Political Psychology
Paul 't Hart, Helen Haste, David Redlawsk, James Sidanius, co-editors
Eran Halperin and Steven Redd, associate editors

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Symposium Report

Transnational Connections symposium meets in Segovia Spain
discusses challenges, opportunities for polcomm research

Forty six scholars from 15 countries around the world gathered at the IE University in Segovia, Spain in March 2010 to reflect on the state of political communication research, and to discuss new theoretical and methodological frontiers facing the field. The event was titled “Transnational Connections Symposium: Challenges and Opportunities for Political Communication Research” and was organized by Dr. Magdalena Wojcieszak of IE School of Communication, with the assistance of Prof. Monroe Price from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Samuel Martín-Barbero and Dr. Begoña González, among other faculty and staff from IE University. The event was co-sponsored by the IE School for Communication and the Center for Global Communication Studies at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania in partnership with the Political Communication Divisions of the International Communication Association (ICA), the World Association of Public Opinion Research (WAPOR), the International Political Science Association (IPSA), the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR), and the European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA).

The event was special in several respects. First, it brought together officers from five international communication associations, as well as journal editors and senior and junior scholars to reflect on their and their associations’ activities for the advancement of political communication research in general and its international and comparative aspects in particular. Second, the agenda combined roundtables reflecting on the state of the field with presentation of cutting edge research papers by participants. Third, the Symposium brought together academics and a select group of notable practitioners from Spain who discussed the integration between political communication theory and practice. Finally, the Symposium was held at a unique venue at the IE University, which puts a 21st-century facility in a 13th century convent situated at the spectacular scenery of the historic city of Segovia.

Participants included political communication scholars from the USA, Singapore, Israel, Japan and various European countries as well as Spanish and international practitioners from news media, political parties, consulting agencies, public relation companies, and non-governmental organization. Among the speakers were Bruce Bimber (UC, Santa Barbara), Benjamin Detenber (Nanyang Technological U., Singapore), Carlos Elordi (El País), Shanto Iyengar (Stanford), Sophia Kaitatzi-Whitlock (Aristotle U. of Thessaloniki), John Kelly (Berkamn Center for Internet & Society, Morningside Analytics), Steve Livingston (George Washington U.), Gianpietro Mazzoleni, (U. of Milan), César Mogo (Ministerio de Presidencia), Adrian Monck (World Economic Forum), Patricia Moy (U. of Washington), Hernando Rojas (U. of Wisconsin, Madison), Pamela Rolfe (Washington Post), Andrew Rojecki (U.of Illinois), Roland Schatz (Media Tenor  International), Marc Smith (Connected Action Consulting), Dominic Wring (Loughborough U.) and Gadi Wolfsfeld (Hebrew U.), among others.

The topics varied (among others) from differences and similarities between US-based and non-US-based political communication research,  through issues of dominance, representation and bias in the field’s associations and journals to how to best study political communication in an environment dominated by new information technologies, globalization and transnational communication. The questions of how to integrate theory and findings between the US, Europe, and other regions and what can be learned from thinking about media and political communication as transnational phenomena received special attention, with participants also debating practical challenges and opportunities for international collaboration. The Symposium also touched on the interconnections between research and practice, with practitioners debating such issues as electoral and institutional campaign design, citizen participation as social networks, lobbies, think thanks and interest groups and also the relationships between blogs, the news media and public administration. The panels that united political communication scholars and practitioners aimed to shed light on how the applied perspective can enrich the scholarship and how the academy can inform real-life communication campaigns.

A diversity of views was expressed concerning methodological and epistemological differences in political communication research between countries represented at the Symposium. Positivist epistemologies and quantitative methodologies were slightly more dominant among US and US-trained scholars, while European scholars tended to be more relativist, utilize qualitative methods and emphasize the precedence of critical theories over methodological advancements. There were also disagreements regarding the dominance of American political communication research in the field, with some participants concerned about American biases in our journals and other scholars expressing skepticism about these claims. Vibrant debates also pertained to defining and identifying dominance as well as to the reasons behind it (language? funding? easiness to collect large-scale data in the US? among others). Participants also debated what is meant by US-based scholarship, with ambiguous examples including an American scholar working in Asia or a US-trained European researcher, among others. Another line of divergence was between scholars representing a universalist approach to political communication research and those thinking that the field would be best served if indigenous theories would be developed to suit differing political systems and local cultures.

Despite these lines of difference, the research agenda identified as central in the US, Europe and in other regions seem relatively similar and mostly revolve around the meaning of citizenship and political participation, with increasing citizen polarization in the face of growing media diversification. The slight differences pertained to the influence of political psychology and the focus on selectivity, greater in the US than elsewhere, the attention to cultural specificities influencing interpersonal and group communication in the Asian context, and the traditional European focus on broader questions as well as on the inequalities resulting from the new media technologies.  The part that brought together political communication academics and practitioners also pointed to several common interests. These revolve around such issues as audience selectivity and sophistication that thwarts the power of traditional mediated communication and necessitates attention to message authenticity or the challenges that new media technologies, especially blogging and twitter, posed for news reporting, political participation and informed citizenry. In addition, there was relative consensus regarding the need to foster transnational generalizations through collaborations, comparative research designs and international data bases. Despite language barriers, different methodologies and epistemology, and a host of differences in political landscapes and media markets in different nations, a relatively shared agenda for political communication emerged from the discussions and several collaborative projects were initiated.

Participants left Segovia grateful to the organizers for the efforts and hoping to continue the discussions in similar events. The organizers also hope that Transnational Connections will become an annual Symposium, with thematically-focused workshops that address specific research agendas and report on progress on and the findings from the various transnational projects.

Additional information on the Symposium is available online at http://www.transnationalconnections.ie.edu or from
Magdalena Wojcieszak at magdalena.wojcieszak@ie.edu

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Books about the Obama Presidency

The following is a list of books about the presidency of Barack Obama. It was complied for Political Communication Report by international (US) graduate student Devon Puglia, Department of Media and Communications, The University of Sydney.

Author

Title

ISBN

Publisher

Date

Fred I. Greenstein

The Presidential Difference: Leadership Style from FDR to Barack Obama

691143838

Princeton University Press

10-Aug-09

Dawne Allette

Barack Obama: The Making of a President

1848530226

Transworld Publishers

13-Oct-09

David Gratzer

Why Obama's Government Takeover of Health Care Will Be a Disaster

1594034605

Encounter

10-Nov-09

Timothy Carney

Obamanomics: How Barack Obama Is Bankrupting You and Enriching His Wall Street Friends, Corporate Lobbyists, and Union Bosses

9780415560535

Regentry Press

30-Nov-09

Frederic P. Miller, Agnes F. Vandome, John McBrewster

Confirmations of Barack Obama's Cabinet

6130240856

Alphascript Publishing

01-Dec-09

Shelly Leanne

Leadership the Barack Obama Way: Lessons on Teambuilding and Creating a Winning Culture in Challenging Times

71664025

McGraw-Hill

21-Dec-09

 John Michael Jocelyn & Dirk Brewer

President Obama's Broken Promises

1450201547

iUniverse

01-Jan-10

Jerome R. Corsi

The Obama Nation

1439189692

Simon & Schuster

01-Jan-10

Marc A. Thiessen

Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack

1596986034

Regentry Press

18-Jan-10

Terry Cook

America's Communist Revolution!: Terrifying Change Without Hope!

1450540015

CreateSpace

17-Feb-10

Terry Cook

Communism Is Not Dead!: In Fact, America already Has Been Conquered From The Inside!

1450547834

CreateSpace

18-Feb-10

B.J. Armstrong

Is Barack Hussein Obama "Claiming America For Islam?

061535310X

Publisher & Company

22-Feb-10

Joshua Muravchik

Obama's Radical Transformation of America: Year One

1594034753

Encounter Books

23-Feb-10

Adolphus Brown

BARACK OBAMA

1450025668

Xlibris Corporation

05-Mar-10

David A. J. Richards

Fundamentalism in American Religion and Law: Obama's Challenge to Patriarchy's Threat to Democracy

052119122X

Cambridge University Press

15-Mar-10

Michael Graham

That's No Angry Mob, That's My Mom: Team Obama's Assault on Tea-Party, Talk-Radio Americans

1596986190

Regnery Press

23-Mar-10

Michael Mukasey

How Obama Has Mishandled the War on Terror

1594034893

Encounter Books

30-Mar-10

Sean Hannity

Conservative Victory: Defeating Obama's Radical Agenda

62003054

HarperCollins Publishers

30-Mar-10

David A. J. Richards

Fundamentalism in American Religion and Law: Obama's Challenge to Patriarchy's Threat to Democracy

052119122X

Cambridge University Press

31-Mar-10

Robert Kettner

A Presidency in Peril: The Inside Story of Obama's Promise, Wall Street's Power, and the Struggle to Control our Economic Future

1603582703

Chelsea Green Publishing

02-Apr-10

Dick Morris

2010: Take Back America: A Battle Plan

61995584

HarperCollins Publishers

13-Apr-10

Aaron Klein

The Manchurian President: Barack Obama's Ties to Communists, Socialists and Other Anti-American Extremists

1935071874

WND Books

20-Apr-10

John Bolton

How Barack Obama is Endangering our National Sovereignty

1594034915

Encounter Books

27-Apr-10

Mary Lou Decoterd

Right Brain/Left Brain President: Barack Obama's Uncommon Leadership Ability and How We Can Each Develop It

313380724

Praeger

30-Apr-10

Thomas J. Sugrue

Not Even Past: Barack Obama and the Burden of Race

691137307

Princeton University Press

04-May-10

Charles Gasparino

Bought and Paid For: The Unholy Alliance Between Barack Obama and Wall Street

1595230718

Penguin Group

10-May-10

Horace Campbell

Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA

745330061

Pluto Press

11-May-10

William Jelani Cobb

The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress

080271739X

Walker & Company

25-May-10

Michelle Malkin

Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies

1596986204.00

Regnery

08-Oct-10

William Jelani Cobb

The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress

080271739X

Walker & Company

25-Oct-10

Horace Campbell

Barack Obama and 21st Century Politics: A Revolutionary Moment in the USA

745330061

Pluto Press

05-Nov-10

Robert Patterson

Conduct Unbecoming: How Barack Obama is Destroying The Military and Endangering Our Society

1596986212

Regnery Publishing

21-Nov-10

Steve MacDonogh

Barack Obama: The Road from Moneygall

086322413X

Brandon Books

28-Nov-10

Mary Frances Berry, Josh Gottheimer, Theodore C. Sorenson

Power in Words: The Stories behind Barack Obama's Speeches, from the State House to the White House

080700104X

Beacon

10-Dec-10

 

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