Political leaders debate influence of political communication

2/11/2009 - By: Deidre Pike

Media balance — or lack thereof — along with YouTube videos, hefty campaign spending and the perception of an energized youth vote? All factored into the 2008 presidential election and may have cost Sen. John McCain the election, agreed U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., and Republican political strategist Sig Rogich.

The political leaders opined on the influence and importance of political communication at the Jim Joyce Endowment for Political Communications forum, sponsored by the Reynolds School of Journalism and Center for Advanced Media Studies, Feb. 10.

Bryan, a former Nevada governor and attorney general before being elected to the United States Senate, first exercised his political muscle as president of the Associated Students of the University of Nevada in 1959. He is a shareholder and executive committee member at the law firm of Lionel, Sawyer & Collins.

Rogich, a Reynolds School alumnus and former editor of The Nevada Sagebrush, is a former United States Ambassador to Iceland and served in the campaigns of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and presidential candidate Senator John McCain. Rogich is president of The Rogich Communications Group, and founded Las Vegas-based R&R Advertising.

"This event encourages students and the community to participate in analysis of the inner workings of politics and media, which both fascinated and inspired my father's lifelong career," said Robin Joyce, event chair and chair of the Reynolds School Dean's Council,

"We hope that this event helps students and members of the community appreciate Nevada's rich and enduring legacy of political influence and media education and experience," Joyce said. "The Reynolds School is integral to training journalists to cover political milestones, none more important in decades than the most recent election."

Jon Ralston, Nevada columnist and 2008 panelist for the inaugural Jim Joyce Endowment in Political Communications, asked Bryan and Rogich what McCain might have done differently to chance the outcome of the race.

Rogich said that McCain's struggling efforts were complicated by the media's fawning coverage of Obama, who was made to seem Christ-like.

"They were too far out in their adulation [of Obama]," Rogich said. "The media portrayed John McCain in a different light. They vilified him."

Rogich said campaign strategists met with The New York Times to discuss stories the McCain campaign felt were "flat-out false."

"And they would not correct it," Rogich said. Later he added of the Times: "The problem is that it's the Bible."

Rogich lauded The Wall Street Journal's recent improvements. But overall, he said, election 2008 was a bad moment in journalistic history.

"The press was preconceived in its notion that this man should be president and did everything to help him," Rogich said.

Bryan noted that — not surprisingly — his opinion differed from Rogich.

Bryan attributed Obama's success to fundraising, the campaign's "politics of reconciliation" as an antidote to Bush strategist Karl Rove's "politics of division" and changing demographics in the United States and the Obama campaign's masterful understanding of the role of technology.

"Sen. Obama was married to the technology of the 21st century and no campaign in the future will be able to ignore it," Bryan said.

He also observed that the Obama campaign succeeded in linking the unpopularity of President Bush to McCain, who was unable to recover.

The panelists considered the choice of Sarah Palin as McCain's running mate was ill-conceived.

"Frankly, I was against him picking Sarah Palin," Rogich said. "Though she is articulate, bright and determined, she was just too much for the American people to take in one fell swoop."

Rogich argued that Palin should not have been rolled out onto the national stage until she'd grown accustomed to handling media on a smaller, more controlled level.

"I said, 'Let the media follow her and she can give them 10 minutes'," Rogich said. His advice went unheeded. Palin didn't fare well with the likes of ABC anchor Charles Gibson.

"Charlie Gibson wanted to let his colleagues know how tough he was," Rogich said, adding this was out of character for Gibson. "He wanted to be a star ... He made her look bad. He was disrespectful."

The pair discussed bipartisan efforts - or the lack thereof - on the federal economic stimulus package and Nevada's economy. Both agreed that new sources of revenue are needed to address the state's growing population and budget shortfalls.

"I think we're going to have to face the fact that essential services need the resources to do the job," Bryan said. "Without this, the future of the state is not bright."

To Reynolds School Dean Jerry Ceppos, the night's event was an instructive and provocative look at the interdependent roles of media and politics.

"These are the intersections that keep our government honest and educate us about our cities, states and country," Ceppos said.

Journalism student Cristen Drummond, 19, said the dialogue reinforced things she's been learning about law-making in her political science class.

"They're so well-informed," she said. "I liked hearing their opinions on things."


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