|COURTING THE CAMERAS|
August 6, 1999
The NewsHour Media Unit is funded by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts.
TERENCE SMITH: George W. Bush took time off from campaigning last week to drop into the Baseball Hall of Fame induction weekend with his former star pitcher from the Texas Rangers, Nolan Ryan. But even there, he set off Presidential expectations.
WFAA-TV, DALLAS, NEWSCASTER: Ryan was joined by Texas Governor George W. Bush, a Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting.
TERENCE SMITH: Bush is so far ahead in the polls, and has raised so much more money than his Republican competitors, that ever since he entered the race two months ago, he has been continuously covered by hordes of camera crews and reporters.
|Back in the pack|
The same can hardly be said for the nine other candidates who would be the Republican nominee. On this day in Iowa, for example, Lamar Alexander, who's been campaigning relentlessly in the state for seven years, attracted only a single local television camera.
LAMAR ALEXANDER: Why should we stop the race before it starts?
TERENCE SMITH: Like Bush's other opponents, Alexander does not complain, certainly not publicly, about the great imbalance in news coverage. But like most of them, he does accuse the media of handing the Republican nomination to Bush more than a year before the election.
LAMAR ALEXANDER: The trouble is that the media is saying that because someone's raising a pile of money the race is over. The race is just starting. The race isn't over.
TERENCE SMITH: Gary Bauer, who is battling Alexander for last place in the national polls, attracted fewer than a dozen voters and three local members of the media at this town meeting in Clear Lake, Iowa. Afterward, he was asked if he's having difficulty getting his message out.
GARY BAUER: When you're an underdog candidate it's always tough to compete against the front runners. But I think when you you've got a front runner that really isn't focusing on many issues, that eventually will work to my advantage.
TERENCE SMITH: Other Republican candidates also tend to downplay Bush's media advantage. Here's how Dan Quayle assessed his position.
DAN QUAYLE: I have the second best chance. But you know something, sometimes those who have the second best chance about five or six months out end up winning.
TERENCE SMITH: This day in Iowa, Quayle fared better than Bauer. He attracted a good crowd and a CNN correspondent, two camera crews and several still photographers and reporters.
REPORTER: Have you found it hard getting your message out?
DAN QUAYLE: I think you observed today that my message is very well received.
SPOKESMAN: Ladies and gentlemen, let's have a warm National Press Club welcome for former Vice President Dan Quayle.
TERENCE SMITH: This week, Quayle took his message directly to a journalistic bastion, the National Press Club in Washington. The strategy worked. Besides club members, there were ten television crews, twenty reporters and a dozen still photographers.
But on the campaign trail, Quayle, too, complains that the media have already called Bush the winner.
DAN QUAYLE: I know that there's an incentive in Washington and with the national media to say who's going to win this six months out, but it's just not so.
|Why the national media is focusing on Bush?|
TERENCE SMITH: We asked Richard Berke, the national political correspondent for the New York Times, about the candidates' objections.
TERENCE SMITH: Is there a danger here from the press's point of view of subconsciously presuming that George W. Bush has already got the nomination?
RICHARD BERKE: I think there's always a danger; I think there's a danger in the press, in the, in the Republican Party, to presume anything about this race. There's so many factors that could lead to something else happening. Politics is never predictable. So I think we're, I think it would be a big mistake for anyone in the press to make any assumptions.
TERENCE SMITH: Why all this coverage of George Bush?
RICHARD BERKE: Well, you know, I tell other candidates that - they grouse and call me and they say why are you spending all your time covering Bush? And I tell them, look, it's nothing personal, but if your candidate, once your candidate gets this high in the polls as he is or even you know, a third as high as he is, once he, once your candidate raises just a fraction of how much he's raised, then we'll start covering you. But when there's almost a dozen candidates out there, we just can't write about every one.
TERENCE SMITH: Is it fair to the other candidates in the field?
RICHARD BERKE: I think it is fair because we're not creating George Bush. It is what he is and I think we are reflecting what's out there, and we are reflecting this sentiment, this outpouring in the Republican Party of support for him that really is the most amazing development thus far in the 2000 campaign.
TERENCE SMITH: According to the Center for Media and Public Affairs, which monitors news coverage, three leading newspapers have given Bush 32 front page stories since he entered the race, compared with only 6 for all the other Republican candidates combined. Just last week, the Washington Post took the extraordinary step of running seven lengthy, front-page biographical articles on Bush on consecutive days, more than 14 pages in all. It was the kind of coronation coverage that a candidate normally gets the week he accepts the nomination at the party convention.
Candidate Patrick Buchanan sees that kind of coverage as part of a silent conspiracy among party leaders and others to secure the nomination for Bush.
PATRICK BUCHANAN: I think there is a real effort by the establishment to fix the outcome of the election. There's no doubt that the establishment would like to remove any suspense or any element of surprise from this nomination run. They've got their candidate.
MORGAN TILL, Correspondent: What do you mean by establishment?
PATRICK BUCHANAN: I mean the Washington lobbyists, the Washington political establishment of the Republican Party, the big media.
CBS EVENING NEWS ANCHOR: Texas Governor George W. Bush is now -- unofficially at least -- off and running.
TERENCE SMITH: In terms of television news coverage -- the so-called "free media" that all candidates crave -- there is George W. and then there is everybody else. The three major network evening news programs have done a total of 27 stories on him, compared with only four for all the other GOP candidates. As for the NewsHour, this program has done only one in-depth story on the Republican campaign since Bush entered the race. Guess who it featured?
CNN's Inside Politics is the television program that devotes the most time to political coverage, an hour a day, five days a week. Beth Fouhy, CNN's executive producer for politics, agrees with Richard Berke that Bush's overwhelming dominance in the polls begets coverage.
BETH FOUHY: The polling started to show this real kind of cavalcade in his direction. And it all became a self-fulfilling prophecy. We were intrigued by the polling. The political activists on the Republican side, who were dying to have a winner after two terms of Bill Clinton, they noticed. They said, hey, this guy looks like a winner. This guy looks like somebody who could appeal to a lot of different people. And then the whole think just kind of took off.
TERENCE SMITH: What explains this extraordinary coverage of one candidate and the relative lack of coverage of the others?
BETH FOUHY: We have been covering Dan Quayle and Lamar Alexander and Steve Forbes now for a good long time. They are not saying things any differently than they were a year and a half ago; we don't know that much about George W. Bush. He's sort of the $36 Million Man who people don't know
|Grabbing the national spotlight|
TERENCE SMITH: One Republican contender many voters do know well is Senator John McCain of Arizona, who was campaigning last week in South Carolina. After meeting with reporters on his campaign bus and doing a local radio interview, McCain was asked about the Bush phenomenon.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Obviously it would very unfortunate if somehow this race were over some six or seven months before the first ballots are cast. But I have no control over that. All I do is run my campaign and do the best we can and we're doing fine, and I am happy with the way we're going.
JAY LENO, NBC's Tonight Show: Please welcome Vice President Dan Quayle, ladies and gentlemen. (applause)
TERENCE SMITH: The media's emphasis on Bush has driven some of the other candidates to great lengths to gain attention. Quayle appeared recently on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on NBC, where he was the willing butt of still another joke:
JAY LENO: You were campaigning and you were out playing golf and there was some female lobbyist that was staying at the hotel and somebody tried to leak a story saying, "well, Dan Quayle was in the same hotel with this very sexy blonde female lobbyist, we think there's something going on." And what did your wife Marilyn say? Do you know what I'm talking about?
DAN QUAYLE: I vaguely remember that, what she said. Do you want me to give it right on the air.
JAY LENO: What was the exact quote?
DAN QUYALE: It's a very memorable quote. She said that "if anybody that knows Dan Quayle, he'd rather play golf than have sex any day." (laughter)
TERENCE SMITH: Elizabeth Dole, the only woman in the Republican field, has also been struggling to get attention. Recently she took the direct approach with the Times' Richard Berke.
RICHARD BERKE: I had Elizabeth Dole call me out of the blue to say "Hi," and that's unusual. Elizabeth Dole is not known for chatting up reporters. But they are all doing it.
TERENCE SMITH: Wait, tell me about the conversation.
RICHARD BERKE: She said -- I'm sitting at my desk -- and she said - I pick up the phone - she said, Rick, it's Elizabeth Dole. And she -- we had a long chat. She had something she wanted me to write about and at the end of it she said, 'Do you mind if we visit like this from time to time?' and I said "Any time you want call me." But I was stunned.
TERENCE SMITH: Gary Bauer, who rarely exceeds 1 or 2 percent in the polls, nonetheless managed to garner some attention when he attracted last year's Miss Iowa to his campaign. He asked her for a helping hand in the upcoming Ames straw poll.
GARY BAUER: You think you can come to Ames?
MISS IOWA: I'm supposed to be singing at two weddings that day. However, I am going to try, even if I can be there a couple of hours.
GARY BAUER: That would be fantastic; it would mean a lot to me.
TERENCE SMITH: Ohio Republican Congressman John Kasich dropped out of the Presidential race last month and threw his support to Bush. But during his five months of campaigning, Kasich pulled some stunts himself.
TERENCE SMITH: Was there anything you could do, or you found you could do, to attract more attention, to get more publicity?
REP. JOHN KASICH: No. Well, I went sled dog racing, where I thought I was going to lose my life.
TERENCE SMITH: You got a little press for that?
REP. JOHN KASICH: Oh, I got great press out of sled dog racing -- I bowled across Iowa.
TERENCE SMITH: Weren't there days and times when it was hard to get your message across?
REP. JOHN KASICH: I never felt as though I really got my message out.
TERENCE SMITH: Kasich voiced no regrets about his brief campaign, but reporter Richard Berke did.
RICHARD BERKE: We had yet to write one meaningful story on him. I wish we could have gotten to him but when we had, you know, almost a dozen candidates out there, things kept coming up. And that's not right, but I don't know how else we could have done it.
TERENCE SMITH: And that, in short, is the problem all of Bush's opponents face right now. With the party convention still a year away and the first primaries more than six months off, the public's appetite for political news is understandably meager. So, right or wrong, fair or unfair, the media are focusing on the candidate who is new, relatively unexamined, and so far ahead in the polls in money that it's hard to imagine anyone catching him.
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