News Executives and Entertainers Practically Admit Sabotaging Dean Campaign
<b> the media is showing us, crystally clear, the power that they possess over their mass audience. a handful of marketing people hatch a plan to expose janet's breast. everyone acts surprised when it 'explodes'. it's an advertising stunt and nothing more. within hours, it's on nearly everyone's lips in america. even if you don't pay any attention to sports or watch television, i would bet that you heard about the story. i believe the same effect is used on dennis kucinich ('ignore him') and anyone else the big guns don't want in the white house. they can't even stand the thought of DEAN being the 'president'. </B>
By DAVID BAUDER, AP Television Writer
NEW YORK - It probably means little now to Howard Dean (news - web sites), but CNN's top executive believes his network overplayed the infamous clip of Dean's "scream" after the Iowa caucuses.
"It was a big story, but the challenge in a 24-hour news network is that you try to keep all of your different viewers throughout the day informed without overdoing it," said Princell Hair, CNN's general manager.
<B>The breathtaking media explosion turned the former Democratic presidential front-runner into a punch line </b>and arguably hastened his campaign's free fall. It's also an instructive look at how television news and entertainment works today.
Whatever handwringing there may be in retrospect — and there's only a little — comes with a sense that repeats are inevitable.
"It was unfair," said Joe Trippi, Dean's former campaign manager, who lost his job in the fallout. "It was totally unfair. I don't think there was any question about it."
Trippi accepts that the footage was newsworthy, but he figured it was a one-day story.
Instead, <B>the cable and broadcast news networks aired Dean's Iowa exclamation 633 times — and that doesn't include local news or talk shows — in the four days after it was made</B>, according to the Hotline, aWashington-based newsletter.
"It shouldn't be an anvil that you keep hammering to destroy his candidacy," Trippi said. "I don't think there was a big conspiracy to do that, but that's what was going on."
Sitting in his Manhattan apartment watching the Iowa caucus coverage, Conan O'Brien saw Dean's speech and thought: Ooh, this is odd.
The NBC "Late Night" host immediately figured he'd be joking about it the next day, and he did, "interviewing" a raving Dean impersonator.
He wasn't alone.
David Letterman ran a clip that appeared to show Dean's head exploding. Jay Leno quipped: "I'm not an expert in politics, but I think it's a bad sign when your speech ends with your aides shooting you with a tranquilizer gun."
The cable news networks ran and reran the video clip. They analyzed it. They ran footage of the late-night comedians joking about it. They played the instant Internet songs that sampled Dean's shout.
Virtually overnight, the "I Have a Scream" speech became legend.
"With so many competitive 24-hour news channels and so many competitive talk shows, if you add the two together, it's a nuclear reaction," O'Brien said. "Once the core gets so hot, there's no stopping it."
<B>It took on such a life, said Paul Slavin, senior vice president of ABC News, that "the amount of attention it was receiving necessitated more attention."</B>
Neither Slavin nor Mark Lukasiewicz, NBC News executive producer in charge of political coverage, believe the coverage was overdone. Roger Ailes, Fox News chairman, told ABC News it was "overplayed a bit."
<B>While it's impossible to blame any one network or reporter</B>, CBS News President Andrew Heyward said, the cumulative effect was the event was covered more than editorially justified.
"It's just <B>inherent in the structure of the news media today</B>, especially with the role that 24-hour cable plays," Heyward said. "Cable thrives on repetition and, let's be kind, exhaustive analysis, which has to constantly be freshened. If there's a powerful piece of video to fuel it, it's going to be repeated even more."
<b>News networks can do the same thing for footage that many consider positive, like when President Bush (news - web sites) landed on an aircraft carrier to declare the combat phase of the Iraq (news - web sites) war over, Lukasiewicz said.</B>
Only 39 percent of Dean's coverage on the network evening news was positive during the week after Iowa, according to an analysis by the Center for Media and Public Affairs. By contrast, rival John Edwards (news - web sites)' coverage was 86 percent positive during the same period, and new front-runner John Kerry (news - web sites)'s was 71 percent positive, the center said.
A speech where Dean was showing exuberance — not anger — was pointed to by rivals as a sign that he didn't have the temperament to be president, Trippi said, and this echoed throughout the media.
To Dean's misfortune, the moment crystallized concerns that voters were already having about him, news executives said.
"If he made the very same speech three days before Iowa, it wouldn't have resonated," Slavin said. "It wouldn't have resonated because he was the leader there and it did not in any way, shape or form epitomize the campaign in everybody's mind."
Trippi regards the argument that the speech received so much coverage because it symbolized the campaign's troubles as a rationalization.
"It was like the footage of a heat-seeking missile hitting its target," he said. "Once the press gets that, it just gets played over and over again for a week, and people say, `How cool.' That's what I think happened here. It was entertainment masquerading as news."
Heyward said he believed the event helped accelerate Dean's decline — "not so much showing the speech again and again, as the <b>kind of collective wisdom that suggested that it was extremely damaging and, to a degree, became a self-fulfilling prophecy.</B>"
The lesson for the media in cases like this is to be aware of its own impact, he said.
Still, politicians and newsmakers had better get used to a lightning-fast media world.
<b>"They'll just do it again," O'Brien said. </B>"The toothpaste is out of the tube. This is the world we're in now."
Slavin said his only regret was not airing an intriguing Diane Sawyer report on the coverage earlier. Sawyer reported that Dean was using a special microphone that night that filters out crowd noise to heighten his voice; other videotapes taken illustrate that his "scream" was barely audible to his live audience.
To Trippi, Sawyer's report felt like a Super Bowl referee admitting — after the game — that he blew a call that decided the outcome.
"Unfortunately, no one ran that 633 times," he said. "ABC, to its credit, did it once."
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