Green Room

Zombie Journalism: Rerunning the 2004 campaign

posted at 11:57 am on May 2, 2012 by

Given the number of stories I expect to see making these errors, I almost hate to single out the WaPo’s Chris Cillizza. But here he is, predicting that Pres. Obama will go even more negative in his reelect campaign — almost advising that he do so — based on Pres. Bush’s 2004 reelect campaign:

Why? Because Bush whose popularity was sliding amid rising questions about the war in Iraq — among other things — knew that there was no path to victory against Kerry by spending any substantial time touting his accomplishments during his first four years in office.

Partisans on both sides were already lined up either for or against Bush and no amount of positive (or negative) advertising would move them off of how they intended to vote. Undecided voters didn’t like Bush so positive ads amounted to a waste of time. The only way to win was to make Kerry even less palatable.

Obama is in a somewhat similar — albeit it slightly stronger — position that Bush found himself at this time in 2004. The struggling economy has dragged down the current incumbent’s numbers and two of his main legislative achievements — health care and the economic stimulus — are not popular with the American public. (They are popular with the Democratic base, however, which is why Obama is touting some of those accomplishments in web ads — a means of communication that helps gin up energy in the base.)

Mind you, Jay Cost has looked in depth at the 2004 campaign and found essentially the opposite result:

The election that year was a referendum on Bush: people who disapproved of him voted overwhelmingly for Kerry; people who approved of him voted overwhelmingly for Bush. In fact, the Bush approvers/Kerry voters were more numerous than the Bush disapprovers/Bush voters.

As Jay noted: “If anything, Kerry did a better job at peeling away voters from the “other” side than Bush did.”

Cillizza’s sloppy thinking is most evident in his final paragraph quoted above. I doubt he missed the day in writing class about paragraph structure and how topic sentences are supposed to be supported by and flow from the topic sentence. Here, we are told Obama is in a slightly stronger position than Bush, but the rest of the paragraph actually suggests why Obama is in a weak position. [My theory is that Cillizza believes this because Bush’s approval was trending downward in May 2004, while Obama’s has generally trended upward since Autumn 2011. However, I would note Bush’s downward trend broke over the summer of 2004 — and it’s entirely possible the converse could happen here, based on the natural rhythms of a presidential election year and the state of the economy. The main point here is that Cillizza could not be bothered to support his assertion with data or argument.]

Cillizza spells out his bedrock premise near the end of his piece:

Remember: Campaigns run negative ads because they work.

However, political scientists like John Sides will tell you that we haven’t remotely arrived at a place where research suggests that negative ads “work.” This is not to say that negative ads never work; it is merely to say that at best, Cillizza can only claim that campaigns run negative ads because they believe negative ads work. Sides calls the idea that negative ads work a “zombie,” because it refuses to die, despite the general lack of data supporting it.

Conservatives will be inclined to attribute the sloppy thinking of such stories entirely to political bias by journalists who would prefer Obama’s reelection. However, without excluding bias as a factor, the problem runs deeper than that.

The 2012 election will be mostly a referendum on the incumbent and the economy, as such elections almost always are. Yet coverage of the campaign to date has overwhelmingly focused on the horse race, tactics, strategy, money and advertising, absolutely dwarfing coverage of policy, the candidates’ public records and even their personal issues. The same was true of the 2008 general election coverage, despite a financial panic and two war theaters. Indeed, two of the world’s easiest predictions are: (1) after the 2012 elections, journalists will hold conferences where they decry the fact that they disserved the public with too much horse race coverage; (2) they will do it again in 2016.

The establishment media’s enormous bias toward horse race coverage is fundamentally self-serving. If campaign strategists and pollsters are the puppet-masters who determine election outcomes, then the reporters who relay their plans to the unwashed masses have status. But if people think that the event of the moment may not matter all that much, fewer people read the Washington Post. And even zombies gotta eat.

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Comments

These people are gonna be shocked how much their boy loses by cuz they still haven’t stopped running their reports on him from his anal cavity.

gsherin on May 2, 2012 at 12:57 PM

Don’t forget that pollsters in 2004 were trying to make Bush’s approval ratings look bad by skewing their samples to the left. These days, they are trying to make Obama look good by doing the same thing – and Bush’s approval ratings at this point in 2004 still beat Obama in 2012.

Obama’s position could only be considered “slightly superior” to Bush’s if you’re politically pig-ignorant and hopelessly biased, especially if you look at the economic trends.

DRayRaven on May 2, 2012 at 1:21 PM

Another interesting thing in the upcoming campaign is going to be the focus on the two candidates, in that while the majority of the big media outlets will treat Obama as the incumbent for prestige purposes, he’ll be untouched on his actual record as much as possible, in an attempt to recreate the ‘blank slate’ situation that allowed so many swing voters to project their desires onto him in 2008 (an effort the White House will naturally embrace by continuing to blame all bad news on George W. Bush).

That will put Obama in roughly the same position as Kerry was in 2004, when the media attempted to play up the senator’s military record for prestige purposes, but otherwise tried to act as if the man’s congressional voting record and his anti-war activities didn’t exist. It was the conservative media and bloggers who kept pointing those things out that angered those on the left to the point they want to make sure that doesn’t happen again this time around. In contrast, Romney will have his record combed over to the nearest micron by the same media folks, as they tried to do with Bush in 2004. And as with Dan Rather and the TANG documents, the focus will be more on Romney’s history before entering politics than on his four years as governor, since even the media knows trying to convince moderates that Mitt ran some kind of right-wing, racist, sexist, homophobic fascist state in Massachusetts isn’t going to sell at all.

jon1979 on May 2, 2012 at 4:22 PM

jon1979 on May 2, 2012 at 4:22 PM

Very well said jon. But I’ll go ya one better, and suggest that the liberal media’s “top guns” are so invested in Obama’s quest to fundamentally transform America, Dan Rather will look like a Saint. I truly believe this election will not only be a referendum on President Obama—and the utter failure of his economic policies—but also a referendum on a desperate, and radical left wing liberal media that will publish anything and everything to facilitate the President’s radical agenda. The lies and fabrications will come “fast and furious”. I fully expect to see the liberal media attack Mitt Romney with unprecedented personal lies, (and yes, the stereotyping you’ve articulated above), painting Romney as an extreme right radical hell bent of destroying Obama’s dream of a “United Socialist States of America”.

This election will be the biggest clash of two distinct ideologies—one that will lead to a perpetual central government dependency, and the other that still embraces the will of responsible individualism driven by free market principles that includes limited powers to the central/federal government—a system I might add that has proven to be the backbone of the greatest industrial AND INDIVIDUAL achievements in the world’s history.

Make no mistake, the intentions of Barack Obama, (and his battalion of liberal journalist), is to fundamentally change the way this nation has flourished in prosperity through individual achievement. The President’s collective/socialist mentality, controlled completely by a central state MUST BE REJECTED AND DEFEATED, along with the zombie journalism that Karl has pointed out.

With the army of zombies collaborating against the Conservative movement that demands fiscal responsibility of our central government, the deck is stacked against us. Perhaps shining a light on our zombies will awaken a sleeping electorate who are destined for a lifetime of dependency.

Rovin on May 3, 2012 at 9:33 AM