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Volume 70, Issue 29, Friday, October 1, 2004


Media sways public's view of politicians

David C. Salinas
Opinion Columnist

It seems as though the only way to master, or at least succeed, in presidential politics is not to sway the public -- more specifically to attain the "swing vote" -- but to sway the media and its pundits. This may be the reason George Bush and Karl Rove, Bush's senior political advisor, did well in 2000 and have up to this point gained a small but substantial lead on John Kerry. Rove figured out that if something gets repeated enough, it becomes "truth." So far, that has been their game plan with Kerry and the war in Iraq.

After John Kerry voted to authorize the use of force against Saddam Hussein's regime, he gave a lengthy speech in which he outlined a number of requirements that had to be met in order to declare war. Kerry asked for an exhaustive search by the U.N. weapons inspectors, a new U.N. resolution and most importantly, that the United States go to war only as a last resort. On all of these points the Bush administration either failed or withdrew from their original intent, and the last point can only truly be debated when we find the weapons of mass destruction and see if Saddam was an actual threat.

In spite of John Kerry's specific, yet complex view on the war in Iraq, the Bush campaign has done an excellent job portraying Kerry as a "waffler" on this issue. It was quickly understood by the public that an intelligent, lengthy speech Kerry gave could be easily be overshadowed by a two-second sound bite saying he "flip-flops." The news doesn't take time to explain Kerry's position, and the public doesn't take the time to listen to it. One of the Bush campaign's early advertisements aired video footage of Kerry saying he voted for the $87 billion in funding before he voted against it. However, Kerry said he supported the funding initially because he, along with other senators, had proposed paying for the bill by decreasing the tax cuts on those that make over $200,000 so the country wouldn't sink further into debt. The President said he would not sign that version, and upon hearing his refusal, Kerry had to vote against the bill in protest. The Bush campaign uses what the public doesn't know to its advantage, but with the addition of James Carville, Paul Begala and Joe Lockhart, the Kerry campaign has found a way to fight back.

On Sept. 24, Kerry defined his position on Iraq and turned the debate, and maybe the election, on its head by explaining, "...Bush made Saddam Hussein the priority. I would have made Osama bin Laden the priority." The war in Iraq is a diversion from the war on terror, and that can be said in 15-second sound bites. Kerry has simplified the Bush position and criticized it. It's unfortunate that both candidates can't lay their plans out fully, but Rove and the media have made the rules that Kerry must follow.

I hope one day we can have an election in which both candidates can openly and honestly explain positions they hold on the issues -- an election in which the media forces the candidates to behave this way. However, the blame can't just be placed on Karl Rove, the candidates or the media. We live in a democracy that gives us the power to decide who our leaders are and what we watch and read. It's a cliché, but only we can make the real difference. Until we understand that, nothing will change.

Salinas, a columnist for The Daily Cougar, 
can be reached at

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