The 2008 presidential election-with the first African-American presidential nominee by a major party, the first 72-year-old candidate and the second woman vice presidential pick-has energized many first-time voters in Oxford.
However, for some Miami University students, the nearly 20-month long presidential campaign has been both fatiguing and unappealing.
For Miami senior Ross Faulkner, the drawn-out campaign process has caused political apathy.
“I’m not even going to vote in the election,” Faulkner said. “The whole election has been completely overblown by the media, and I don’t know any of the issues.”
Throughout the campaign, the media has been dogged by both candidates for painting an inaccurate picture. Complaints range from Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) objecting to smear tactics and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) protesting a liberal agenda.
According to Howard Kleiman, a professor of communication, the “perpetual campaign” has become the norm for presidential races.
“That’s kind of the case now,” Kleiman said. “And what’s the press going to do? Not going to talk about (the presidential candidates)?”
In addition to the magnitude of election coverage, many students are dissatisfied with the quality of campaign coverage, which is often criticized as focusing on the “horse race” between the candidates, instead of providing a forum on the issues.
The horse race criticism is a common one. In an opinion piece in The New York Times Oct. 11, public editor Clark Hoyt found that only 29 of 270 news pieces published in the paper since parties announced their tickets dealt with policy.
“And that is a generous tally that includes some very brief items,” Hoyt wrote.
Hoyt also found the Times’ statistics seem to apply across the board for all mainstream media.
In June, 54 percent of those surveyed by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press said election coverage was fair or poor.
“The election (coverage) is on all the time and I don’t think I’ve learned anything,” Faulkner said. “It just follows Obama and McCain around and listens to what they say, they don’t tell the viewer what (the candidates) stand for.”
However, Kleiman said that some aspects of coverage in this election, such as the fact-checking and analysis of claims made by both candidates in ads and speeches, has significantly improved.
“One thing the press is doing better … there’s more fact-checking,” Kleiman said. “It’s more and more frustrating to be a natural conduit to let candidates say what they want.”
Richard Campbell, director of Miami’s journalism program, said the lack of policy reporting in the media is caused by inherent biases that are far more severe than partisan bias.
“To me the biases that are much more problematic than political bias are professional norm biases, cultural biases,” Campbell said. “The news media in general is biased … toward stories with conflict. That’s what people get sick of, that these stories often get to be two-dimensional.”
Campbell added that most stories are much more nuanced than a face-off between two differing opinions on an issue. Campbell used “60 Minutes” as an example of a media outlet with a common theme of the individual versus the establishment.
With regard to a liberal bias in the media, both Campbell and Kleiman said Pew studies show most news reporters self-identify as liberal, with news publishers and owners leaning more conservative.
Kleiman said a recent gaffe by vice presidential nominee Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) is an example.
“If two weeks ago (vice presidential nominee Sarah) Palin had been quoted in a speech saying that Franklin Roosevelt was president when the Depression hit and went on television to talk about it the way Biden did, I have no doubt that there would’ve been calls the next day to get her off the ticket, that she is in over her head” Kleiman said. “But for Biden they say, ‘Oh that’s just Joe being Joe.'”
Despite personal political preferences of reporters, though, both Kleiman and Campbell agreed reporting isn’t necessarily unfair.
Campbell, who wrote a case study on media bias, said bias is an almost inherent tendency of journalists to desire liberal policies.
“Given the primary dictionary definitions of liberal … and conservative … A profession that honors documenting change, checking power, and reporting wrongdoing would attract fewer conservatives, who are predisposed to ‘preserve existing conditions,’ and to ‘limit change,'” the case study reads.
For Faulkner, mainstream election coverage is not the only factor turning him away from the election, but also the way in which politics has permeated every facet of popular culture.
“During the BET Awards, every rapper would end their performance saying ‘vote Obama,’ and it’s just blown way out of proportion,” Faulkner said.
Despite bitter attitudes toward election coverage, both Campbell and Kleiman agreed that not voting out of spite is an unwise position.
“Look at the last three weeks in the terms of what’s happened in this country, if you divorce yourself from the political process, you get what you get,” Kleiman said. “If you don’t want to hear anymore, that part is easy, don’t watch, you’re not a captive audience … it’s an absurd extension of a real problem or concern about this election cycle.”
“I always use the example of the 2000 election, you know what they were arguing about at the end of that election for two months? Prescription drug medication,” Campbell said. “They weren’t talking about young peoples’ issues, because they knew you weren’t going to vote … They’re not going to talk to you until you show up to vote.”