Tuesday, December 04, 2007

John Edwards, Media Bias, and the Citizens Voice

Much of my current research lies at the nexus between media and politics. I spend a fair amount of time parsing through both mainstream media and the blogs for stories about the media's role in politics. Part of what I'm focused on are independent grassroots cultural expressions through new media outlets.

I've been paying particular interest to John Edward's campaign as representative of the neo-progressive and populist momentum building in America. Edwards is in a virtual tie for 1st in Iowa, and a win there could propel him to a strong showing in New Hampshire, opening a very real possibility for winning the Democratic nomination. Yet the elite media continue to portray a two-way horse race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama at the expense of other candidates. A recent report by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy demonstrates this very clear bias. Research pertaining to bias in the media is certainly nothing new. But what is new are the new media platforms which allow individuals and local communities to talk back directly to the elite structures and amongst themselves.

Take the following article from the LA Times for example, John Edwards and the great divide.

Scott Martelle takes a comment by Edwards and conflates the meaning into a statement that Edwards feels superior to those "regular" people that he portends to represent.

But later in the same talk, Edwards offered a revealing choice of words that signaled he might perceive of himself as something a little different from the voters he's wooing with his populist themes of returning government to the people. It was somewhat jarring, too, coming from a candidate who is remarkably consistent on the stump.
The "regular people" nodded as Edwards cited that as a reason the nation needs universal health care. But even wearing jeans and talking about the nation's growing class divide, the choice of words signaled that Edwards' self-perception has moved a long way from the blue-collar kid from the Carolina mill towns.
Edwards was referring to the difficulty, as an experienced trial lawyer, discerning medical statements from private insurance carriers.
"We had good insurance. And we get the statements from the insurance company -- I had no idea what those statements mean. And we're both lawyers. I ran for president and vice president of the United States. And one month they'd cover something and the next month, the same thing, they wouldn't cover. It was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen. And I just felt to myself, I can't imagine what these insurance companies are doing to regular people out there."
It's perhaps a fairly obvious hack at Edwards but what's particularly interesting are the popular responses, which are enabled through new media platforms to be expressed and shared with the public. The comments thread (which are now standard on any major online newspaper) to the article contains a sustained attack on Mr. Martelle's reporting. Here are just a few examples of what proceeds the article;
"But even wearing jeans and talking about the nation's growing class divide, the choice of words signaled that Edwards' self-perception has moved a long way from the blue-collar kid from the Carolina mill towns."

Say what?? I fail to see the logical connection between Edward's speech & Martelle's conclusion.

Posted by: Ardner Cheshire | December 03, 2007 at 10:25 AM
Talk about scraping for news. This is pretty weak stuff, Mr. Martelle.

Edwards has never once suggested he isn't lucky or fortunate financially. What he's saying is that if he can't understand health insurance billing - as a distinguished lawyer who's been blessed for his hard work with wealth and political power - then how the hell is anyone else supposed to?

Tell you one thing for sure: those people nodding and listening in Iowa didn't feel like his statement was "jarring." Despite what media-driven "controversies" might seek to prove - and your post here is the latest in a long line - Edwards connects, and you can't take that away from him.

Posted by: Will | December 03, 2007 at 11:25 AM

What is exciting from my perspective is the question, to what extent will new media driven citizen activism and citizen journalism effect the outcome of the 2008 political races. Does this type of activity constitute a rebirth of the democratic public sphere? Will this translate into effective political power or is this merely an amplified echo chamber?