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Politics and Photo Ops

Occasionally, a comment appears that I consider important enough to address in its own post.

In response to my post about McCain’s trip to Iraq to prove how much safer the streets of Baghdad are, and particularly after I stated that McCain has essentially zapped his chances of winning my vote, the great Screamin’ Remo had this to say:

“Let me get this straight: You won’t be voting for McCain because of a staged photo op? You must know of a super-secret candidate waiting in the wings who is immune to doing exactly what the media demands they do.

“I guess this means your station won’t be showing anymore b-roll of HRC clapping like an cracker in a Baptist church.”

I’ll take the second part first.

What my station does has absolutely nothing to do with what my political beliefs happen to be. I make it a point never to discuss specific details about my station, because I don’t want their to be even the possibility of any impropriety in the event that one of my bosses might stumble upon this blog.

I work in television. But since I don’t talk about my station specifically, or even the Charleston market, which station I do work for is a moot point. When I talk about television or news coverage or the media, I speak in more general terms, anyway. In case it hasn’t been clear in the past, I do not speak for any station here. Nor do I speak for anyone else here. I speak for me.

I have no control of what my station’s news department actually covers. My job is to create promotional announcements, “promos,” to lure you to the next newscast. Had I done promos the night news of McCain’s visit to Iraq broke, I would have promoted the story, assuming there wasn’t more pressing local news. Had I decided to promote that story, I wouldn’t have editorialized on the effectiveness of McCain’s trip or the irony of the heavily-armored security detail.

When I promote a story, I have anywhere from four seconds to fifteen or so. Occasionally, I’ll get a full thirty seconds. But those thirties are almost never devoted to a single story. My point here is that I don’t have time to cover the story in the promo; I have to give you just enough to (hopefully) persuade you to watch later.

So my promo for McCain’s trip, assuming that it was one of a couple of stories in the same promo, would likely have said something like this:

“John McCain says you’re not getting the ‘full picture’ of security in Iraq. What he found when he walked the streets of Baghdad, tonight at (whenever) on (newscast title).”

It wouldn’t win an award, but you get the idea. It’s my job not to allow my personal feelings to cloud my news judgment when I select stories for promotion. That’s what I do. I don’t have to like a story I’m promoting to include it in a spot. I don’t have to agree with a new law or a candidate’s claim to include it if it is relevant news that has content I think will attract viewers.

Now the first part of Remo’s remarks: I’m not saying I won’t vote for McCain just because of a staged photo op. I don’t have a problem per se with staged photo ops because they are an unfortunate fact of life for all candidates.

I have a problem with staged photo ops that don’t make sense, are used to make a point that I disagree with, or that twist or distort facts to falsely convey the reality of a given situation.

Remember this nice little photo op with John Kerry? When he dramatically “reported for duty,” once again touting his military experience, it might not have been your typical photo opportunity that has the press “meeting up” with a candidate somewhere to shed light on an issue important to the candidate’s platform, but you can be sure that it was every bit as staged.

My problem with this moment was that in 1992, Kerry had won points with me when he criticized Republicans for attempting to use the military service issue against Bill Clinton. Sorry, John: if it was wrong in 1992, then it was wrong in 2004. That photo op was a turn-off for me, but I had already come to the conclusion that I wasn’t voting for Kerry based both on what he was and wasn’t saying about Iraq.

Then we had this striking image. President Bush stands on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, with a giant “Mission Accomplished” banner strategically placed behind him.

If the mission was accomplished back in 2003, why, in 2007, would McCain even need to make a point about conditions in Iraq since the troop surge? And why would there even be a surge for McCain to take such steps to defend?

And with all respect to Remo, I must take issue with his point that photo ops are those things that the media demands that a candidate do. Very often, the candidates are the ones who schedule them in an attempt to demand that the media cover their campaign. In the case of McCain’s trip, he had criticized the media for skewing coverage in a manner to hide the “good news ” in Iraq, then went their to prove how incomplete their coverage was. His visit was practically in the form of a dare for the media to show what he felt they were refusing to show in the past. So who really made “demands” of whom?

Of course, then there’s the saddest part of the story: while McCain was there, touting the increased security, another two dozen people — including four US soldiers — were killed in attacks just southwest of Baghdad. How much more effective might McCain’s stunt have been had it occurred at the end of a full week without any casualties?

Are we “making progress” as he insists? Sure. But before staging a visit to prove how much progress has been made, why not wait until they’ve gone a full week without any American soldiers being lost. Or a full week without any bombs going off? As long as the violence continues, and particularly, as long as our soldiers are losing their lives, that’s going to be news.

1 Comment

  1. Patrick: I should have indicated my more generic intent with regard to productions by your station. I’ve no idea which affiliate you are associated with and meant no direct insult. I was referring more specifically to the endless parade of candidates featured in acts of political contrition that constitute pandering. I like McCain but I don’t think his visit passed the smell test from the git-go.

    My point (poorly constructed) was that while we become fixated on the chicken-or-the-egg debate over media coverage of the candidates, the foxes are raiding our henhouse.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.