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In Campaigning Is TV Reality?

(I owe Jeff Jarvis an apology for my snide remark below about his business is media and mine is journalism. I explain that more fully in a comment post at his site under the post The Scream Redux.)

It seems that Jeff Jarvis and I are having a war (of words) over TV and the presidential campaigns. He says in campaigning TV Is Reality; I say it is a distortion of reality.

He says:
Leonard, you’re missing the reality: America isn’t New Hampshire. Every American can’t meet every candidate. Thus, we meet the candidates via TV. And the candidates play to TV NOT to live crowds whenever there are TV cameras present. And that is a GOOD thing for democracy. We get to see more of the candidates than we ever got to see before; in the old days, we had to read about them through a reporter’s eyes; now we get to see them in action and they get to speak directly to us. That’s media, man. That’s your business and mine. That’s reality.

I say:

Jeff, here is where we differ. Your business is media; mine is journalism. Unfortunately, too few people make the distinction any more. As a journalist I don’t see a 30 second sound bite taken out of context and shown 700 times as journalism. I see it as a media representation of reality. To me it is as much about journalism as “Cops” is.

Indeed, that distorted vision of reality is so ingrained that to say TV Is Not Reality, has people like Angus Jung, another blogger commenting at Jeff’s site, comparing me to the moon landing conspiracy folks.

Do you really believe the George Bush who is portrayed on TV is any where near the real George Bush? Do you really believe the Howard Dean as portrayed on TV is any where near the real Howard Dean?

Once real journalists and the public give into the idea that “in campaigns TV Is Reality,” then it makes it that much easier to carry that over after the campaign is over.

A smart campaigner in an election can transfer those skills over to managing how war is presented and how domestic policy is presented. So it is not what, in reality, you say and do; it is how you get it presented on TV. When a bomb is dropped we present it in a TV campaign “Shock and Awe” way, and forget that people below are getting blown to bits. That is reality.

One of the promises of blogging is that we can have this discussion here and we can present evidence rather quickly to show how miserably TV has failed us as journalistic tool.

3 Responses to “In Campaigning Is TV Reality?”

  1. Dick Olson Says:

    Like all things there’s an element of truth in both points of view. TV can capture images which support the old advantage a picture is “Worth a Thousand Words”. However, words do have meaning and can “Get Lost” in the world of images. That’s why many news programs use “Quotes” to emphasise points that otherwise would be lost. For me, give me both, BUT meeting the candidates LIVE is “Different” and far more informative than either print or TV mediums.

  2. Jeff Jarvis Says:

    Well, I was going to say that we were not at war, we were just having a discussion, until I read the rest of your post and found your all-too-snarky snipe: “Your business is media; mine is journalism.” Well, excuuuuuse me!
    Want to see my clips? Want to know about the stories I’ve covered? Want to know about my career in journalism? Pull up a chair and bring the beer. This is exactly the kind of talk that turns people off about journalism.

  3. Leonard Witt Says:

    Jeff, let me start off by apologizing. My media and journalism comment was snide and I regretted it not long after I sent it. My rage was not aimed at you, it was aimed at the sorry state of what used to be TV news and now is media entertainment. So when I think I hear anyone defending it…well, I sometimes say regrettable things.

    So now, I will try to have a more controlled argument. I want to deal with your sentence where you say, “And the candidates play to TV NOT to live crowds whenever there are TV cameras present.”

    And the problem is that the TV news allows the candidate to play to the TV. In fact, that is what I am trying to get at. They shoot only the candidate and fail to pull back both literally and figuratively and put things in context. If the candidate managers are good at it, they control the message because they know TV is going to present it with no context. So then that becomes the reality.

    The TV “news” folks know they are being manipulated. So when the time comes that a candidate acts like he is not on script, as in Dean’s case, they play it 700 times. However, if they pulled back the cameras, we would have seen a much different reality.

    But they rarely do, so we, as citizens, get a “played to” reality, which is a managed reality or a manipulated reality. It is a PR team’s orchestrated presentation of reality. But it isn’t real.

    I would like to agree with onecent’s (a commenter at Jarvis’site) comments, but the truth is that 76 percent of people in America get their election news from TV. However, that number continues to fall; I hope it is because people are looking for something more real.

    Yes, onecent I have been a print journalist…and I am proud of it, but I am not proud of what is happening to the profession. It is more and more difficult to find journalism with context. Too few in the profession are pulling back either with camera or pen and getting the whole, fuller story. That’s why I like what is happening with blogs. I get more of the story. I get to see not just the 30-second Dean sound bite. I get to see it in greater context. Which brings us back to where we started. I think the Dean Scream is a perfect launching point for a case study of what is wrong with TV news…with the central purpose of looking for ways to make it better. And I am not just picking on TV news, there are plenty of case study possibilities to find out what is wrong with print news as we search for ways to make it better.