Obama’s media machine: good or bad?

After reading and discussing the Dean campaign, President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign seems a politicians dream. His campaign executed everything that Dean’s tried to do and more. Obama’s campaign was a machine, but not in the typical sense. When I think of a campaign’s media department you think of a machine constantly churning out press releases to all media outlets in the hopes of getting any coverage at all, but the Obama campaign worked differently. It worked closely with smaller blogs to help disseminate information that eventually made its way to the main-stream media (Kreiss.) As a journalist the idea of being manipulated by a political campaign is inherently wrong and threatening to the core of journalism. Though in the end, we are choosing to run a story that gained prominence on online instead of our own sources, the fact that the campaign goes through these back channels is smart and scary. This causes non-stories to become stories and probably contributes to overexposure and accusations of bias. Obama’s media machine worked the system to the tee.

I couldn’t vote in 2008, which limited my involvement and awareness of the political campaigns at the time. I knew there was an increase in social media use during the campaign, but I didn’t realize all the back channels the Obama campaign used to spread its message to followers.  The campaign managed to make the good news and buzz about the campaign not seem to come from the campaign. The use of Youtube, in particular, as an anonymous publishing source brings a source of legitimacy. Anonymity prevents users from automatically discounting the information as campaign propaganda.  As the Edelman piece examines, people are more likely to trust information from a source similar to themselves which makes anonymity ideal (Edelman, 2009.)  The widespread understanding of this tactic, however could make the audience skeptical of any political videos.

What do you think of campaigns’ use of the internet to indirectly disseminate information? Do you think it’s deceiving? Should all propaganda from campaigns be labeled as such, or is all fair in love and war?

This entry was posted in Winter 2012. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Obama’s media machine: good or bad?

  1. I definitely think that it’s deceiving, but it’s also very clever for campaigns to use unofficial sources to build a following. It’s something that brands have been doing forever in their advertising (product placement or endorsement) and the internet has only brought about another way to indirectly feed information and rhetoric to the people. I agree with your point on Youtube and that anonymity raises questions of legitimacy and ethics, but commenters as well as bloggers have been using anonymity as a way to voice opinions since the web’s creation. Is it okay for campaigns to capitalize on that point? It’s an interesting question, great post!

  2. arieloz says:

    I believe that the campaigns’ use of the Internet to indirectly disseminate information is deceiving. However, it seems as if it has become a natural part of the political landscape and race. There is so much information on the Internet concerning politics, generated by both professionals and amateurs, that the parties could argue they are at an unfair disadvantage if they were banned from using this media. Campaign information and propaganda should be labeled with the identification of their creators. That way, those who create the content can be questioned or held accountable.

  3. jlpirr says:

    I’m personally on the fence about whether these tactics are deceiving or not. I would think of the campaigns’ use of the internet as deceiving more so if they were spreading false information. If the information that is going out about the candidate is honest and true, then I don’t think that there is a big problem with going through back channels and things of that nature. I think, given the structure of our current internet and society, that Obama’s example of going through back channels and baiting bloggers is just another clever way around certain campaign constraints. I think that similar tactics are only going to expand as time goes on and more people understand how to campaign effectively. It is possible to also consider, if citizens are going to believe and support the information, does it matter if it was thought to be spread in a “deceiving” manner, or not?

  4. toriwhit731 says:

    This way of disseminating knowledge is definitely deceiving, but I don’t think this is something that can be controlled. In terms of freedom of speech, you cannot necessarily force the absence of anonymity. Like @awildkristenappeared said, it is critical today for campaigns to use unofficial sources to build a following. Like Lutz has claimed and you have pointed out, “the most trusted source of information is consistently ‘a person like myself'” (7). With this in mind, I think that it is more powerful for political campaigns to be deceptive in this way, using a “this came from a regular person” medium to get out their message. I’m not sure if it’s fair, but it is definitely effective!

  5. srachelb says:

    While I do believe that the indirect dissemination of information, as seen in Obama’s 2008 campaign, is deceiving, I believe that it is at times necessary. I believe that necessary circumstances would have included situations in which Obama needed to rectify false accusations against himself and/or his campaign or any situation in which he needed to set the record straight but would not have appeared credible if he had attempted to do so himself. As in the instance of Obama’s birth certificate, resorting to the indirect dissemination of information to present the certificate to the public seemed the appropriate thing to do. For the most part, however, the Obama campaign used this tactic as a means for insulting and attacking Obama’s opponents. Thus, given Obama’s pledge to refrain from negative campaign ads, this tactic was very deceiving, especially since the campaign was already being heavily scrutinized for disseminating more negative ad campaigns against His opponent than any other presidential nominee in history. Had the public been aware that the Obama campaign had been “anonymously” disseminating such information in addition to all of its known negative campaign ads against McCain, the election might have had a different outcome.

  6. sdkusin says:

    Like many of the other commenters I believe that the practices described her can only be characterized as deceiving. That being said, I believe that the underlying strategy of using media channels to disseminate messages is an incredibly logical strategy that has been used by politicians, marketers and business professionals to achieve their bottom line (whether it is votes or sales) long before the inception of the Internet. However, since the creation of SNS in the mid 2000, the ability to separate oneself from their own content has become exceptionally less challenging than ever before. Shirky explains – and the Obama campaign capitalizes on- the mass amateurization of news as SNS allow all users equal ability to create, transmit and select the content they engage with. If current trends continue, campaigns will continue to exercise deceptive strategies as the Horse race and public image are increasingly replacing actual policy information. The lack of censorship on the Internet applies to consumers as well as the societal elites. While the deceptive nature of this media environment is not ideal, the alternative is bureaucratic censorship which would inevitably result in decreased user agency online. In other words, “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.” The important take away is not that the Internet should be censored to limit deception. Instead, the deceptive campaign strategy suggest the importance of considering where you are getting your information from and not only who the author is, but also the external influences that may shape or frame the content in favor of their interests.

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