In many ways the media takes part in forming the image of a politician. Regardless of what the story may be about, journalist will always want to be first on the scene or the reporter with the most exclusive information. This idea becomes clear in Joan Didion’s Insider Baseball. In this article, the author discusses Michael Dukakis’ campaign in 1988.
Michael Dukakis served as the 65th and 67th Governor of Massachusetts; from 1975 to 1979 and 1983 to 1991. In 1988, he was the Democratic nominee for president, but lost to George H. W. Bush.
In the article, the author discusses one of Dukakis’ campaign rituals. He would toss a baseball with his campaign secretary, Jack Weeks. One Morning, a CNN cameraman was the only one to get footage of Dukakis throwing a baseball with Weeks and his daughter. Dukakis’ campaign people realized that only one camera had gotten that footage of him (CNN), so they had him re-staged it for the press. The CNN producer at the time pointed out to the reporter that they had footage of the first ball tossing on the Dukakis campaign and him dancing to Greek music.
After the baseball tossing a reporter asked him. “Governor, what does throwing a ball around in this heat say about your mental stability?” He responded “What it means is that I’m tough.”
Frankly, I disagree with Dukakis him tossing a baseball around didn’t make him appear ‘tough’ instead it was how the reporter told the story. Joe Klein, Michael Kramer and David S. Broder told the same story in very different ways; each wrote from their perspective. The narrative in which each reporter used plays a large role in the image formation of Dukakis. However, the small ritual that was re-staged for the press could have just as easily have been written to show that Dukakis is just like every other American and enjoys the game of baseball. It could have also been interpreted that Dukakis just doesn’t care much about the things that are effecting the common American; he’s out there tossing a baseball when there are more pressing issues to address.
Everything that a politician does can be interpreted in so many different ways. The interpretation of Dukakis’ ball tossing all depends on how the reporter wants to tell the story. When a politician gives a speech, the message that is trying to be said to the public might not be the message that is understood because of the media. Reporters use certain parts of a speech to conform to what they want their story to say and it could be a completely different message than what the politician intended it to be. As much as reporters try not to be bias about a candidate it still shows when they tell a story. The reporter’s perspective affects how their story is told thus, affecting the image of a candidate.
Furthermore, the type of platforms that the media had at the time of Dukakis’ campaign contributed to his image. In 1988, the common American was more likely to pick up a newspaper and the newspaper would have had a descriptive account of Dukakis’ baseball tossing. If Dukakis would have been running for office in today’s society, people would have been commenting on the baseball toss on Twitter as it was happening. Also, a reporter would have had the article about the baseball toss published online within the hour. Reporters tend to be under pressure to get their story published first and that pressure affects how their perception things. Reporters under time pressure might write a story when they don’t don’t even have all the facts which contributes to the angle of a story. As a result, the story that is told affects the image of the candidate.