Saturday, June 21, 2008

Obama's Decision on Public Financing Attacks Media's Influence

Most media outlets that have commented on Obama's decision to foresake public financing have expressed disapproval. The editorial that the Washington Post ran, entitled The Politics of Spare Change, is typical. Also typical was the comments made by Charles Gibson of ABC News on the nightly news program for June 20, 2008, when he wondered if Obama's decision was "unfair" and whether Americans would disapprove because American voters want a "level playing field." (Interestingly we have never heard of such sentiments from Gibson when Bush was raising millions of dollars to run in 2000 against his primary opponents, or when right-wing 527s were impugning Kerry's military service in 2004. Apparently he is only concerned when Democrats raise a lot of money to take on John McCain.)

So why does Obama's decision cause such media concern? The media would have you believe that it is because it is concerned about the influence of big money in the political system, and that may very well be, but there are other reasons. One of them is the fact that the more money that a presidential candidate can raise to get his or her message out, the less influence the media has in the election.

When presidential candidates are limited in the amount of money they can raise and spend, it makes "free" media more important. There is an incentive for candidates to court media representatives to try and get free publicity.

This is because a political campaign is really an advertising process. Candidates have a message they want voters to hear and, hopefully, approve. If they are limited in what they can raise and spend on "paid" media, then free media becomes more important. If, however, they aren't limited, then paid media takes on more importance and free media loses importance.

From a candidate's perspective, free media is always more problematic than paid media because the candidate has much less control over free media. Thus, while there is an incentive to get free media, it always comes with a risk.

Look at it this way: The media is in business to make money. Media representatives work for profit-making organizations. It helps their employers if there is less competition from political advertisers because it makes their product, political reporting, more valuable. It also plays into their sense of self-importance.

Obama's decision affects the media's power and influence. Of course they aren't going to like it, and of course, they are going to tell you that their concern has nothing to do with their loss of power. They can say that, but we don't have to believe it.

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