The Dole Institute of Politics hosted one of its final presidential campaign presentations, "Media Coverage of Campaign 2008: Magic or Misguided?" on Wednesday on the Kansas University campus.
Four panelists were invited to the institute's 44th President of the United States (P.O.T.U.S. 44) series to discuss the media's role in the election. The panelists were Terry Michael, executive director of the Washington Center for Politics and Journalism; Chuck DeFeo, vice president and general manager for Townhall.com; David Schimke, editor-in-chief and general manager of Utne Reader magazine; and Ellen Shenk, morning news anchor at KMBZ radio.
Bill Lacy, director of the institute, posed questions, and the panelists answered, often disagreeing, interrupting and questioning one another. Lacy's question about media bias was brought up throughout the discussion. At times, the panelists pointed out the other's bias. None of the panelists denied a bias exists in media.
"I actually think what's happening on stage here is exactly what's wrong with coverage of politics," Schimke said. "It's turned into people who support Barack Obama, people who support John McCain : throwing these bombs at each other. Coverage is not fair. It's not right."
Lacy asked each to assess the quality and fairness of the entire campaign. Excluding TV news, Michael said overall media coverage "hasn't been bad," and gave it a B-. He said print journalism had done a good job of analyzing candidates.
"I do believe cable really has cheapened this discourse because it is so audience-driven, so ratings-driven, so attempting to make money from a narrow, ideological slice of the electorate, so filled with people yelling talking points past each other that it really does drive discourse in a way that isn't healthy."
DeFeo said media "attacks" against Gov. Sarah Palin have made his jaw drop, compared to 2004 when he worked on the 2004 campaign for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
Schimke disagreed and said he hasn't seen much difference in coverage from 2004 to the present race.
He said journalists as before have covered it like a "horse race," looking for reaction to the campaigns and looking at daily polls, but not spending the time or resources to explore issues thoroughly.
About 50 people attended the event.
Robert Friauf, 82, a retired KU physics and Western Civilization professor, said it was a lively discussion, but not as informative as some of the other programs, he said.
Sammie Locke, 73, a retired teacher, said she appreciated hearing the panelists' views.
"I was glad they expressed their feelings and didn't subdue that, and obviously there was a difference in opinion of the candidates, so I thought it was very well they got a little heated in their discussion," she said.