The Public Interest

The Networks and the Nominees

David M. Ifshin

Winter 1989

AS THE primaries ended and the two major political parties convened for their nominating conventions during the summer of 1988, a familiar debate took place concerning the extent and role of television convention coverage and the efforts of the political parties to manipulate it. On the one hand, the managers of the presumptive presidential nominees’ campaigns saw in the conventions an opportunity to begin the general election by projecting their candidates and their messages onto the national stage in order to improve their public images. Campaign management is now largely a matter of disseminating a candidate’s message through television news and the other “free media.” Recent conventions have provided campaign strategists with the largest single block of uninterrupted coverage their candidates received before the election. This coverage is even more important because it now tends to occur after intraparty rivalry has ended and generally without interference from the other major party. Through long and bitter experience, party leaders have learned that this critical opportunity cannot be squandered, and that political fortunes in November often rise or fall according to what the electorate sees on television in July and August. 

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