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Panel Discusses Role Of Media in '96 Election

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

Six "Wednesday Morning Quarterbacks" defended the media's coverage of the 1996 presidential election in a panel discussion last night.

The reporters from national newspapers met at the Kennedy School's ARCO forum to analyze the political maneuverings leading up to President Clinton's re-election and the lethargy of the media in covering them.

Recipe for Reelection

Washington Post reporter Dan Balz said he could sum up the entire presidential race, as seen by American voters, in 10 words: "The country's OK. Dole's pretty old. There's a gender gap."

With voters satisfied with the economy and the nation at peace, most voters felt that the country was in good shape, Balz said.

John King from the Associated Press said the image of Dole, a septuagenarian, running against Clinton, who represents the transition from old to new Democrat, was too strange for voters.

Finally, Clinton was able to maintain his commanding edge in the female vote, the panelists said.

Clinton's victory was also made easier because Dole was the wrong man for the job, USA Today's Judy Keen said. She said she polled Republicans in Arizona, a historically Republican-friendly territory, early in the election season and found disappointment among activists about their would-be nominee.

"There will be real change in how Republicans choose their nominees," Keen said.

In general, it was difficult for either candidate to muster voter enthusiasm, said Ron Brownstein of The Los Angeles Times.

The Race That Never Was

The panelists said while they accurately predicted the winner through out the race, many felt Clinton would face a stiffer challenge.

When Dole's campaign failed to generate national enthusiasm, the media's attention waned, the panelists said.

Dole was 15 points behind Clinton in the polls at the beginning and end of the race, and the media could have run the same story the whole time, Keen said.

Richard Berke of The New York Times said he initially held high expectations for the 1996 elections because the conditions were ripe for a close race.

In 1995, Clinton was an endangered incumbent facing a rising challenge from Republicans and the prospect of independent campaigns run by retiring Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) and former Gen. Colin Powell, Berke said.

But the Bradley and Powell campaigns never materialized, and the Republicans deferred the nomination to Dole, allowing Clinton room to maneuver in 1996, Berke said.

In general, Keen said that when considering obstacles to Clinton's reelection, reporters underestimated the strong campaign skills he displayed in the 1992 election.

A Quiet Future

The turbulence of the 1992 and 1994 elections gave way to an uneasy equilibrium in 1996, said Brownstein.

The likely result of the elections is that the kind of sweeping change and partisan bickering that followed the 1994 elections will give way to slow, incremental change reached by bipartisan compromise, Brownstein said.

As well, the President may choose to focus on smaller issues in his second term like school uniforms or the family leave bill as opposed to sweeping big government programs like Medicare and Medicaid, King said.

Maxine Isaacs, the adjunct lecturer at the Kennedy School and former press secretary for Walter Mondale, moderated the event, which was hosted by IOP Fellow Mark Merritt, former chief spokesperson for the 1996 Republican National Convention. Gerald Seib of the Wall Street Journal was also a panelist

"There will be real change in how Republicans choose their nominees," Keen said.

In general, it was difficult for either candidate to muster voter enthusiasm, said Ron Brownstein of The Los Angeles Times.

The Race That Never Was

The panelists said while they accurately predicted the winner through out the race, many felt Clinton would face a stiffer challenge.

When Dole's campaign failed to generate national enthusiasm, the media's attention waned, the panelists said.

Dole was 15 points behind Clinton in the polls at the beginning and end of the race, and the media could have run the same story the whole time, Keen said.

Richard Berke of The New York Times said he initially held high expectations for the 1996 elections because the conditions were ripe for a close race.

In 1995, Clinton was an endangered incumbent facing a rising challenge from Republicans and the prospect of independent campaigns run by retiring Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) and former Gen. Colin Powell, Berke said.

But the Bradley and Powell campaigns never materialized, and the Republicans deferred the nomination to Dole, allowing Clinton room to maneuver in 1996, Berke said.

In general, Keen said that when considering obstacles to Clinton's reelection, reporters underestimated the strong campaign skills he displayed in the 1992 election.

A Quiet Future

The turbulence of the 1992 and 1994 elections gave way to an uneasy equilibrium in 1996, said Brownstein.

The likely result of the elections is that the kind of sweeping change and partisan bickering that followed the 1994 elections will give way to slow, incremental change reached by bipartisan compromise, Brownstein said.

As well, the President may choose to focus on smaller issues in his second term like school uniforms or the family leave bill as opposed to sweeping big government programs like Medicare and Medicaid, King said.

Maxine Isaacs, the adjunct lecturer at the Kennedy School and former press secretary for Walter Mondale, moderated the event, which was hosted by IOP Fellow Mark Merritt, former chief spokesperson for the 1996 Republican National Convention. Gerald Seib of the Wall Street Journal was also a panelist

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