Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Some Links For A Journalism Class

Feeling Retrospective: Back to Caucus Season

(NOTE: First published 12/29/10. Temporarily bumped back to the front page as I'm visiting Professor Perlmutter's class again tonight.)

I'm in a retrospective mood here at the Deeth Blog for a couple reasons. In anticipation of Friday's dual event, New Year's Eve and the eight year anniversary of this site - I'm working on my annual year in review.

But before that, I'm heading back to caucus time. Today I'm guest lecturing in David Perlmutter's journalism class, and for the benefit of the students I'm conveniently re-posting some of the past glories I'm planning to brag about, in handy dandy web friendly Top Ten format.

10. Just. Start. Writing.

9. Build your brand. (Hat optional.)

8. Find Your Niche.
  • The national press doesn't get caucus math: Rural Counties: Less Caucus Goers Per Delegate; Caucuses Are Representative Democracy, Not Undemocratic:
    Iowa City Precinct 18 is an activist hotbed, and 534 people attended the 2004 caucuses. North Liberty Precinct 1 is full of new voters, and only 171 attended. But based on voting behavior in 2000 and 2002, each had ten delegates. Those ten delegates represent the Democratic voters of the precinct -- ALL the Democratic voters, both the activists and the once every four years people. You could argue that in this sense, the caucus numbers are more representative than the raw vote count, because they are inclusive of the weak general election voters that the Democrats depend on in November...

    Of course, all this side steps the real reason the raw vote isn't reported: New Hampshire thinks that's too much like a primary, and the convoluted results are one of the prices we pay for being first.

    National folks also miss the difference between the parties:

  • Caucusing Is (Sort of) Easy For Democrats: "If you remember one word about the Iowa Democratic caucuses, remember the word viability."

  • Caucusing Is Easier (For Republicans): “The caucus result from the straw poll has no binding on the county convention or the state convention.”

  • Even the strongest candidates can miss the point. Clinton Understood Surface, Not Spirit, Of Caucuses: a singer with perfect pitch who misses the meaning of the song, Clinton kept errors to a minimum but failed to capture the spontaneous spirit of the caucuses. She started out doing one on one meetings with undecided local activists, but as her national lead held, Clinton moved toward a "general election strategy," as she said at a debate. By the time Obama was catching up in the fall, it was too late to go back and adapt.

    No one incident captures this perfectly, but little detail after little detail paints the picture.

    A staffer subtly steering me away from a friend of many years, directing her to the public seats and me to the roped off press area. Offering the press free pizza after the speech, rather than what we really wanted: time to ask the candidate a question. The relentless focus on sign war at cattle call events, bringing in loads of staffers and making it harder to ferret out the genuine levels of support. The careful release, then quick denial, of a strategy memo last spring arguing that Clinton should skip Iowa, underscoring her relative weakness in the state and inoculating her against expectations. Supporters leaving the Harkin Steak Fry after Clinton spoke without hearing the rest of the candidates, as if to send a scripted message of "I'm only here for Hillary."

  • Caucus night itself sucks:
    "The process has grown so big that it has outstripped the size of the biggest rooms and parking lots in the precincts, and the reality of the Magic Minute of alignment was stuffy and unpleasant. I was repeatedly contacted by residents of one Iowa City care center, begging for a “sub-caucus” site at their facility and arguing that the negotiations of realignment could be handled by cell phone. But the rules don’t allow that. At some point, Iowa is vulnerable to an ADA lawsuit."

    7. You never know when the big one will hit.

  • Covering John McCain in Davenport during the general election:
    The invocation is interesting, as I hear keyboards going all around me:

    "There are plenty of people around the world who are praying to their god, be they Hindu, Buddah, or Allah, that (McCain's) opponent wins. I pray that you step forward and honor your own name." Ends with "in Jesus' name."

    Wow. McCain does not appear to have been here yet to catch that, but wow. The preacher's name appears to be a Pastor Conrad of the Evangelical Free Church.

  • Rudy Giuliani: Asked About HIV, He Answers With 9/11:
    Asked about increasing federal support for HIV medications, Giuliani discussed what he considers appropriate federal responsibility in health care. “I don’t want to promise you the federal government will take over the role,” he said, drawing applause and shouts of “all right." Then, in some interesting twists, he turned the HIV question into a 9/11 answer:

    “My general experience has been that the federal government works best when it helps and assists and encourages and sets guidelines… on a state-by-state, locality-by-locality basis. It’s no different from the way I look at homeland security. Maybe having been mayor of the city, I know that your first defense against terrorist attack is that local police station, or that local firehouse.”

  • During that couple of weeks when it seemed like Sarah Palin had been a good idea, I got assigned to a low-key surrogate event:
    IOWA CITY -- Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius publicly considered the possibility that Sen. Barack Obama's race might be a factor in this year's presidential election during an appearance here Tuesday.

    "Have any of you noticed that Barack Obama is part African-American?" Sebelius asked in response to a question about why the election is so close. "That may be a factor. All the code language, all that doesn't show up in the polls. And that may be a factor for some people."

    The remark, delivered in the governor's low key, folksy, out-from-behind-the-podium style, raised a couple chuckles but few eyebrows in the downtown Iowa City crowd, but Republicans took offense and responded in short order...

    6. Don't be afraid to have a personality.
  • Let the music do the talking:
    Barack Obama hit the repeat button a few too many times -- sometimes the same five songs cycled three or four times while the crowd waited -- but he had a nice mix based around Motown and `60s soul: Jackie Wilson's "Higher And Higher," Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," Aretha Franklin and James Brown.

    Finally, John Cougar Edwards was the most on message. A "Rise Up" cadence in a late version of his stump speech ended with Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising" on the loudspeakers. The John Mellencamp alliance loses points for the "Our Country" truck ad tie-in, but gains points for the actual endorsement of the artist...

    5. Don't be afraid to have an opinion. Admit it, as your reputation may precede you, especially if you wear a red hat. "McCain: Not Dead, but Neither Was Terri Schiavo."

    4. But back it up.

    3. Don't be afraid to be wrong: "Sun Setting On The Straight Talk Express". Don't forget to laugh at yourself when you are. And you will be.

    2. Read what the other team is writing.

    1. Enjoy the ride: "Unless there's an unprecedented upset and Duncan Hunter and Mike Gravel win the Iowa caucuses tonight, I've seen the next president speak. And unless it's Rudy Giuliani, I've spoken to her or him in person, however briefly. I've been interviewed live on C-SPAN, Googled by campaigns, shown up on the front page of one of the home town papers, had my headwear praised by Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd, and had hundreds of people a day pay attention to my opinion on the whole thing. And even more incredibly, I've gotten paid to do it."

    And just for fun, some pictures.
  • 1 comment:

    nanoscale00 said...

    At some point, Iowa is vulnerable to an ADA lawsuit.

    At my caucus site in 2008, the event was held on the second floor of a middle school w/ no elevator access. We landed up carrying people in wheelchairs up & down the stairs. That, of course, was after we figured out how to get them across the sheet of ice outside. At the time, I held similar thoughts: this is a lawsuit in the making.