The results from the first US presidential nomination vote in Iowa were always going to be interesting, because it’s a largely entertaining group of runners who have made it to the starting line. Was the momentum built by Donald Trump going to continue, despite labelling the Iowans, “stupid” earlier in the campaign? What of freshman senator, Ted Cruz, and would the wheels of the Clinton juggernaut rock, or roll?
Now we know – a good night was had by Cruz, Marco Rubio and the veteran, Bernie Sanders, while it was a case of ‘could do better’ for the more prominent Trump and Clinton. Or was it? While, Trump’s underachievement is uncontested, other outcomes are far greyer when presented by the media. Specifically, how did Senator Clinton get on? In terms of the numbers, she shaded it from Sanders by .3 of a percentage point; that’s 49.9% versus 49.6%. She “struggled” according to the Australian Financial Review; she was “unnerved” in the Sydney Morning Herald and won on the “toss of a coin” in the UK’s Daily Telegraph.
However, the Clinton bandwagon knows politics to be a long and expensive game; crucially, it also knows the media very well and how it operates. More accurately, it knows how to frame the story. I allude to the concept of framing, which when applied to the media is primarily concerned with news outlets and how they give meaning to events is determined by the prominence they give to some aspects of the story over others. The Clinton clan is also acutely aware of the power of the image; ergo, pictures of a euphoric Hillary, Bill and Chelsea – this is the jubilation nation. Gone are the struggles and nerves; these are pictures that tell a different story – this is juggernaut unstoppable and these people are one thing, winners and we should all join in to feel the same way.
I’ve cited Gavin Esler’s ‘Lessons from the Top’ in this blog before and I do so again in relaying the story of television reporter Lesley Stahl, who looked to highlight Ronald Reagan’s “hypocrisy” in regards to public health schemes. Stahl used footage of Reagan visiting a nursing home to report the fact that the President opposed funding for such places. Following the broadcast, a White House aide called Stahl to say that they had “loved the piece”. Stahl had wondered if they had heard the piece correctly. The aide replied that they had heard every word, but that “nobody heard you”. Fundamentally, the images of a doting Reagan with society’s marginalised far outshouted Stahl’s words. Hillary and the rest of the regiment know quite clearly that seeing is believing.