Media Impacts

You would have had to work pretty hard during the runup to the 2006 elections last fall not to be aware of the uphill battle waged by former Democratic Congressman Harold Ford Jr. C’92 of Tennessee to be the first African American elected to the Senate from the South since Reconstruction—especially after the appearance of the notorious TV ad featuring a young, beautiful (and white) party girl who suggestively invited the candidate to “call me” that may have caused him to lose to his Republican opponent Bob Corker by three percentage points.

In the months after the election, Ford was named chairman of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, and he will also keep himself busy working as an executive for Merrill Lynch and teaching at Vanderbilt University. For our cover story, “Harold Ford’s Next Move,” frequent contributor Jordana Horn C’95 L’99 caught up with Ford as he shuttled between New York, Tennessee, and Washington for a post-campaign interview. She also consulted with his pollster, Pete Brodnitz ASC’94, and other experts, including Frank Luntz C’84. Though Luntz has worked mostly for Republicans, he taught Ford while serving as an adjunct professor at Penn back in the 1990s and maintains a friendly rooting interest in his political future—which, by all accounts, is bright, despite his recent setback. (According to one political scientist, Ford emerged from the race as “a rock star, basically.”)

Ford himself wasn’t interested in debating the ad’s racist intent or its possible role in his loss, and other observers are divided on just what its impact was in the end. Brodnitz, though, seems to lay the blame more on the media’s response than the ad itself. “The press corps ended up fixating on it,” he says, focusing on “the racial angle” while ignoring other, even more damaging and untrue, attack ads, and distracting attention from the campaign’s own messaging.

The media’s tendency to frame a story in a certain light—and to stick to that script regardless of the facts—also comes up in veteran journalist Leslie Bennetts CW’70’s new book The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much?, which is excerpted in this issue. In an accompanying interview, Bennetts, a contributing writer at Vanity Fair, says she decided to write the book out of her “exasperation about the media coverage of the back-to-the-home trend that’s been documented by recent census figures.” Most stories, she says, applaud women’s decisions to opt out of the work force to raise children while ignoring the “often catastrophic” economic consequences, as well as the many examples of women—like her—who have successfully combined parenthood with wa paying career.

Weaving together her own experience, interviews with stay-at-home and working moms, and the testimony and research of scholars and other experts, Bennetts decries the false choice offered young women between being the “best” at motherhood or a career and instead makes the case for having “a fully rounded adult life” by being “good enough” at both. “Yes, it can be stressful to keep all those balls in the air, but if I’m being really honest, I have to admit that it’s also an incredible thrill,” she writes.

Finally, analyzing the complex interplay among media, governments, and society on a worldwide scale is the purpose of the Annenberg School for Communication’s new Center for Global Communication Studies, established this past fall with a $10 million grant from the Annenberg Foundation. “Across the Borderline,” by senior editor Samuel Hughes and freelancer Katie Haegele C’98, describes the Center’s goals and activities, which include projects in Hungary, China, and Iraq, among other places, and profiles its director, lawyer and “journalist manqué” Monroe Price—also known as “the most networked man in the world.”

—John Prendergast C’80

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