Construction Literary Magazine

Fall 2020

How Media Spun Obama and Romney

How Media Spun Obama and Romney

Image via DonkeyHotey

Surprise! Barack Obama accepted the Democratic presidential nomination Thursday night, a week after Mitt Romney accepted the Republican presidential nomination. Who would have guessed?

Based on the length of their acceptance speeches, we might infer that at least these two men had a hunch that something was up. Obama spoke for 38 minutes and 23 seconds. Romney spoke for 37 minutes and 47 seconds. These were the shortest acceptance speeches since 1984, implying that the candidates know their audience has a shorter attention span than in 1996, when Bill Clinton set a record with a speech lasting 64 minutes and 44 seconds.

Yet how you heard these speeches is quite different than how you might have heard about the speeches. A reader of the Wall Street Journal might have concluded that a beaten-down Obama is “pressing” his “scaled back” plans on America while Romney is “promising” to “restore” America to greatness. On the other hand, a Washington Post subscriber might have thought that an impassioned Obama made a strong argument for four more years of growth, while an angry Romney lashed out at the president.

Depending on who feeds you the news, you got a slightly different spin. It’s no different here at Construction, where you may notice a liberal-bent from Anthony Resnick and Ben Hoffman and an anti-Romney bias from me, while Ian Cheney writes from atop political fence for the most part. In an effort to provide insight from the right side of the aisle, Construction is soon welcoming a new pundit, Josh Lawson, who has worked for Bush II and John Ashcroft.

Here’s a quick analysis of the morning-after headlines splashed across major U.S. newspapers on Aug. 31 and Sept. 7, the dates that Romney and Obama accepted their party’s nomination, respectively. For a dose of introspection, I conclude with an interpretation of several homepage headlines on Construction during the RNC and the DNC.

Wall Street Journal

“Romney Promises to ‘Restore’ U.S.”

“Obama Presses Plan for U.S. Resurgence: Goals Are Scaled Back From Sweeping Proposals in 2008”

Interpretation: The U.S. needs to be “restored”—which is a word with religious intonations of healing—and Romney promises to bring about that redemption. Meanwhile, Obama is “pressing” and pressuring you with his plans for “resurgence”—word with military connotations—but it’s scaled back from his failed plans of 2008; and why would you trust a guy who already failed once to live up to the hype?

Slant: Pro-Romney

The New York Times

“Romney Vows to Deliver Country From Economic Travails”

“Obama Makes Case for 2nd Term: ‘Harder’ Path to “Better Place’—Says He Rescued Economy From a Disaster”

Interpretation: Romney is a Moses figure vowing to deliver the American people from an oppressive economy (again, the religious intonations). Obama is argumentative, making his case for reelection and on the defensive over his presidential record.

Slant: Neutral

Washington Post

“Romney seizes moment, lashes Obama”

“Four years later, a passionate defense: OBAMA ASKS FOR MORE TIME—President sees gains, assails Romney’s plans”

Interpretation: Finally with a moment in the spotlight, Romney the slave driver is using the attention to “lash” out at the first black president. Meanwhile, the passionate Obama is politely “asking” for voters’ permission to work on their behalf.

Slant: Pro-Obama

USA Today

“‘We deserve better’: Romney, Ryan take message on tour”

“Obama: ‘Don’t turn back’: Says recovery of U.S. will take time”

Interpretation: Romney and Ryan are a team, together offering Americans a better future while lone wolf Obama defends the little progress made so far along the road to recovery. Both the candidates are focused on the rocky road ahead—be it the road back to Bush II policies, or the road forward with Obama Part II.

Slant: Neutral

New York Post

“FEELIN’ LUCKY, PUNK?” (with pic of Clint Eastwood)

“OBAMA’S GOALS: 1) Get re-elected 2) Save America”

Interpretation: Clint Eastwood stole the show at the RNC. A week later, Obama laid out a clear if oversimplified and bland defense for his reelection.

Slant: Pro-Obama (you can’t omit Romney from the front page without having a slant).

Boston Globe

“Romney offers a message of hope and ‘lots of jobs’”

“Obama vows bold steps, reward in shared sacrifice”

Interpretation: Romney is copying Obama’s message of hope even while ridiculing it, although his plan lacks specifics beyond promising lots of jobs and stuff. Obama, however, is boldly going where no Romney has gone before, promising reward in sacrifice (another religious connotation).

Slant: Pro-Obama.

Chicago Tribune


“‘WE ARE MOVING FORWARD, AMERICA’: No quick fix to nation’s challenges, Obama says”

Interpretation: Romney says elect him if you want to prosper. Obama says we’re prospering more than four years ago when the nation was left with a lot of “challenges” from his Republican predecessor.

Slant: Neutral


Aug 29: “First Night of the RNC: A Bad Night for Truth; On Republican politicians ignoring facts and seeing the America they want to see.”

Aug 30: “Paul Ryan and CNN: A Match Made in Heaven? Examining one of the most disingenuous speeches ever made by a major politician.”

Sept 5: “First Night of the DNC: A Good Night for Non-Politicians; How Michelle Obama rocked the mike, and Democrats hit back with personal narratives of their own.”

Sept 6: “Bill Clinton’s Night; The former president delivers a classic speech at the DNC.”

Interpretation: During the RNC a bunch of lying Republicans, particularly vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan, ignored the truth in an audacious attempt to repaint the political landscape, while the DNC featured a host of honest and good-natured speakers, particularly Michelle Obama, who delivered down-to-Earth and moving speeches.

Slant: Pro-Obama