Week of March 29, 2004

Print Media: The Grand Rapids Press

This week the Grand Rapids press ran only four articles on the 2004 presidential election. Two of them, Kerry, Cheney, spar over economy, taxes, and Bush campaign sues over attack ads are critiqued in the Grand Rapids Press Coverage section above. The other two articles consisted of a short article titled Kerry Plans pause for minor surgery and a longer piece, GOP recruits IRS help in analysis of Kerry tax proposals. The minor surgery article is a particularly egregious example of horse race coverage, focusing on Kerry’s minor medical condition and how it will delay his campaign schedule.

Local TV News Coverage

The three local TV channels ran a combined total of four election stories this week. The total run time of the four stories was 3:48. Of the two major party candidates, John Kerry was shown speaking for 24 seconds, George Bush for 7 seconds. WOOD TV 8’s “claim check” story was the only piece out of the four that was not horse race coverage.

Paid Political ads

This week there was an increase in the number of paid political ads. The Bush campaign paid for a total of 34 ads that ran during local TV news broadcasts. Whereas during the previous week the ads were evenly split between pro-Bush and Anti-Kerry ads, this week the majority were Anti-Kerry attack ads. This week there were also seven anti-Bush ads that aired, paid for by the AFL-CIO. These are the first anti-Bush ads that have appeared since this study commenced.


WOOD TV 8 Election Story: “Hit him hard!”

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This is primarily a horse-race story. The news reader does not explain why Michigan is a battle ground state for the White House, assuming viewers already know why.

Reporter Rick Albin begins by summarizing Kerry’s job creation plan. He does mention that will happen through “corporate tax cuts” and “ending subsidies to corporation who export jobs.” Viewers would have been served well to get some analysis of how “corporate tax cuts” will create jobs and what kind of corporate tax cuts already exist. (See Citizens for Tax Justice) The issue of ending subsidies is also not explained or clarified. Go here for more information.

The story goes onto quote Kerry and a West Michigan Union representative, but both comments have little meaning for viewers. What WOOD TV 8 could have done that would have been instructive for viewers was to look at Kerry’s voting record on jobs, the economy and trade policies.

The reporter also mentions that Kerry and Rep. Dingel make critical comments about the Republicans. Kerry says “They have run the most arrogant, reckless and ideological foreign policy in the modern history of our country.” Unfortunately, this claim is not substantiated.

The story ends with a comment that is somewhat out of context, regarding Kerry’s silence on fuel efficiency standards in front of a UAW audience. This would have been a good opportunity to discuss how political campaigns have targeted audiences and try to avoid address larger issues, especially if it might alienate those audiences.


Newsreader – Michigan will be a battle ground state in the race for the White House and today John Kerry enlisted the support of one of the state’s largest unions. 24 Hour News 8 political reporter Rick Albin was with the Democratic candidate tonight and Rick joins us live now from the election desk.

Reporter Rick Albin – Suzy, John Kerry says if he’s elected he’ll create 10 million jobs in his first term. He says he’ll do it by cutting corporate taxes and ending subsidies for corporations that export jobs. Kerry’s themes were consistent today, more jobs and less George W. Bush.(Cut to video b-roll of Kerry rally in Warren, MI.) Kerry’s high octane entrance was enough to rev up these United Auto Workers who endorsed him for the job he wants, while he promised to help keep the jobs they want.

John Kerry – “I want those cars built by UAW and the big 3 here in America. And that is what we are going to try to fight to guarantee…”

Reporter – A notion that sat well with one West Michigan union member.

Union member – “Today he said in his speech if he’s elected and I told him when we had a private meeting this afternoon he ought to say when he’s elected. He said he didn’t want to be presumptuous, but I’m going to be.”

Reporter – The message of the day was jobs, but Kerry’s approach is the same as it has been for months, hit President Bush hard, then hit him again. To that end Kerry repeated the line he uses in every stump speech.

Kerry – “They have run the most arrogant, reckless and ideological foreign policy in the modern history of our country.”

Reporter – And when it came to Bush bashing, Kerry got a little help from some of his friends. Rep. John Dingel said the first issue was to get rid of Bush, then he added

Rep. Dingel – “…after you and I finish with him, we want to send all of those miserable Republicans back home.”

Reporter – By the time Kerry wrapped up his Motor City visit, he left with the endorsement he wanted from a state many observers say is a must win if the Democrats are to take the White House. Kerry avoided any talk about fuel efficiency standards in front of the auto workers. The candidate has proposed higher gas millage mandates that have previously not set well with the UAW. Tomorrow Kerry heads to Missouri, another potential battle ground state.

Total time: 2 minutes and 15 seconds

Camapign Finance Fluff from WZZM 13

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This piece begins with great potential by talking about how 15 of the top 100 political donors in the 2000 election were from Michigan. Reporter Peter Ross mentions that Jay Van Andel gave $400,000, but the information stops there. Instead, the reporter attempts to communicate that most political money “comes in small amounts.” This is simply not true. See the information at the Center for Public Integrity and White House for Sale.

The WZZM 13 reporter goes to the West Michigan Women’s Expo since both the Republicans and Democrats had tables at that event and give us some pithy quotes like “I have more time than money,” and “If you buy a donkey button, I’ll give you a John Kerry button.” One of the women at the Republican table says “It’s the grassroots effort that wins everything.” That certainly should be challenged by the reporter. If grassroots is where it’s at, why do political campaigns spend the majority of their money on paid political ads? See the Alliance for Better Campaigns.

The reporter goes on to tell us how much the Democrats (at their unity event) and Republicans (total of $170 million) have raised to date, but not who the money is from nor how it will be spent. Instead they go back to the Women’s Expo and get a comment from a voter who clearly struggles with the campaign money issue – “It’s too bad we have to raise so much money to win a campaign.”

The story ends with the reporter telling us that Bush has out-raised Kerry so far, which is why no Kerry ads have aired in this market yet, although anti-Bush ads have appeared. Unfortunately, no mention is made out how much money this media market has made from running paid political ads, nor how that impacts public perception.

This story missed huge opportunities to inform the public about the role of money in campaigns and what that means to our Democracy.


Newsreader – The big money shows why Michigan is such a battle ground state for the 2004 votes, once more it’s an even split…half went to Republicans, half to Democrats. Grand Rapids political reporter Peter Ross says some of the biggest donors were clustered here in Michigan.

Reporter Peter Ross – That’s right 15 of the 100 top political givers in 2000 came from Michigan, more than any other state. Amway co-founder Jay Van Andel at number 10 donated over $400,000 to Michigan’s republican state committee back then, but for the most part, then, as well as now, the money comes in in small amounts.

(Cuts to video b-roll at the Women’s Expo in the Convention Center)

You can find a lot at the Women’s Expo, including President Bush (woman standing next to cardboard cut out).

Woman – “Republican women are the life of the party.”

Reporter – Sharon is one of them.

Sharon – “I have more time than money.”

Reporter – But she gives a little money to the Grand Old party.

Sharon – “It’s the grassroots effort that wins everything.”

Woman – “If you buy a donkey button, I’ll give you a John Kerry button.”

Reporter – Across the hall another small donor. Democrat Margaret Tenbrink.

Margaret – “Not all of us have the $1,000 to give or the $2,000, or can’t afford to buy them $5,000 a dinner tickets.”

(cuts to Democratic party fundraiser)

Reporter – The Democrats raised $11 million at their unity dinner last night in Washington, a record. While President Bush has just passed his goal of raising $170 million dollars for his re-election. A small amount of that came from Jeff Burns of Wyoming.

Jeff Burns – “It’s too bad we have to raise so much money to win a campaign.”

Reporter – A bunch of that money is coming from Michigan, although Antoniette may not write a check.

Antoniette – “I’m unemployed right now, so it would take a lot.”

(Cuts to reporter back in newsroom.)

Reporter – President Bush has raised a lot more money than John Kerry has, that’s why you haven’t seen any Kerry TV commercials here in West Michigan yet, although you have see spots from groups like MoveOn.org and the Media Fund that are trying to counter Bush’s fund raising advantage.

Total time: 2 minutes and 12 seconds

Bush ups ante in attack on Democrat

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Headline:What does the headline mean by “ups ante”? Why is Bush referred to by name but Kerry referred to as “democrat”. Compare the GR Press headline to the original AP headline. Which one more accurately conveys the meaning of the article?

Platform: what does this article tell about the two candidates platforms? According to the article Kerry would cut taxes on the middle class, roll back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and cut the deficit in half”. No information is given about Bush’s platform.

Voting Record: Although the article does mention a few of Kerry’s campaign promises, it does not compare these promises to his existing voting record. Knowing how he has voted in the past would give the reader a factual basis with which to judge the sincerity of his campaign promises. Bush’s record is not mentioned either. Considering the claims made by the presidents campaign in the article about how Kerry would increase spending, would it not be reasonable for the author of this article to look at Bush’s budget proposals. Bush’s campaign manager Ken Mehlman states “The president has put out a budget….We have not seen a budget from Senator Kerry.” Would it not be appropriate to follow that up by reporting on the huge deficits contained in the Bush budget?

Sources: Does this article examine or provide any sources for the information provided? the article mentions that the Bush campaigns one trillion dollar figure was “culled from, among other things, news accounts of Kerry’s campaign.” The article does not question the validity of using news accounts to arrive at a budget spending proposal. Also, no sources are provided to validate or dispute the Kerry campaign claim that Bush has “cost America’s workers 3 million jobs and driven us into the largest budget deficit in the nation’s history”

Article Text

Grand Rapids Press (page A5)

March 22, 2004

The president’s campaign say’s U.S. Sen. John Kerry’s spending proposals would cost taxpayers $1 trillion.


The Associated Press

3/22/04 2:39 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush’s re-election campaign is boosting its estimate, to more than $1 trillion, of the amount it claims taxpayers would be billed over 10 years if Democratic rival John Kerry’s spending proposals became a reality.

The new figure is about $100 billion higher than a recently released Bush TV commercial accused the Massachusetts senator of eyeing in terms of new programs.

“The president has put out a budget,” Bush’s campaign manager, Ken Mehlman, said Sunday. “We have not seen a budget from Senator Kerry.”

Mehlman said the Republican National Committee would unveil on Monday “a ‘spendometer’ which will be a tool which will allow a continuing update of the spending that Senator Kerry has proposed.”

In the commercial, Bush claimed Kerry has proposed programs that would amount to a $900 billion tax increase. Kerry immediately rejected that as bogus.

On Sunday, the president’s camp countered with a compendium of proposals it said it culled from, among other things, news accounts of Kerry’s campaign. It tallied the bill at $1.017 trillion over 10 years.

Kerry has said he wants to extend health insurance to millions of uninsured people and cut costs for those who already have coverage, rolling back tax breaks for wealthier Americans as part of a plan to offset those expenses.

Bush’s campaign asserted that 28 of Kerry’s campaign promises would cost $1.7 trillion over 10 years and said the specific proposals he has offered to pay for that would generate only about $700 billion in new government revenue, leaving the more than $1 trillion “tax gap.”

“George Bush’s tax policies have cost America’s workers 3 million jobs and driven us into the largest budget deficit in the nation’s history,” Kerry spokesman David Wade replied.

“Despite their credibility gap, the Bush team wants to mislead America about John Kerry’s economic policies,” he said. “John Kerry will cut taxes on the middle class, roll back the Bush tax cut for the wealthiest Americans and cut the budget deficit in half. That’s the kind of change that Americans want and they won’t be diverted from voting for it by Republican scare attacks.”

The Kerry campaign had said earlier, however, that in light of changing economic conditions, it is reviewing its own proposals.

Article Ommitted from The Grand Rapids Press Version

Original Associated Press Headline: “Bush campaign says Kerry spending proposals would cost taxpayers $1 trillion”

“We will put out a detailed budget sometime in the future that shows how to get us back on track,” campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said.

Various estimates have indicated that Kerry’s plan to repeal tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans would save about $250 billion over 10 years. The Bush campaign estimated that Kerry’s revenue-raising proposals would total around $700 billion, effectively leaving the country with a more than $1 trillion tax increase.

Mehlman, the Bush campaign manager, maintained that Kerry’s spending plan “will cost each household an average of $15,500 over 15 years.”

President way ahead in money race


Horse Race: This article does not give the reader any information that would be useful in helping them make an informed vote. Rather than discussing issues or platforms, this article is focused just on the “horse race” of the election, which candidate is ahead in votes and or money.

Money: This article tells us how much each candidate has raised but it does not tell us who has given the candidates these donations. Reporting on who donates to which candidate gives voters much more information about a candidate than simply telling us how much a candidate has raised. To learn more about where the candidates are getting their funding, go to

Week of March 22, 2004

Print Media: The Grand Rapids Press

The Grand Rapids Press ran 10 election stories during the week of March 22 through 26. With the exception of “Kerry pushes tax reform plan”, none of these stories gave any substantive information about the candidates positions, platforms, or voting records. This week’s stories tended to be “horse race” style reporting, focusing more on where the candidates were stumping, who was ahead in the polls, and who had raised the most money. Several of the articles mentioned the amount of funds each candidate had raised but they never gave the reader information on who donated these funds to the various campaigns or what interests these donors represent.

Local TV News Coverage

The local TV news channels ran a total of 18 news stories about the election from March 22 through 26 with a combined run time of these stories was 20.32. WOOD TV 8 ran 9 stories with arun time of 9:15, WZZM 13 ran 6 stories with run time of 7:35, and WXMI 17 ran 3 stories with a total run time of 3:42. It should be noted that while WOOD 8 and WZZM 13 run three, half-hour news broadcasts a day, WXMI 17 runs one hourlong news broadcast a day. Most of the local TV news election coverage for this week was of the “horse race” variety with the exception of two pieces, Rick Albins “Fact Check” story and Channel 13’s “Political campaign contributors in Michigan” story.

Paid Political ads

The three local TV channels ran a total of 34 paid political ads during their news broadcasts, a total of 17 minutes of airtime. All the ads were paid for by President Bush’s re-election campaign. WOOD TV 8 ran 14 ads, 7 of which had a pro-Bush message and 7 of which were anti-Kerry. WZZM 13 ran 15 ads, 7 pro-Bush and 8 anti-Kerry. WXMI 17 ran 5 ads, 3 pro-Bush and 2 anti-Kerry. The three networks ran a total of 20 minutes, 32 seconds worth of election coverage compared to 17 minutes of paid political advertising.