THE MEDIA AND THE MAYOR'S RACE by Phyllis Kaniss

THE MEDIA AND THE MAYOR'S RACE

The Failure of Urban Political Reporting
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A worthy but exhausting case study of the 1991 Philadelphia mayoral election, in which reporters emphasized the horse race over substantive issues. Kaniss (assistant dean, Annenberg School for Communication, Univ. of Pennsylvania; Making Local News, not reviewed) draws on observations of campaign events, interviews with journalists and politicos, and analysis of articles and newscasts to assemble a media-angled narrative of the mayor's race. While Kaniss's style is quite readable, her chronological account seems overstuffed. Still, she has some good set pieces: querying the Philadelphia Inquirer's editorial board on their endorsement logic; describing how an advisor coached candidate Frank Rizzo during a TV interview; showing how an aggressive political reporter can find dubious scandal. And she has several savvy observations: Inexperienced TV reporters often rely on the major local newspaper and its lead reporter--in this case, the Inquirer's Sal Paolantonio--for direction; TV news coverage values personality conflicts over issues; a live TV campaign forum may be the only time a candidate's words are heard directly by voters; coverage of black candidates that focuses on race rather than issues can itself appear to be a form of racism. The author also describes some folkways of reporting, showing how the ambitious Paolantonio cultivates his sources. The book's best part is its concluding chapter. Inquirer editor Maxwell King, informed that most coverage slighted issues, sounds genuinely concerned, which Kaniss takes as a sign that the shallowness of newspaper political reporting is ``not necessarily a deliberate objective [but]...the result of day-to-day decisions by a complex cast of actors.'' A television news director, by contrast, expresses no regret. Kaniss finds hope in two national TV trends: the ``truth squads'' news programs employed during the 1992 presidential campaign and the growth of local all-news cable stations like New York City's Channel One. Very thorough. News junkies, except those from Philadelphia, may want to skim.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-253-33114-5
Page count: 624pp
Publisher: Indiana Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1994