The Fifth Estate or Plain Public Speaking: Blogging and Digging Sarah Palin and Barack Obama

The nomination of Sarah Palin for the Republican Presidential ticket created a flurry of activity over the Internet. Introduced to the American public only one week ago, there are already 5,360 YouTube videos of her (NetPulse 5 September 2008). According to Netpulse, ‘searches for Governor Palin were almost four times as popular as Obama searches, eight times as popular as McCain searches and over 10 times more popular than searches for Biden’ (Ibid.). Stories about her are also ‘taking up the first eight spots on Diggs’s top Election ’08 Stories (Ibid.). Blogs and social networking sites are lighting up on this candidacy as well. This is one extreme case that illustrates the potential of the Internet to enable networked individuals to comment on and complement news coverage from those in support and those in opposition to the ticket. It is a phenomenal example of the Fifth Estate in action.

However, it also provides an important case of the roles of traditional rhetoric, media, and the Internet in agenda setting. Clearly the blogging followed media coverage. The level of blogging can be viewed as simply reflecting the phenomenal news coverage that the Governor, her speech and her family has been given by the media, generally — huge front page treatment by the elite press as well as tabloids.

However, the media were clearly driven by ‘The Speech’ which Palin gave at the convention. In fact, media coverage before her speech was decidedly derisive. It was only after she lit up the convention centre that the media gave her the rock star status. What would McLuhan say. A hot medium such as public address, should not work on a cool medium like television. So one positive aspect of Palin’s instant celebrity status was the role that the personal appearance of her and her family played in subsequent media coverage, and then a sensational array of blogging and social networking.

The parallel here is Senator Obama’s ability in public speaking, which carries well to the media. In short, we do not have two media stars as much as we have individuals able to stand at a lectern and bring an audience to its feet. These were the traditional skills of the politician, which were once viewed as irrelevant to the media age.

Apparently not. Public interest in the key candidates of the US Presidential election are being importantly shaped by the most fundamental rhetorical skills. If rhetoric, in its classical sense, is driving the media and Internet agenda, I think this is good news for the politics of the US election campaign.

Of course, the Internet does enable more people to hear and see their full speeches. Is the Internet enabling the art of public speaking to play a more powerful role in the election campaign?

One thought on “The Fifth Estate or Plain Public Speaking: Blogging and Digging Sarah Palin and Barack Obama

  1. Bill, What do you think will be different for the 2012 election coverage? My partners have updated our 2008 52 week 5 minute webisode series. We use journalism, verité, social networking and universities to ask the questions that our audience most want answered.

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