MEDIA WATCH: Howard Dean gets media's attention with feisty jabs at Kerry

There are nine candidates for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2004, and many political observers say the race is wide open. Within this pack, former Vermont governor Dr. Howard Dean has risen from relative obscurity to near equal footing with better-known candidates. In fact, it is often noted that Dean is in a virtual tie for first place with John Kerry - a longtime senator from Massachusetts - in New Hampshire polls, home of the critical first primary.

There are nine candidates for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2004, and many political observers say the race is wide open. Within this pack, former Vermont governor Dr. Howard Dean has risen from relative obscurity to near equal footing with better-known candidates. In fact, it is often noted that Dean is in a virtual tie for first place with John Kerry - a longtime senator from Massachusetts - in New Hampshire polls, home of the critical first primary.

Media Watch analyzed some of the most in-depth reporting and feature stories on Dean to identify what the news media has had to say about the candidate. The most frequently noted item in coverage of Dean is that he was against the war in Iraq. Although Dean, a physician by training, had originally hoped to focus his campaign on healthcare reform, his staunch criticism of the war has been his primary claim to fame. The Boston Herald (May 14) wrote that Dean's candidacy is "defined by his opposition to the war." Dean has also distinguished himself from the crowd as an outsider to Washington politics, and one who is not afraid to challenge his own party on certain issues. The New York Times (May 12) called Dean "probably the most media-savvy" of the top-tier candidates, and acknowledged that the physician "clearly realizes that a good way for an underfinanced newcomer to Presidential politics to win attention is to pick a fight with a leading candidate." The media has recognized that Kerry, in particular, has been on the receiving end of many of Dean's aggressive jabs. The Boston Herald (May 13) has also noticed that going on the attack has earned "loads of ink and air time" for Dean, while the Los Angeles Times (May 5) assessed, "Overall, he is enjoying remarkably favorable coverage." The media has also closely followed Dean's repeated assertions that the other candidates don't offer enough of an alternative to President Bush's policies. Dean's phrase for his competitors, "Bush Lite," has been identified as a sound bite that is catching on. As part of this effort to differentiate himself from the other candidates, Dean has frequently presented himself as the most liberal of the Democratic candidates, while others have been co-opted by the rightward movement of the party. This effort has been portrayed as largely successful thus far, but there have been a few cautioning voices saying that, in order to get elected, Dean would have to make his views a bit more mainstream. There has been evidence that, now that the war is largely over, Dean is trying to broaden his appeal beyond the hard-core pacifist liberals. Dean's recently unveiled plan for a universal healthcare system brought attention to his accomplishments in this area when he was governor of Vermont. While Dean has been successful in attracting media attention to his campaign, the methods he's using - particularly his blunt talk against fellow Democrats - may make closing ranks against the Republicans a more challenging goal than it would have already been. Already, newspapers are printing, "His bluntness has stirred whispers from other campaigns that the guy can be a glib, arrogant jerk" (St. Petersburg Times, April 13). Dean has been a fresh face for those looking for one - someone to speak his mind rather than toe the party line or say and do anything to get elected. While his campaign has been successful so far, it's a long way to even the first primary, let alone the election.
  • Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www.carma.com.

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