The scream that left us blind

If one were to surf on Sunday, a tiny news headline on the right sidebar probably would have failed to attract any attention. The headline, which read “CNN Says It Overplayed Dean’s Iowa Scream,” led to a small AP story disclosing that CNN executives are now admitting they perhaps overplayed Democratic Presidential candidate Howard Dean’s now-infamous “Yeeeaugh!” after the Iowa caucuses. The article claims that cable and broadcast news networks replayed the scream 633 times in the four days following the incident, a number that does not include talk shows and local news broadcasts. The article also explains that Dean was using a new microphone, which effectively blocked out all background noise. The recording heard countless times by American television viewers sounded like a madman screaming to himself. In reality, Dean could hardly be heard over the shouting of the crowd before him.

The damage, however, has been done, and we as members of the news media cannot help seeing how quickly Howard Dean shifted from a media fascination to an “unstable” candidate, all because of one outburst of emotion. It appears that much of the national news media is promoting the other democratic candidates by pairing the hundreds of repetitions of Dean’s scream with an increase in positive coverage of other candidates, including the new favorite, Massachusetts senator John Kerry.

First, a question of interpretation arises. Dean’s scream came at the end of a pep speech to supporters, increasing in volume and enthusiasm as he listed the states his campaign would win. His passionate shout was interpreted by members of the national news media as a sign of anger. He has consistently been described as a fire breather and a radical; an angry candidate who can hardly control his temper. Didn’t pundits once complain about President Bush’s lack of passion? And wasn’t Al Gore a turnoff because he was too serious? Why is enthusiasm suddenly a fault, rather than an asset for a presidential candidate?

Perhaps the American public thought 633 screams could not be wrong.

With all the talk about screams, real issues that affect Americans on a daily basis have not only taken the backburner in the race for this nomination, they basically have been forgotten. The media have created a caricature of each of the Democratic candidates – Kerry is the rock, a a traditional politician in the diverse pool of the candidates. Senator John Edwards is the pretty boy, too young (Edwards is 50) to be running. With all these titles, American voters are getting to know the caricatures well, but not the characters of the candidates. The lack of real information should give the American public something to scream about.


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