|Nixon Addresses Crowd of Supporters||Democrat Nominee Hubert Humphrey||Spoiler George Wallace|
1968: LAW AND ORDER, AND THE EFFECT OF THIRD PARTY CANDIDATE.
If the 1964 election was the most interesting
presidential election, the 1968 was the most confusing and muddled election.
The election featured three credible candidates, Hubert Humphrey, from the
Democrats, Richard Nixon, Republican, and George Wallace, a third party
candidate representing the segregationist party. The issue that the
candidates were running on, not only confused the people, but also the press.
The Democrat was running as a supporter for the continuation of the Vietnam War,
and the Republican was running on a platform of a secret plan to end the Vietnam
War and as a law and order candidate. Mr. Wallace was running as
anti-civil right and a law and order candidate.
The election was unusual, not only because the two main candidates took positions that could be characterized as contrary to what would be their party’s normal position on the war, and a third party candidate with a substantially large following. All this gave the media a field day to analyze and frame the news to fit their expectation. They heavily relied on the adversarial approach when reporting the news so that they could frame the news the way they wanted it, rather than report what actually happened. They seemed to be fascinated about the rift that happened in the Democratic Party between those who opposed the Vietnam War, those who supported it, and the southern democrat who were opposed to civil right. Although the rift in the Democratic Party was significant, the media's heavy focus on it doomed the Democrat candidate and his chance to convey his message to the people effectively.
The Democrats, instead of learning from the mistake of the Republicans committed in 1964, they repeated it and chose a weak candidate that did not even have the majority of the Democrats behind him. President Lyndon Johnson, angered by Democrats who did not agree with his stand on the Vietnam War refused to run again after his weak showing against Senator Eugene McCarthy in the New Hampshire primary had embarrassed him. He used all his power in the party to get Humphrey nominated, even though Humphrey failed to get most of the primary voters. In addition, the Party had angered most of its supporter in the South by strongly pushing for integration and voting right for Blacks in the south, which was the party’s base. Those Democrats who hated the civil right legislation lined up behind Governor Wallace, who was one of the most vocal critics of integration and civil right legislation.
This election was very negative and most of the news that was reported was interpreted, analyzed and framed by the reporters. It seemed to grab a big headline, the candidate must attack one another, or else they would be relegated to a small corner where a reader must look for it to read. Television was not much better either. It was also a time of much upheaval in the country because of the Vietnam War and the candidates had to compete with the war stories and the daily demonstrations that were taking place in most of the country. The reporters who were against the Vietnam War dominated the media and their bias can be shown in their favorable coverage of candidates when they talked about either deescalating the war or stopping it together.
Mr. Nixon, who hated the media and the media hated him, had better coverage than the other candidates during this election because he had promised to end the War if he was elected president with his “secret plan”. Mr. Humphrey, on the other hand had a hard time getting a good coverage because his plan was not deemed enough to stop the war. Further more, Vice President Humphrey was dogged by the refusal of Senator McCarthy, who was second runner for the nomination and a vocal critic of the Vietnam War refusal to endorse him. Like Senator Goldwater in 1964, the media ignored what the senator was saying and focused on why he was not endorsed by his rival for the nomination. The majority of the stories either had the endorsement issue as a lead or worked the issue into the story they were writing about the Vice President. The press asserted that the President controlled the Vice President's campaign. Their reasoning was the Vice President's refusal to deviate substantially from the President’s position on Vietnam. This was widely disseminated by the media without any evidence and despite the Vice President denial. The constant assertion that he was beholden to the President made it hard for the Vice President to receive the support of Eugene McCarthy’s supporters and made him look indecisive to independents that were crucial to his election success.
Although we cannot definitely say that the unfavorable coverage of the media would lead directly to defeat, there is no question it does contribute immensely to the defeat of a candidate unless the candidate has another means of communicating with the voters. In this case, the Vice President had no chance of winning with the constant negative coverage of the Vietnam War policy of the administration and the mounting casualties as the result of the war. However, the media unfairly put the Vice President in a "no win" situation by portraying him as under the thumb of the President. This made it where in order to be looked at as independent of the president, he had to disavow his boss’s position. If he disavows the President, he would be portrayed a charlatan for abandoning the President who picked him as Vice President and helped him get the nomination. The media's constant analyzing and interpreting of his actions, whether it was consistent with the administration policy or against, it made it difficult for the Vice President to come up with his own ideas and sell it to the voters without being for or against the President's policy. This led to his humiliating defeat and the election of the Richard Nixon.