Political Communicationby Steven Foster
Edinburgh University Press
We live in a world of spin. Spin upon spin, really. There are politicians and their talking points. There are the countless flacks who reinforce those points and are paid to make sure they get into the press. Then, there are the innumerable talking heads who interpret, analyze and, ultimately, spin what’s already been said.
Making sense of all this has become a daunting if not impossible task. And that is exactly what Steven Foster attempts to do in “Political Communication,” which is due to be released this Spring. Part textbook and part how-to handbook, it seeks to paint what contemporary political communications are—what they seek to accomplish, their effective strategies—against a backdrop of how they have developed over time. Foster writes that the book “addresses the way in which politicians attempt to communicate their messages to an increasingly skeptical and disengaged electorate and the implications this has for a wide range of associated issues.”
The book seeks to explain the very complicated relationship between political communications that occur during campaigns and those that occur while governing. Foster divides the book into three parts. The first discusses how parties seek to win elections. The second covers how and why pols seek to control the media once in office (there’s an interesting discussion of media bias here). The third looks at how “government has manipulated the law on ownership and media content to its advantage.”
Chapters are preceded by one-page outlines of what’s to come and topics include a history of political communication, government communications, retail politics, campaign advertising and how to manage the news cycle.
One drawback for the U.S. audience is that it focuses primarily on politics in the United Kingdom. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t valuable lessons from British history that are eerily similar to our own. Foster frames much of the book around the Labour Party of Great Britain’s major electoral success in 1997, which made Tony Blair prime minister. The 1997 campaign was, to Foster, perfection when it came to how it handled the media. Early in his tenure as prime minister, Blair and his staff continued to excel in this realm. When the Iraq War began, however, Blair struggled and in some ways manipulated the press to garner support for England’s involvement. Such manipulation does not sit well with journalists so, Forster concludes, Blair’s relationship with the media and, by extension, the electorate was severely strained.
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