Political Communication Course Covers Heart of Election Season
By Rashad Mulla
The constant verbal barrage between the various presidential contenders has kept Americans focused on the 2012 election. And this election season, the campaigns have kept Mason students engaged in the classroom.
During the spring semester, Mason offered a special topics course, COMM 399 Political Campaign Communication, taught by Robert Lichter, a faculty member in the Department of Communication and director of two Mason centers: the Center for Media and Public Affairs and the Statistical Assessment Service. Lichter, the author or co-author of 14 books and numerous scholarly articles, brought to the course his years of expertise in political analysis.
The course evolved from a political journalism class taught in years past. For the first half of each week’s class, the students would convene in the Innovation Hall television studio to listen to and interact with a powerful lineup of guests, including:
- Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project
- Douglas Wilder, former Governor of Virginia
- Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of the Gallup Poll
- Craig Crawford, writer, television political commentator, and columnist for Congressional Quarterly
- Pat Buchanan, senior adviser to Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, and former Republican presidential candidate
The guests would meet in Washington with Steve Scully, political director of C-SPAN. The resulting interview would be broadcast live, to both Mason students and Scully’s students in the C-SPAN Washington Classroom program. All parties involved could pitch questions during designated times. After the video broadcast, the students would proceed to a different classroom, where Lichter would recap the interview with them and discuss his own material.
“This is a really unique opportunity to encounter and interact with these major Washington figures,” Lichter says. “This is a way to take advantage of George Mason University’s proximity [to Washington, D.C.], and it is a way to let Washington come to you.”
Political candidates and their staffs have to communicate with the public in a variety of ways in order to get elected, Lichter says. Throughout the course Lichter covered many of these communication outlets, such as speechwriting, debates, stump speeches, campaign advertisements, paid media, free media, entertainment media, and news media.
“Part of what I try to do is show how the campaign that we see in the media is the product of a continued struggle between the candidates and the media to determine what information gets to the public,” Lichter says.
He also notes the timeliness of the subject matter: “Everything that I’m teaching in class gets illustrated in the real world simultaneously. It’s wonderful to talk about things in the abstract, and then say, for example, ‘What Romney said yesterday influences this.’ In a nonpartisan way I was hoping for a long primary in order to have lots of grist for my class.”
Delesia Watson, who graduated in May with a BA in Communication, found the course appealing.
“For starters, it’s incredible that we can travel back and forth in time between past elections and the upcoming one, while making projections for future elections, too,” she says. “Hosting well-known guest speakers from both parties with unique insights and having the opportunity to ask their opinions is an eye-opening experience, in addition to being able to interact with students from all across the nation through C-SPAN.
“And being on TV isn’t so bad, either.”
This article originally appeared on the College of Humanities and Social Sciences website.
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