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Describing the Debate: Media Coverage Following the Vice Presidential Election of 1988 (Bentsen, Quayle)

Describing the Debate: Media Coverage Following the Vice Presidential Election of 1988 (Bentsen, Quayle)

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Published by Joseph Pelletier
A close look at the media coverage following the famous spat between Dan Quayle and Lloyd Bentsen in the 1988 Vice Presidential Debate.
A close look at the media coverage following the famous spat between Dan Quayle and Lloyd Bentsen in the 1988 Vice Presidential Debate.

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categoriesTypes, Research, History
Published by: Joseph Pelletier on Apr 16, 2011
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04/16/2011

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DESCRIBING THE DEBATE:
EXAMINING DAY-AFTER NEWSPAPER COVERAGEOF THE ¶88 BENTSEN-QUAYLE DEBATE
Video tells certain stories perfectly. No narrator. Nodescriptions or adjectives. Just roll the tape.Such videos, however, cannot be placed on a sheet of paper.For the morning newspaper, journalists must describe moments andevents with words--and only words.On the night of October 5, 1988, newspapers across thecountry were given the task of describing what has become one ofthe most remembered spats in modern politics: when Senator LloydBentsen of Texas told Senator Dan Quayle of Indiana during theirvice presidential debate: ³Senator, you¶re no Jack Kennedy.´
1
 To understand the sequence of events that set off thefireworks, I highly recommend one sees the video first. Do itnow, before reading the rest of this paper. (HINT: It¶s onYouTube)The following day, October 6, every large-market newspaperran a front-page story on the debate, as did many more small-and medium-market newspapers.For this paper, I plan to examine the description of thescuffle from eight different newspapers across the country,consider how the tone, word choice, and article development
1
 
"Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine." YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRCWbFFRpnY(accessed April 27, 2010).
 
 
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portrayed the candidates, and discuss the relationship, if any,between the portrayal and the proximity of each debater.The
Register Guard 
of Eugene, Oregon ran an AssociatedPress article by William Welch the following day, headlined³Bentsen, Quayle take their bestshots.´
2
The article [inset] led rightinto the contentious moment, beginningwith Quayle likening his qualificationsto ³Jack Kennedy.´The description of the spat usedminimal adjectives, and made use of twodirect quotes from both debaters,creating what appears to be a fairlyobjective description, with possiblequestions on whether Lloyd Bentsen ³shotback.´ He was, in fact, prompted by the moderator. Note also thecrowd reaction went unmentioned.All of the above, however, are overshadowed by thetremendous (and fairly ironic) typo in Bentsen¶s age. Bentsenwas 67 years old, not 41, at the time.Eugene, Oregon is located 2,400 miles from Bentsen¶shometown of Houston, Texas, and 2,300 miles from Quayle¶s
2
 
Associated Press. "Bentsen, Quayle take their best shots."
The Register Guard (Eugene)
, October 6, 1988,sec. A.http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=bmsVAAAAIBAJ&sjid=luEDAAAAIBAJ&pg=2857,1418543&dq=lloyd+bentsen+dan+quayle&hl=en (accessed April 27, 2010).
 
Register Guard 
(Eugene, Oregon)
GOP
vice presidential candidate Dan Quaylesaid Wednesday night that he has as muchexperience as John F. Kennedy did when hewon the White House and that he isprepared to lead this country if necessary.Senator, youre no Jack Kennedy,Democratic rival Lloyd Bentsen shot back inthe most riveting moment of the debate.Stung by the rebuke, the 41-year-old Quayleresponded, That was really uncalled for.Bentsen, 41, replied: Youre the one thatwas making the comparison, senatorand Idid not think the comparison was welltaken.
 
3
 
hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana. At the time, there were noobvious connections to either candidate.Houston was another matter.³Sparks erupt in VP debate´ headlinedthe
Ho
ust
on
Chr 
on
icle
on October 6.
 
Uponexamination, one of the biggest questionsis the inclusion of ³cheering´ afterBentsen¶s words, but the exclusion of thecheering that occurred after Quayle¶s³That was really uncalled for, senator.´
3
 According to the YouTube video, each roundof clapping occurred for about sevenseconds. In the
Chr 
on
icle
story, though,the second round is nowhere to be seen.Following the description, the
Chr 
on
icle
compares Quayle¶s time inCongress until the debate (12 years) toKennedy¶s (14 years).The
Chr 
on
icle
was also the only newspaper of the eight toidentify the fact that Bentsen ³was elected to his first publicoffice the year before Quayle was born.´ This came one paragraphafter the Quayle-Kennedy comparison.
3
 
Wiessler, Judy, and Clay Robison. "Sparks erupt in VP debate."
Ho
ust 
o
n Chr 
o
nicle
, October 6, 1988, sec. A.http://www.chron.com/CDA/archives/archive.mpl?id=1988_575097 (accessed October 27, 2010).
 
Ho
ust 
on
Chr 
on
icle
(Houston Texas)
The sharpest exchange of the nationallytelevised debate, the only one scheduled forthe vice presidential candidates, was sparkedwhen Quayle said he has as muchcongressional experience as John F. Kennedydid when he ran for president in 1960.Bentsen quickly objected: "I served with JackKennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedywas a friend of mine. Senator, you're no JackKennedy." Democratic partisans in theaudience at the
O
maha Civic Auditoriumcheered."That was really uncalled for, senator,"Quayle responded sternly."You are the one that was making thecomparison, senator, and I'm one who knewhim well," Bentsen said reprovingly. "Frankly,I think you are so far apart in the objectivesyou choose for your country that did notthink the comparison was well taken."

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