DESCRIBING THE DEBATE: EXAMINING DAY-AFTER NEWSPAPER COVERAGE OF THE ¶88 BENTSEN-QUAYLE DEBATE

Video tells certain stories perfectly. No narrator. No descriptions 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 and events with words--and only words. On the night of October 5, 1988, newspapers across the country were given the task of describing what has become one of the most remembered spats in modern politics: when Senator Lloyd Bentsen of Texas told Senator Dan Quayle of Indiana during their vice presidential debate: ³Senator, you¶re no Jack Kennedy.´1 To understand the sequence of events that set off the fireworks, I highly recommend one sees the video first. Do it now, before reading the rest of this paper. (HINT: It¶s on YouTube) The following day, October 6, every large-market newspaper ran a front-page story on the debate, as did many more smalland medium-market newspapers. For this paper, I plan to examine the description of the scuffle from eight different newspapers across the country, consider how the tone, word choice, and article development

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"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 Associated Press article by William Welch the following day, headlined ³Bentsen, Quayle take their best shots.´2 The article [inset] led right into the contentious moment, beginning with Quayle likening his qualifications to ³Jack Kennedy.´ The description of the spat used minimal adjectives, and made use of two direct quotes from both debaters, creating what appears to be a fairly objective description, with possible questions on whether Lloyd Bentsen ³shot back.´ He was, in fact, prompted by the moderator. Note also the crowd reaction went unmentioned. All of the above, however, are overshadowed by the tremendous (and fairly ironic) typo in Bentsen¶s age. Bentsen was 67 years old, not 41, at the time. Eugene, Oregon is located 2,400 miles from Bentsen¶s hometown of Houston, Texas, and 2,300 miles from Quayle¶s
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Register Guard (Eugene, Oregon) GOP vice presidential candidate Dan Quayle said Wednesday night that he has as much experience as John F. Kennedy did when he won 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 in the most riveting moment of the debate. Stung by the rebuke, the 41-year-old Quayle responded, That was really uncalled for. Bentsen, 41, replied: You re the one that was making the comparison, senator and I did not think the comparison was well taken.

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).

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hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana. At the time, there were no obvious connections to either candidate. Houston was another matter. ³Sparks erupt in VP debate´ headlined the Houston Chronicle on October 6. Upon examination, one of the biggest questions is the inclusion of ³cheering´ after Bentsen¶s words, but the exclusion of the cheering that occurred after Quayle¶s ³That was really uncalled for, senator.´
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Houston Chronicle (Houston Texas) The sharpest exchange of the nationally televised debate, the only one scheduled for the vice presidential candidates, was sparked when Quayle said he has as much congressional experience as John F. Kennedy did when he ran for president in 1960. Bentsen quickly objected: "I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." Democratic partisans in the audience at the Omaha Civic Auditorium cheered. "That was really uncalled for, senator," Quayle responded sternly. "You are the one that was making the comparison, senator, and I'm one who knew him well," Bentsen said reprovingly. "Frankly, I think you are so far apart in the objectives you choose for your country that did not think the comparison was well taken."

According to the YouTube video, each round of clapping occurred for about seven seconds. In the Chronicle story, though, the second round is nowhere to be seen. Following the description, the Chronicle compares Quayle¶s time in Congress until the debate (12 years) to Kennedy¶s (14 years).

The Chronicle was also the only newspaper of the eight to identify the fact that Bentsen ³was elected to his first public office the year before Quayle was born.´ This came one paragraph after the Quayle-Kennedy comparison.

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Wiessler, Judy, and Clay Robison. "Sparks erupt in VP debate." Houston Chronicle, October 6, 1988, sec. A. http://www.chron.com/CDA/archives/archive.mpl?id=1988_575097 (accessed October 27, 2010).

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The Boston Globe article,
Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts)

headlined ³BENTSEN, QUAYLE SPAR; QUALIFICATION ISSUE DOMINATES,´ excluded career comparisons of Quayle and Kennedy and any mention of Quayle as a gleam in his mother¶s eye, but employed the same description of cheering as the Houston Chronicle, forgoing the cheering after Quayle¶s words.4 A peculiar description previewed the scuffle, as the Globe wrote that ³Bentsen accused Quayle of falsely claiming to be John F. Kennedy¶s equal at this stage of his life.´ The term ³accusation,´ many would contend, does not properly describe Bentsen¶s declarative statement. Note that Bentsen¶s was running under Michael Dukakis, then a Senator from Massachusetts. The New York Times, along with The Dispatch (of Lexington, North Carolina; using the New York Times News Service) ran an
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A largely polite, low-key tug of war between vice presidential candidates Lloyd Bentsen and Dan Quayle erupted briefly but intensely last night when Bentsen accused Quayle of falsely claiming to be John F. Kennedy's equal at this stage of his life.

Bentsen shot him a sharp glance and responded: "I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy, and he was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." The partisan, equally divided audience in Omaha's civic center erupted in cheers. "That was really uncalled for, Senator," Quayle shot back. But Bentsen held his ground, saying, "You're the one who was making the comparison, and you're so far apart in the objectives you seek for this country that I did not think the comparison was well taken."

Thomas Oliphant and Walter V. Robinson, Globe Staff. 1988. BENTSEN, QUAYLE SPAR; QUALIFICATION ISSUE DOMINATES :[FIRST Edition 1]. Boston Globe (pre-1997 Fulltext), October 6, http://www.proquest.com/ (accessed April 28, 2010).

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article by E.J. Dionne. Dionne¶s article stood out as the only one of the eight to describe Bentsen¶s statement as drawing ³hoots and jeers from the audience.´ Previously, the Houston Chronicle and Boston Globe referenced only cheering. The article was the third, though, to exclude the audience reaction following Quayle¶s rebuttal.5 It was similar to the quote-based description of the event in the Register Guard, but Dionne did describe Quayle as ³obviously angered´ following Bentsen¶s remark. Dionne was the only author to make use of the adjective ³somber´ to describe Bentsen¶s demeanor during the spat. After these examinations, newspapers more closely related to Bentsen through his home state (The Houston Chronicle) or Dukakis (The Boston Globe) appear to cast Bentsen in a kinder light. This is most evident in the exclusion of audience support for Quayle, and also in the Chronicle¶s imagery of Quayle as an infant. This warrants a comparison to newspapers more related to Quayle.

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By E.J. DIONNE Jr.. 1988. AN ANGRY DEBATE :Maturity Is Stressed by Democrat, Experience by His Opponent The Vice-Presidential Debate: 90 Minutes of Angry Clashes Bentsen and Quayle Clash on Ability to Be President. New York Times (1923-Current file), October 6, http://www.proquest.com/ (accessed April 28, 2010).

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The Indianapolis Star, resting in Quayle¶s hometown, ran a cover article by Vic Caleca headlined ³JFK comparison spices VP debate.´6 The story identified the scuffle in direct quotes but made use of the adverb ³coldly´ to describe Bentsen¶s words. Caleca¶s story was the only one of the eight to describe not cheering after Bentsen, but ³prolonged howls.´ It was also the only article to include the audience reaction following Quayle¶s comment, as well as a description of Quayle pointing his finger. The Times Daily of Florence, Alabama rests about 400 miles from Quayle¶s hometown of Indianapolis. The newspaper ran the same Associated Press story from the Register Guard, though a few modifications were made. Bentsen¶s age was, correctly, 67, but the Times Daily also ran a quote from Quayle following the debate debacle: ³If qualifications alone are going to be the issue in this campaign, George Bush has more qualifications than Michael Dukakis and Lloyd Bentsen combined.´7
That was really uncalled for, senator, Quayle said, heatedly pointing a finger. Quayle s rejoinder drew another round of shouts and cheers from the audience. You re the one who was . That line drew prolonged howls from many of the 2,660 spectators inside Omaha s Civic Auditorium and an aggrieved response from Quayle. Senator, Bentsen said coldly. I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mind. Senator you re no Jack Kennedy. Indianapolis Star (Indianapolis, Indiana)

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Caleca, Vic. "JFK comparison spices VP debate." Indianapolis Star, October 6, 1988, sec. A. Times Daily (Florence), October 6, 1988, sec. A. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=9lseAAAAIBAJ&sjid=dsgEAAAAIBAJ&pg=2272,718961&dq=lloyd+b entsen+dan+quayle&hl=en (accessed April 27, 2010).
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The quote was followed by a comparison of Kennedy¶s 14 years in Congress to Quayle¶s 12. Both the Times Daily and the Indianapolis Star appear to show Quayle in a kinder light than the other reviewed newspapers. The Star was the only newspaper to describe the audience reaction following Quayle¶s rebuttal, and also the only to use the term ³howls´ to describe the audience reaction to Bentsen¶s shot. The Times Daily provided a quote from Quayle that described his belief in George Bush, which in truth, appears out of place in the debate review story. Jack Nelson of the Los Angeles Times brought more adjectival liberty to the debate description for the October 6 edition. Nelson wrote that Bentsen ³shot back´ to Quayle, as the Associate Press story in the Register Guard and the Times Daily did. He then described Bentsen as ³glaring at Quayle´ as Bentsen spoke.8 ³Tight-lipped and chafing´ was Quayle¶s physical response, Nelson wrote, as he ³interjected´ to tell Bentsen the comment was uncalled for. What does it all mean? I did not expect to find the results I did after examining these newspapers. If anything, I expected to find the more objective stories in the papers closer to the candidates, who
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Nelson, Jack. "Article Title."Los Angeles Times, October 6, 1988, sec. A.

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would face more scrutiny for a clear bias. Alas, it was much the opposite. The Indianapolis Star and Houston Chronicle absolutely portrayed their respective hometown debater in a kinder light. Both of the articles were factually accurate (the only typo came from a newspaper 2,000 miles away from each candidate), but putting these articles under the microscope, next to each other, show different senses of the debate. But side-by-side, the power of adjectives and story development can make two accounts of the same event seem quite different. The vice presidential debate never really affected the campaigns of either side, as George Bush won the election by a fair margin. But this examination certainly begs the question: Just how much can news coverage sway the voting population?

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Works Cited

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&d q=lloyd+bentsen+dan+quayle&hl=en (accessed April 27, 2010). Caleca, Vic. "JFK comparison spices VP debate." Indianapolis Star, October 6, 1988, sec. A. Dionne Jr., E.J. 1988. AN ANGRY DEBATE :Maturity Is Stressed by Democrat, Experience by His Opponent The Vice-Presidential Debate: 90 Minutes of Angry Clashes Bentsen and Quayle Clash on Ability to Be President. New York Times (1923-Current file), October 6, http://www.proquest.com/ (accessed April 28, 2010). "Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine." YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRCWbFFRpnY (accessed April 27, 2010). Nelson, Jack. "Article Title."Los Angeles Times, October 6, 1988, sec. A. Oliphant, Thomas and Robinson, Walter V. Globe Staff. 1988. BENTSEN, QUAYLE SPAR; QUALIFICATION ISSUE DOMINATES :[FIRST Edition 1]. Boston Globe (pre-1997 Fulltext), October 6, http://www.proquest.com/ (accessed April 28, 2010). Times Daily (Florence), October 6, 1988, sec. A. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=9lseAAAAIBAJ&sjid=dsgEAAAAIBAJ&pg= 2272,718961&dq=lloyd+bentsen+dan+quayle&hl=en (accessed April 27, 2010). Wiessler, Judy, and Clay Robison. "Sparks erupt in VP debate." Houston Chronicle, October 6, 1988, sec. A. http://www.chron.com/CDA/archives/archive.mpl?id=1988_575097 (accessed October 27, 2010).

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