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Simulacrobama: The Mediated Election of 2008

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1 Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Sheila Faria Glaser (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994), 1. Baudrillard playfully ascribes the quotation to Ecclesiastes. Scholars have sometimes fallen for the joke by attributing the phrase to “Ecclesiastes, cited in Baudrillard” – to the theorist's delight. Jean Baudrillard, Fragments: Conversations with François L'Yvonnet, trans. Chris Turner (New York: Routledge, 2004), 11.

2 Baudrillard, Simulacra, 1. Baudrillard took his ideas to their logical conclusion when he seemed to celebrate the destruction of the World Trade Center, arguing that globalization was to blame for the attacks. He wrote of the “prodigious jubilation at watching this global superpower destroyed” and claimed that “we have dreamed of this event … it was they who did it, but we who wanted it.” Baudrillard, “L'Esprit du terrorisme,” Le Monde, 11 Nov. 2001. Reality still mattered to the people killed in that explosion, even if the images carried, in some ways, a greater power with consequences that led to even more innocent deaths. Representations matter, but reality does too. (Baudrillard later defended himself: “I have glorified nothing, accused nobody, justified nothing.” See the discussion in William Merrin, Baudrillard and the Media (Cambridge: Polity, 2005), 103–13.)

3 Ben H. Bagdikian, The New Media Monopoly (Boston: Beacon Press, 2004).

4 Hugh Hewitt, Painting the Map Red: The Fight to Create a Permanent Republican Majority (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2006), 164.

5 “Transcript: Illinois Senate Candidate Barack Obama,” Washington Post, 27 July 2004.

6 Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (New York: Crown Publishers, 2004); idem, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (New York: Crown Publishers, 2006).

7 Livingston Steven and Bennett W. Lance, “Gatekeeping, Indexing, and Live-Event News: Is Technology Altering the Construction of News?Political Communication 20 (2003), 363–80.

8 Arianna Huffington, “I'm Ready to Declare a Winner in the 2008 Race,” 3 Nov. 2008,, accessed 17 Feb. 2009.

9 Henry Jenkins and David Thorburn, eds., Democracy and New Media (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003); Jürgen Habermas, Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997).

10 Barack Obama, “Why Organize? Problems and Promise in the Inner City,” in Peg Knoepfle, ed., After Alinsky: Community Organizing in Illinois (Springfield, IL: Sangamon State University, 1990), 35–40.

11 Vargas Jose Antonio, “Right Click: The GOP's Cyrus Krohn Has His Sites Set on Updating the Party's Internet Connection,” Washington Post, 23 July 2008, C01.

12 Aaron Smith and Lee Rainie, “The Internet and the 2008 Election,” Pew Internet and American Life Project, 15 June 2008,, accessed 10 Feb. 2009.

13 Garner Rob, “How Americans Are Searching for Election 2008 Information,” Search Insider: The Inside Line on Search Marketing, 23 April 2008,, accessed 10 Feb. 2009.

14 Putnam interviewed on NPR's Morning Edition, 10 Feb. 2009.

15 Joe Trippi, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Democracy, the Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything, revised edn (New York: Harper, 2008).

16 “The Campaign and the Media, 2,” MIT Communications Forum, 13 Nov. 2008,, accessed 10 Feb. 2009.

17 The previous biggest margins among young voters were 19 points for Bill Clinton in 1996 and 19 points for Ronald Reagan in 1984. Gary Langer, “The Numbers,” ABC News Polling Unit, 5 Nov. 2008,, accessed 15 Feb. 2009.

18 Figures from Vargas Jose Antonio, “Obama Raised Half a Billion Online,” Washington Post, 20 Nov. 2008; and idem, “Politics Is No Longer Local. It's Viral,” Washington Post, 28 Dec. 2008.

19 Smith and Rainie.

20 Vargas, “Politics Is No Longer Local.”

21 Kaelan Smith, “Popaganda: The Obama HOPE Poster,”, accessed 7 Feb. 2009. In a sign of friction between old rules and new media, a three-way legal battle erupted between Fairey, the Associated Press, and an AP photographer, each of them claiming the rights to the image.

22 Myers Dee Dee, “The Free-Pass Sexism of the Hillary-Hate Brigade,” Vanity Fair, 5 Feb. 2008.

23 Justin M. Sizemore, “How Obama Did It,” Crystal Ball '09, University of Virginia Center for Politics, 5 June 2008,, accessed 15 Feb. 2009.

24 Joselyn Noveck, “Pop Culture Moments that Defined Election '08,” Associated Press, 6 Nov. 2008.

25 Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, “Key News Audiences Now Blend Online and Traditional Sources,” Survey Report, 17 Aug. 2008,, accessed 15 Feb. 2009.

26 Nelson W. Polsby, et al., Presidential Elections (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), 77.

27 Gabriel Voiles, “Old Habits Die Hard on GOP TV,” 30 Jan. 2009,, accessed 22 Feb. 2009.

28 Rendall Steve and Broughel Tara, “Amplifying Officials, Squelching Dissent,” Extra, May/June 2003,, accessed 7 Feb. 2009. See also Rendall Steve and Kosseff Anne, “I'm Not a Leftist, But I Play One on TV,” Extra, Sept./Oct. 2004,

29 Shepard interviewed on KQED-FM, 25 Nov. 2008. She also tallied up the complaints from listeners, finding 282 e-mails claiming NPR favored Obama and 254 claiming the network favored McCain.

30 Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, “Winning the Media Campaign,” 22 Oct. 2008,, accessed 10 Feb. 2009.

31 Terry Byrne, Production Design for Television (Boston: Focal Press, 1993), 51–52.

32 Rutenberg Jim et al. , “For McCain, Self-Confidence on Ethics Poses Its Own Risk,” New York Times, 21 Feb. 2008, A1.

33 Quoted in Paul F. Boller, Presidential Campaigns: From George Washington to George W. Bush, 2nd edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 107.

34 Ibid., 46.

35 Ann Banks, “Dirty Tricks, South Carolina and John McCain,” The Nation, 14 Jan. 2008.

36, accessed 10 Feb. 2009.

37 Mark Potok, “Racist Attacks on Obama Growing More Heated,” Southern Poverty Law Center's Hatewatch, 20 Feb. 2008,, accessed 15 Feb. 2009.

38 Gwen Ifill, The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama (New York: Doubleday, 2009), 169–71.

39 Moynihan, then assistant secretary of labor and later Democratic senator from New York, decried a “tangle of pathology” in his 1965 report The Negro Family: The Case for National Action. See, for example, James T. Patterson, America's Struggle against Poverty in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 99–102.

40 Charles Hurt, “Jesse's a ‘Nut’ Job,” New York Post, 10 July 2008, 10.

41 Robert S. McElvaine, “The Red, the Blue and the Gray,” Washington Post, 8 Feb. 2009, B2.

42 Roland Barthes, Elements of Semiology (London: Cape, 1967), 28.

43 “Mr. Obama's Profile in Courage,” New York Times, 19 March 2008. The editorial also compared his speech to inaugural addresses by Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

44 “Hackers and Spending Sprees,” Newsweek, 5 Nov. 2008,, accessed 9 Feb. 2009.

45 W. E. B. Du Bois, “The Freedmen's Bureau,” Atlantic Monthly, 87 (1901), 354–65.

46 “Onkel Baracks Hütte,” tageszeitung, 5 June 2008, 1.

47 Simon Jenkins, “All the Clichés about Colour Obscure the Real Challenges Awaiting Obama: The World Must Get Over Its Hysteria,” The Guardian, 7 Nov. 2008, 43.

48 Barbara Spinelli, “Tramonta l'impero dei consume,” La Stampa, 9 Nov. 2008, 1.

49 Serge Halimi, “Barack Obama,” Le Monde diplomatique, Aug. 2008, 1.

50 José María Pérez Gay, “El imperio en los tiempos de Obama,” La Jornada, 7 Dec. 2008.

51 “Un líder para gobernar el mundo,” Cinco Dias, 8 Nov. 2008, 2.

52 Mary Jordan, “Amateur Videos Are Putting Official Abuse in New Light,” Washington Post, 15 Nov. 2006, A1.

53 Matthew B. Stannard and Demian Bulwa, “BART Shooting Captured on Video,” San Francisco Chronicle, 7 Jan. 2009, A1.

54 Michael Kazin, “A Liberal Revival of Americanism,” Washington Post, 8 Feb. 2009, B1.

The author thanks Christiane Eilders, Elisabeth Jay Friedman, Martin B. Friedman, Elena Servi, and Katharina Vester for their comments on this article.

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