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What the Writers Strike Means for Politicians
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What the Writers Strike Means for Politicians



So there won't be a Democratic debate on TV anytime soon, at least not on CBS. The network announced yesterday it's canceling a debate it had scheduled for the Democratic candidates because of the ongoing Writers Guild strike. Three of the leading candidates said they wouldn't attend because they didn't want to cross picket lines. The strike, now in its fourth week, may be affecting the race in other ways too, especially since the late night shows are all in reruns.

We are joined now by Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at Cal State, Sacramento. Welcome.

Professor BARBARA O'CONNOR (California State University): Thank you. Nice to talk to you.

COHEN: Barbara, a lot of people, especially younger people, get a lot of their news from TV shows like "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report." So what happens if all of a sudden candidates can't show up on these shows anymore because they're in reruns?

Prof. O'CONNOR: Well, that is primary where the 18 to 24s get their political news. And there's been a massive effort to try and recruit younger voters. And if that opportunity for candidates to appear disappears, then I think the whole effort to get young voters interested around the Christmas holidays before the first primaries is really hurt.

COHEN: And what can they do on these shows that they can't do let's say on CNN or someplace else? News shows.

Prof. O'CONNOR: Well, they really see humor. And you have to meet voters where they are. And young people like seeing candidates in interesting and different ways, letting down their guard. And this is the venue that they watch them in.

COHEN: For example, we've got a clip here. This is John McCain appearing on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." Let's take a listen.

(Soundbite of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart")

Mr. JON STEWART (Host): Now, what's going on with your campaign?

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): The best of times. The worst of times.

Mr. STEWART: People are - I read people are leaving. It's just you now on that big bus.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. McCAIN: In the words of Chairman Mao, it's always darkest before it's totally black.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COHEN: I mean that's McCain not sounding very optimistic about his own campaign. Did that actually make people want to vote for him?

Prof. O'CONNOR: Yes, because he seems very human. When you watch him as we did last night in the YouTube debate, he comes off so dower. I mean, he really comes off as your uncle who's lecturing you.

And in this case he is a much different person. He's got a wry sense of humor and he's making fun of himself. And people like that. They feel more close to a candidate who has that ability.

COHEN: It seems like there might be a bit of a positive to these late-night comedy shows being in reruns now because presidential candidates don't have to worry about being made fun of.

Let's take a listen to what "The Daily Show" did, poking fun at Hillary Clinton's laugh.

(Soundbite of debates)

Unidentified Man #1: Let me ask you about health care.

Sen. CLINTON: Yeah, I'd love for you to ask about health care.

Unidentified Man #2: What's your response?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #3: I wonder if you want to respond to the former mayor.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart")

Mr. STEWART: I'm joyful.

COHEN: Do you think - are the candidates almost feeling like, whew, I'm dodging some serious bullets here because no one can make fun of me?

Prof. O'CONNOR: Oh, I think they actually welcome the opportunity to get off a scripted, you know, very serious discussion and show that they're real people.

COHEN: But, you know, let's say they something wrong, you know, they say something a debate that they wish they hadn't said; that can get played over and over and over again. And people who might not have tuned in to the debates might watch "The Daily Show" and see that instead.

Prof. O'CONNOR: Well, it's true. And it - you know, I think part of the problem with youth and voting is that they view it as way too serious. And it really does depend on how the candidate rebounds. You know, if he or she, in the case of Hillary, makes fun of themselves based on a mistake or a misspeak, I think people resonate to that. They view them as real people.

COHEN: Barbara O'Connor, communications professor at California State University at Sacramento, thank you so much.

Prof. O'CONNOR: You're welcome.

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