May 25, 2007


by Charles Bierbauer

Washington–When the Newseum reopens this fall in Washington, it will have on exhibit what may be the largest section of the infamous Berlin wall remaining anywhere and the East German guard tower that I used to pass crossing through the wall at Checkpoint Charlie.  The Newseum is the Freedom Forum’s living tribute to the First Amendment freedoms of speech and press inscribed in the U.S. Constitution and engraved on the Newseum’s wall facing Pennsylvania Avenue here in this nation’s capital.

            Our Media & Politics class put on hard hats for a look at the work under way.  The Newseum sits midway on the avenue that links—or divides–the Capitol and the White House, a metaphor for the role of the press as the Fourth Estate in America’s artfully crafted, yet sometimes precarious balance of powers. 

            It’s been a warm, sunny week in Washington during which the division over funding the war in Iraq cooled—slightly.  The simmering summer debate over changing the nation’s immigration laws, though, continues.  It bubbled up in the recent Republican presidential debate in Columbia.  There’s a wall between Senator John McCain—worker visas–and former Governor Mitt Romney—no amnesty.  South Carolina’s senators Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint are similarly divided.  The “A” word is causing much of the buzz, though the issue is too complex to be characterized by any single aspect.

            There are real, virtual and rhetorical walls in this debate.  Rep. Henry Brown told the students that past immigration reform has not worked, so the U.S. “has got to defend its borders first.”  Rep. Jim Clyburn suggested that for every “15-foot fence” there is a “16-foot ladder.”

            Last year’s Secure Fence Act calls for some 700 miles of fencing between the U.S. and Mexico.  History suggests walls don’t always guarantee security.  China’s Great Wall was, in effect, more a centuries-long jobs program and is now a tourist attraction.

The walls of Jericho came tumbling down, and Israel’s contemporary walls have not kept terrorism out.

            The Berlin Wall was an onerous scab.  East Germans risked and lost their lives trying to get over or under it.  Korea’s DMZ has substantially held the North Korean nation captive.  It’s the North Korean government that tunnels under the DMZ trying to subvert the South Korean republic.          

As a nation that built its reputation on open doors and open arms, the United States is now engaged in debate as to how welcoming it wants to be.  This is only partly a question of national and personal security.   It’s also about economic security. 

That’s a two-way street.  Are immigrants—legal or illegal—taking jobs from Americans or doing jobs that would otherwise be hard to fill?  Send back 12 million immigrants and see who shows up for work tomorrow morning.  That goes well beyond the stereotypical notion that immigrants are all gardeners, dishwashers and hotel maids.

What the U.S. is wrestling with is hardly new or unique to our shores.  When I lived in Yugoslavia decades ago, the street cleaners and garbage collectors were all ethnic Albanians.  Serbs tended to look down on them.  When I moved to Austria, the street cleaners and garbage collectors were more likely to be Yugoslavs.  Austrians tended to look down on them.  When I moved to Germany…you get the picture.

I took my teenage son to Ellis Island in New York recently.  It was one of those Dad provides a field trip experiences to supplement son’s American history studies.  The museum on Ellis Island documents the flow of Germans, Irish, Italians, Russians, Jews and others to the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

Those populations, too, faced struggles of assimilation and discrimination.  We’ve done this before and in numbers that probably seemed equally daunting.  We did not, though, have to face immigration with the fears and insecurities of terrorism or in the kind of global economy that has Americans worried about some think isour inevitable decline.

As the immigration debate continues there is much for our politicians and our society to think about.  It’s not a time for building walls around our imagination and creativity.

Charles Bierbauer is a contributing editor to SCHotline and a former Washington and foreign correspondent for CNN and ABC News.  He is dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina.  The views here are his own, not those of the university.    




by Charles Bierbauer

            Fox News’ Chris Wallace must have been hoping to roil the waters when he asked the Republican candidates, “Who’s not a conservative?”

            Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore tiptoed in, hinting some of the candidates on stage with him did not deserve that label.  Wallace lured Gilmore into deeper water.

            “Are you going to name names?” Wallace asked.  Gilmore did. 

            Giuliani on abortion.  Huckabee on taxes.  Romney on health care. 

            The accused parried.  The stage of the Koger Center at the University of South Carolina in front of some 2,000 mostly red-meat Republicans and perhaps a couple million Fox viewers was no place to deny conservative credentials.  The debate was billed as the “first in the South” for the ten Republican presidential candidates, mindful of party history that suggests if they can’t make it here, they may not make it anywhere.

            Rudy Giuliani deflected a question about his pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-gay rights views, suggesting there’s at least a “stark difference” between himself and the top Democrat, Hillary Clinton.  Mike Huckabee said he’d raised the Arkansas gas tax in order to build roads, but cut taxes 94 other times.  Mitt Romney rebutted the health care critique, as well as the suggestion he’d waffled on abortion.  For good measure, John McCain vowed to continue to “reach across the aisle” to seek bipartisanship because it’s “what the people want us to do.”

            There’s room for nuance, but in its raw simplicity, “who’s a conservative” may be the defining question for Republican voters in this state.  The candidates in Tuesday evening’s debate began to differentiate themselves.   And it was most noticeable among the perceived top tier candidates.  Giuliani had set himself apart by finally settling on his positions regarding abortion, gays and guns and challenging Republicans to accept him in that context.

            In this debate, it was Romney who used the issue of immigration to distance himself from McCain, picking up on McCain’s propensity to reach across the aisle.

“I fear McCain/Kennedy will do to immigration what McCain/Feingold did to campaign finance,” Romney said, underscoring the Democratic co-sponsors of legislation that also bears McCain’s name.

            McCain fired back, accusing Romney of political inconsistency:  “I haven’t changed positions for every single office I’ve run for.”   

            Good.  The gloves are off.  If we’re to make sense of this race, we need to see these differences. 

            CNN executives who get to put on the next episode of our barnstorming politicians in New Hampshire in a couple of weeks were in the Koger Center on Tuesday taking the measure of Fox’s production.  Except for weak audio in the hall itself, it was a smooth show.  The Fox set was dramatic and impressive with its electronic flag backdrop, though one wonders if we’ll ever return to simple lecterns. 

            Ten candidates are, of course, too many for meaningful dialogue.  Having three questioners allows Fox, or any network, to showcase more of its news celebrities.  But Jim Lehrer of PBS, in years past, has shown that a single questioner can weave finer cloth from the dialogue with the candidates.

            Fox’s opening graphics curiously listed the candidates’ age, religion, family and career highlights in that order.  Should we be more interested in the fact that Mitt Romney is a Mormon than in his experience as governor of Massachusetts?  Or that Brownback and Giuliani are Catholic?

            Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee got the laugh of the night when he suggested Congress “spends money like John Edwards at a beauty shop.” 

            And, as my students again noted, neither the questioners nor the candidates paid any attention to education.  In the “spin room” after the debate, Huckabee agreed that is an oversight no future president dare overlook.

            On Tuesday morning, ten of my students played “stand-in” roles for the candidates while Fox News did its lighting and microphone checks.  Six of those students were women; four were men; two were African-American.  The ten candidates behind the lecterns in the evening were, of course, all white men.   True, some wore red ties and some wore blue.

            The late Lee Atwater, the South Carolinian who shaped the hard-charging, take no prisoners approach to political campaigning, used to say Republicans were a “big tent” party with room for everyone.  Fox’s Chris Wallace asked former Republican national chairman Gilmore if the absence of minorities among the ten candidates wasn’t embarrassing.  Gilmore could only offer that someday “there will be” minorities among the Republican candidates.


Charles Bierbauer covered presidential campaigns from 1984 to 2000 for CNN. He is currently dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina, though the views here are his own and not those of the university. Dean Bierbauer is also the senior contributing editor and consultant to



by Charles Bierbauer

Rudy Giuliani—American Icon. John McCain—American Hero. Mitt Romney—American Idol. Note the Republicanesque brand association with American patriotism for these would-be household names.

South Carolina researchers changed channels to brand the Republican presidential candidates as they appear to potential voters here. While the Presidential Brands team last week cast the Democrats in automotive molds—sporty, reliable, comfortable—it put the Republicans on pedestals. Don’t jump to any conclusions about the political preferences of the pollsters. This is only about branding.

“Political candidates market themselves aggressively in an attempt to build
brand equity,” says Chernoff Newman’s Mark Newsome. Like pants, perhaps.

“Icon” Giuliani is depicted as “a new pair of Levi blue jeans…it takes a while to break them in to make them real comfortable.”

“Hero” McCain is “rugged Wrangler jeans.”

“Idol” Romney “isn’t a jeans guy at all—he’s more like high quality chinos from Brooks Brothers.”

But do they put their pants on one leg at a time, as you and I do?

Pick your brand. Pick your candidate. It’s a fun approach to the serious business of looking in a different way at the candidates who think they deserve to represent us.

# # #

Charles Bierbauer covered presidential campaigns from 1984 to 2000 for CNN. He is currently dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina, though the views here are his own and not those of the university. Dean Bierbauer is also the senior contributing editor and consultant to



by Charles Bierbauer


Hillary Clinton is like a Volvo station wagon, solid and reliable. Barack Obama is sportier, a BMW Z4. John Edwards is a Prius, comfortable and good for you. That’s how marketing expert Mark Newsome would brand the candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. If that’s not exactly how you think of the candidates, it wasn’t the way Newsome did, either. Not until he saw the results of a poll that looked at the candidates in a different light.

“From our view, every other poll is a horse race,” Newsome explains. “It’s who’s ahead, more than why.” So Chernoff Newman, the Columbia, S.C. agency where Newsome is chief marketing officer, and MarketSearch, an opinion research company, took a different approach.

The results released this week asked which candidates are most likeable, have the most warmth and charm, are trustworthy, intelligent, interesting, compassionate, respected, look presidential. The researchers wanted to know if “voters are like package goods consumers.” And if so, what kind of added brand value might a candidate have?

Somehow, that got them thinking about cars. And technology. Obama’s “Apple to Clinton’s Microsoft,” says Newsome. And Edwards is a Blackberry. Or to put it in terms of attributes: Clinton conveys “performance.” Obama reflects “personality.” Edwards suggests “connectivity.”

In the end, the research group could not resist the horse race question:

“Performance” is in the lead.

Branding, done well, makes the difference between exhilarating success and ho-hum indifference. Even when we know a generic product may be just as good and a lot cheaper, there is a certain cachet about wearing, eating or driving the right brand. You want something that reflects your own sense of style or personality.

Political marketers have not just discovered this. Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” ads were his distinctive brand a quarter century ago, and we still remember them. Every campaign has marketing pros whose job is to determine what attribute best sells the candidate.

What’s intriguing about the new study is that it’s not trying to sell any candidates. Chernoff Newman itself does not want to be “branded” as a political agency. It’s trying to capture the voters’ perception of the candidates and then see if the campaigns seek to reposition candidates to match those perceptions.

It’s the media that tend to perpetuate the horse race approach to polling. The “if you were voting today” question masks the reality that none of us is voting today. Perhaps this new approach has only turned the horse race into an auto race: does the Volvo beat the Beemer and the Prius? But the association with character traits is something to think about. “Character counts,” the senior George Bush kept telling us during his ill-starred 1992 reelection campaign against Bill Clinton.

MarketSearch and Chernoff Newman will release their results for the Republican candidates next week. Newsome says the Democrats have more definable attributes. “The top three (Republican candidates) are seen as competent, but none are dynamic,” he hints.

What, no Hummers?

Perhaps actor and former senator Fred Thompson does need to join the Republican field. Thompson drove a red pickup truck around Tennessee on his way to reelection. It branded him as a guy who knew the hills and back roads and, therefore, the interests of the voters of his state.

Lyndon Johnson relished driving journalists at breakneck speed across his Texas ranch in a Cadillac convertible. I only recall seeing George Bush (senior) drive a golf cart. Ronald Reagan rode a horse on his California ranch.

I don’t know what kind of car Hillary Clinton drives, or if she drives. I do know the car she and every other candidate would like to ride in. It’s a long, black, heavily armored Cadillac with the presidential seal on the door–the ultimate br

More on the survey and analysis of branding the candidates can be found at


Charles Bierbauer covered presidential campaigns from 1984 to 2000 for CNN. He is currently dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina, though the views here are his own and not those of the university. Dean Bierbauer is also the senior contributing editor and consultant to


So Who Won?

May 2, 2007



“So who won?” was the first question a reporter for a national news service asked me after the Democratic candidates’ debate. Much as the candidates themselves did in the debate, I ducked the question and turned the interview where I preferred to see it go.

We don’t need a winner at the end of April 2007 for an election that is to take place in November of 2008; not for a nomination that is still two summers away. What we need most is more opportunities to view all the candidates, Democratic and Republican, and assess their candidacies.

Yet it is the nature of the media to see the campaign as a horse race and take snapshots at every milepost along the track. Of course, different snapshots see different perspectives.

One of my students who watched the Democratic debate with me noted the next morning that Senator Barack Obama was declared the “clear winner” in a SurveyUSA poll and in an admittedly unscientific survey taken by WIS in Columbia. On the other hand, the student found that the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute determined Senator Hillary Clinton came out on top, if only because she did not make any mistakes.

Professors love teaching moments that suggest data is only data, facts are not necessarily truths, and truths don’t always mirror reality.

So who won? Wrong question. Who impressed? A better assessment at this stage of the process. Back to my student.

“If any part of the debate actually ‘hurt’ Obama’s campaign, it was getting drawn into a near-argument over Iran, Iraq and nukes with Rep. Kucinich,” he felt. Sen. Clinton, in contrast, “was lucky because she wasn’t drawn into the fracas.”

As we suggested heading into the debate, the anxiety of the perceived front-runners was to avoid being drawn into someone else’s fracas. Top tier candidates want to stay there. Second tier candidates want to climb up or bring others down. A candidate’s tier peers may be a better gauge for now than the won/lost record. After all, a third-tier candidate can “win” a debate and yet remain third tier.

Political analysts are justifiably intrigued by this stratification. The New York Times this weekend contemplated what Senator Chris Dodd could do be a top tier candidate. The State on Sunday bunched Dodd with Senator Joe Biden and New Mexico’s Governor Bill Richardson in the second tier. That means the third tier is the tenacious Kucinich and the idiosyncratic former Senator Mike Gravel. (Third tier candidates are entitled to a descriptive adjective that suggests either grass roots endurance or off-the-wall quirkiness. First and second tier candidates have presumed gravitas until they demonstrate otherwise.)

Where does that put former Senator John Edwards? Some analysts grant him top tier status with Obama and Clinton. Perhaps it’s because he’s a former vice presidential nominee, or a proven fund raiser, or telegenic. Perhaps it’s the $400 haircut that lifts him a cut above. In South Carolina it may be only the presumption that Edwards ought to win the state in which he was born that at least gives him a hand hold on the upper tier.

The Republican layer cake will be in the display case this coming week in a California debate and back in South Carolina in two weeks. Top tier? Senator John McCain, New York City’s former mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

Each has something to prove in this state. For Giuliani, it’s whether his rather moderate views on abortion and gays can win over conservative South Carolinians.

For Romney, it’s whether his television ads and mushrooming campaign signs have established an identity. For McCain, who crossed the state last week saying South Carolina had changed in eight years, it’s whether the brutal beating he took here in 2000 has any lasting scars. There are seven other Republican candidates, at last count, who’d like to undermine the top three.

For those candidates’ benefit, my students and others who watched the Democrats say the issues they’d like to hear more about are education and the environment. Top tier aspirants take note.


Charles Bierbauer covered presidential campaigns from 1984 to 2000 for CNN. He is currently dean of the College of Mass Communications and Information Studies at the University of South Carolina, though the views here are his own and not those of the university. Dean Bierbauer is also the senior contributing editor and consultant to