A Content Analysis of Television Political Pundits
Following the conclusion of the first 2004 presidential debate between George W. Bush and John Kerry, television political pundits immediately began to assess the performances of each candidate. Two particular elements of the debate were hardly mentioned, but became significant topics of discussion within a few days: Kerry's use of the term "global test" and Bush's physical appearance. Television pundits played a key role in framing these two elements as historical memories that became the centerpieces of subsequent conversations about the event. This paper examines the institution of the television pundit and the role they play in shaping political discourse. I propose that during the first hours of television coverage after the event, there would be a variation of discussions among pundits on different networks. Then over the next five days, the tone of discussions and topics would converge as pundits began to reflect the opinions expressed by those on other channels. To test these hypotheses, I first provided a definition of the term "pundit" and then discussed the history and influences that shape the modern occupation. Next, I conducted a content analysis of the statements made on 42 talk shows that appeared across six networks during the six days following the debate. The results of the study indicate a lack of variation across the networks during the hours immediately following the debate in the tone of coverage about Bush's performance and the amount of times that Bush's appearance or Kerry's phrase "global test" were mentioned. Over the next five days, there was a clear trend of negative momentum in how Bush's performance was portrayed and the two memorable elements of the debate became referenced much more often. To the contrary, assessments of Kerry's performance did vary across the networks and no clear trend was evident in regards to his performance over the course of the period studied. After testing the two primary hypotheses relating to pundits, I used the same analysis data to investigate conditions of overall political discussions on television such as the differences of tone between cable and broadcast programming and the frequency of references to polling data.
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