Lady C's InfoNapsterizer

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7.11.2004

Message or medium? Godwin's Law in Political Communication

"Nazi" debate enflaming the blogosphere. It is doubtful whether any light has been shed on the appropriateness of the Nazi allusions (or even, in the case of the Bush/Cheney ad, on WTF the Hitler clips were trying to say!)   What can be demonstrated by these incidents, however, is that Godwin's Law applies outside internet discussion threads -- in this case, televis-"able" political "discourse" of the two major political parties. The degree to which Godwin's Law, as applied to political parties, represents a distinct corrollary would require an assessment of whether it has been generally applicable historically (at least in post WWII American politics). Such an assessment would require considerable statistical analysis of broadly-disseminated communications during past election cycles.   The application of Godwin's Law to campaign-related communications to potential voters presents an interesting issue -- does it apply principally to the originators of the communications (prominent politicians, party spokesmen), or does it apply equally (if not more so) to the vehicles for amplifying the original communications (Primarily partisan pundits and coverage by mainstream media). Is it the fact that the communication of the use of "Hitler" receives wide attention the reason why Godwin's Law is at work in campaign "discourse"? If so, in analyzing the dynamics of political "discourse," should our focus be primarily on the substance of the communications -- thereby viewing the amplifying mechanisms as weapons (passive tools) for the parties. Or should our attention be focused instead on the dynamics of the amplifying mechanisms, in effect viewing the political communications and their origiinators as principaly suppliers of fresh ammunition for the amplifying mechanisms?   The medium vs message debate is particularly relevant in reviewing the Bush/Cheney ad, which has provoked considerable discussion about its purpose. First, the ad does not seem to have been produced for immediate public broadcast but instead is the vedette of the web site. Second, as a number of reviewers have pointed out, the content of the ad is extremely ambiguous and could be viewed by an independent observer as making a strong case against rather than for Mr Bush. Rather than interpret the purpose of the party communication by attempting to evaluate the possible reactions to the ad by various segments of the voting public if they were to view it as a normal TV commercial, perhaps it should be seen as ammunition being produced for "amplifying mechanisms."   If the contents of the ad reach the potential voting public in snippets (video or written descriptions) together with commentary that

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