• The Entertainment Presidency: American Politics in the Digital Age

      Lombard, Matthew; Cai, Deborah A.; Arceneaux, Kevin; Carey, John, 1946- (Temple University. Libraries, 2016)
      The essential issue of this project is the relationship between the American people and their president. As technology changes, people adapt to new methods of communication which simultaneously allow them to connect with others and the wider world more easily and yet also separate themselves from others and the wider world more easily. The need for presidential candidates and sitting presidents to connect with citizens has led to the adoption of diverse media strategies that include traditional news initiatives with established journalists, face to face interaction with small groups of supporters, and visits to traditionally non-political entertainment-based venues. This dissertation research examines that last element of presidential-level communication: an embrace of entertainment forums for political purposes. This project is a necessary contribution to the field because there has not been a thorough and exclusive examination of the embrace of the entertainment-based venue by presidential campaigns guided by the thoughts of veterans of presidential campaigns themselves. Some scholars and journalists have partially analyzed this phenomenon as part of a larger examination of presidential communication strategy, but this specific element has largely been uninspected and has become especially relevant in the context of the presidency of Barack Obama, a trailblazer in the use of entertainment-based venues for political purposes, and in the context of presidential campaigns and administrations going forward. The 2016 presidential primaries have only made the purpose of this project more urgent because of the rise of Donald Trump, perhaps the ultimate example of the fusing of politics and entertainment. To understand the phenomena driving presidential campaigns to embrace entertainment-based venues, I conducted interviews with twenty-two veterans of presidential campaigns dating back to the 1980 election. Between them, these twenty-two political strategists have worked for five administrations – Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama – and a number of major campaigns in every election cycle since 1980, including the 2016 campaign. I also conducted two interviews with veterans of the most viewed entertainment platforms of the 1990s and 2000s: The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Late Show with David Letterman. These twenty-four interviews, including with one individual who worked for both a presidential campaign and a late night entertainment talk show, were conducted between March 2015 and February 2016 and included targeted questions and an oral history component. Presidential candidates have increasingly needed to stress the lighter sides of their personalities to appeal to a voting public fascinated by the horserace media coverage of presidential politics but largely uninterested in the minutiae of day-to-day policymaking. Slowly, sitting presidents have attempted to do the same but have had to balance revelation with the responsibilities of holding the highest office in the land. This project evaluates the implications of the moves that presidential campaigns and presidential administrations have made to become more accessible and connected with the citizenry in a constantly changing media environment. Based on the data collected through the interview process, his project offers a new theoretical underpinning for this media strategy based on a synthesis of role theory, the postmodern presidency theory, and technological determinism that allows for the significant influence of individual personality in the decision-making process and predicts how future campaigns will operate in this regard as media technology and American political culture evolve.