The Role of the Media This Election Day, and Beyond
It’s Tuesday, November 6 – Election Day here in the United States. The stakes are high in the 2018 midterms, but emotions and temperatures seem to be even higher. As voters across the nation visit the ballot box, Americans of all stripes encourage their fellow citizens to vote their conscience and exercise the franchise so many have fought to achieve. On this day, and at this unique moment in time, we are also primed to take stock of the role the media plays in shaping our politics – a question we in Ogilvy’s Media Influence team take very seriously.
In this spirit, two weeks ago I had the privilege of attending Citizen by CNN, an inaugural full-day summit where some of the biggest names in politics held conversations with the network’s biggest talent. As CNN President and CEO Jeff Zucker said during his kickoff, the day was all about conversation – an engaging, informed series of panel discussions aimed at civil and nonpartisan dialogue spanning a range of issues confronting the American electorate.
In many ways, this reflected a question that brands the world over have confronted in recent years: How do we engage audiences with authenticity and social consciousness while also remaining universally respectful and nominally apolitical.
The proceedings kicked off with what on paper sounds like the pitch for a bad sitcom: Former Obama White House Advisor and CNN political commentator Van Jones interviewed Senior Adviser to President Trump Jared Kushner. These individuals polarize both right and left respectively, yet their conversation could not have been more elevated or respectful.
On a day focused on the potential for common ground – and the media as a possible vehicle for finding it – the message was clear from the start: No matter who you are, and no matter whose politics you support – let’s talk.
From there, the discussion turned to two erstwhile stars of the 2018 midterms themselves: A preview of CNN’s famous “Magic Wall” from CNN anchor John King, and an in-depth conversation with Democratic Leader of the House of Representatives and former (and future?) Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash.
King, taking the audience through a district-by-district electoral preview with increasing granularity, offered a preview of what viewers can expect from the network’s trademark election night coverage (and, as The New York Times noted this week, a glimpse of one of the leading “real stars” of said coverage).
Pelosi – either hero or heretic depending on your leanings – spoke lengthily and candidly about where the two parties stood two weeks out in the campaign. The Democratic leader appeared cautiously optimistic before the audience of media elites, methodically laying out her view on the contrasting national agendas of the two parties on the cusp of what could bring new leadership to the House in January.
Through it all was the very question of our host itself: As one of the leading news organizations in the world, what is the proper role of CNN – and the media writ large – in the seemingly intractable divide that confronts us every day; between red and blue America; between Republicans and Democrats; the resistance and the resisted?
At the end of the day CNN is a brand, and what that brand means is increasingly defined by one’s politics – “the most trusted name in news” or the exemplar of “Fake News” itself. Consumers, particularly millennials and members of “Gen Z”, increasingly want only to engage with brands whose voices they deem authentic, and with whose values they intrinsically identify.
As our political landscape becomes increasingly heated, and as our politics continues to permeate seemingly all facets of American culture and decision-making, the definition of that brand – the media’s brand – becomes increasingly important.
The ability to be seen as a neutral convener that bridges divides may not satisfy the most impassioned activists, but it does fill a void that has become all-too-apparent in recent years.
Today, as Americans proudly display their “I Voted” stickers after hitting the ballot box, we are for better or worse endorsing one brand or another in our electoral choices. Whatever the outcome of the midterms, we will still need to converse and engage as American citizens in the days, weeks and months ahead, and will need trusted partners and platforms to convene that dialogue.
Can the national media still, despite the events of recent weeks and even years, play a role in bridging our seismic divides by facilitating a national conversation? CNN seems to think so. Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, based on the inaugural effort of Citizen by CNN, this voter is inclined to vote yes.