Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Second Department

Political Science

First Advisor

Zoe Oxley




news, campaign, celebrity, campaigns, presidential campaigns, elections, presidential elections, advertising campaigns, celebritization


The thesis covers the growing role of entertainment and celebrity-style news in the domain of hard presidential campaign television news coverage. Having done prior research on such entertainment news outlets as E! News, Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, among others, I found that I was seeing the same treatment of celebrities as hard news programs were giving to presidential candidates. In light of this thought, the study covers what has been written about the evolution of presidential campaigns and the integration of celebrity news elements into campaigns. This study also performs a media analysis on the network news programs in order to establish the presence of, what I have called, “celebritized” campaign coverage. The thesis concludes with a reflection on the strengths and weaknesses of this study, future improvements, and the broader implications of the results from the media analysis.

The literature analysis is split into two chapters of the thesis. The first chapter pertains to the evolution of presidential campaigns. Within this chapter, the two sub-sections are: how the campaigns have changed their presentation and strategy; and how the media has changed its coverage of the campaign. The literature that pertains to the change in campaign strategy recognizes a number of patterns. The foremost, as it pertains to this study, is the growth in image creation and image consciousness. The literature largely cites the Reagan campaigns as the first to fully capitalize on creating a candidate’s image. Reagan’s campaign focused its advertisements on pictures and emotional appeals within a small time frame. Before this time the campaign advertisement focused on policy and where the candidates stood on issues. These advertisements were played out over longer periods of time with an emphasis on minutes rather than seconds. After Reagan, the literature almost universally notes the change in presidential campaigns as being a shift towards personalization and carefully planned social functions and rallies. In terms of supporting my thesis one can see that image creation, public relations, personalization, and planned social functions are all elements that are transferrable to celebrities and how they present themselves. With few exceptions, the literature does not make this connection.

In terms of how the media has changed its coverage, the literature largely points at the rise of television as a turning point. With the rise of television came a bombardment of images and the ability to cover aspects of the campaign unseen to that point. From there the literature documents the growing role of video, still-shots, and multimedia in the presentation of the news. In terms of campaign coverage, the television media is noted as increasing its emphasis on scandal, personal story lines, the presentation of the campaign, and the appearance of the candidate. In reviewing the literature on the change in media coverage one finds an emphasis on an increase in soft news, as well as a path that parallels the changes in campaign strategy.

The second chapter deals with the effect that celebrity and entertainment news has had on campaigns and campaign coverage. The goal of this portion of the literature review is to lay down characteristics of celebrity coverage.

This chapter documents the rise celebrity news and the growing importance of image that corresponds almost directly with the growing emphasis on celebrities. This chapter also offers examples of instances where celebrity-style news and campaigns inadvertently or advertently cross paths. These examples act as foundations for the set of guidelines that I lay out as representative of the celebritization of presidential campaigns. Most of the literature that does connect celebrity to the presidential candidate does so in passing and as an aside from a larger point. Because of this I grew in confidence that the concept of celebritization is one unique to research already completed about campaigns and campaign coverage. The media analysis is the original contribution that my thesis makes to the study of presidential campaigns. In this chapter I offer a series of tenets in which one can code whether or not hard news programs are covering campaigns in a celebrity style. These qualities are based on the literature review and prior research into the properties of celebrity news programs. The qualities are as follows: • Stressing personality traits/image, such as clothing, likability, how they are living their private lives • Who celebrities are hanging out with/ befriending • Where they are hanging out • What talk shows they are on, their upcoming game/album/movie • Showing trailers or previews of said game/album/movie • Personal lives, especially if it involves scandal or affairs • The back story- where they came from, growing up • How they carry themselves- their style and modus operandi • Showing clips of signature lines and catch-phrases • Gossip- what rumors are there on the street about these people • Feuding- who they are not friendly with and what the celebrities are saying about each other’s personal lives and personalities I also use this chapter to clarify the difference between soft news and celebritization. Soft news is a broad category refers to a number of content and presentation strategies associated with all aspects of news programs. These strategies include dramatization, personalization, the influx of images and multimedia, and shorter segments. Soft news also refers to how the news presents the content, no matter the content. Celebritization isolates the individual, specifically presidential campaigns. Celebritization occurs when not only is the news seeking to change the presentation, but the individual is also presenting a crafted image and presentation. Unlike with soft news, the defining and differing feature celebrity-style news coverage offers a considerable give and take between subject and reporting entity. This concept isolates the individual- how that individual presents him/herself and is then presented on television. However celebritization does not exclusively imply an absence of useful policy debate or information. Just as Brad Pitt or Britney Spears can be asked a political question, so too, can candidates be asked an informative question with a celebrity-style interview. The fact is that the context is different. The general rule that I used in governing whether or not there was celebrity-style news involved was to ask myself the question- “Could I substitute Celebrity A for the name John McCain or PR Firm for Campaign and still have a segment or statement that made sense?”

The actual analysis studied the transcripts of NBC Nightly News, ABC World News, and CBS Evening News from October 1, 2008 to November 3, 2008. This period allowed me to read over 140,000 words in 245 campaign segments over 86 shows. The study coded for whether or not a broadcast contained any celebrity statements, the number of segments with celebrity statements, the number of segments dedicated entirely to celebrity coverage, the number of celebrity-style words spoken in a segment, and the number segments containing promotional videos.

This material was used both in compiling both comparative and summation results. The comparative results were used largely to show that all three programs contained aspects of celebritization. The summation results showed that, based on the aforementioned coding criteria, almost 98% of the broadcasts contained some celebritization. Almost 69% of the campaign segments contained some celebrity-style statement. Almost 16% of the campaign segments were dedicated entirely to celebrity-style coverage. Almost 16% of all campaign segments contained some sort of promotional video. About 20% of words spoken about the campaign were within the context of celebritization.

The conclusion covers what these numbers mean in broader terms. I believe that these numbers exemplify the real presence of celebritization. The campaigns and the news media are aware of what is being presented and shown on television. The question remains as to whether or not this is good for the American public and democracy in this country. I find that, although these numbers are significant, these are safe values for hard campaign news coverage. The news media is still responsibly exercising its role in informing the public. The information is just being disseminated in a different manner. If, as the literature suggests, celebritization draws in a larger audience, one cannot be displeased with greater voter participation. Additionally, since celebritization does not imply an absence of substance, the current percentages show that there is still plenty of information within news broadcasts.

However, I warn that celebritization is inherently tied to a watered-down form of policy and informative content. Thus, if the percentages grow much higher than this one has to worry about the capacity of television news to maintain its role informing society, and society’s ability to make educated decisions regarding politics (If there major source of information in television news). What that can lead to is an American Idol effect. Everyone at home has some grasp of what singers sound good, but are not experts in the field. When voting on American Idol, the public does so with a little music knowledge, but mostly based on looks, performance, personality, and what other people think. If celebritization grows to the point that there is still general policy knowledge passed on, but overwhelmed in a context of personality, looks, attacks, image-creation, it cannot bode well for American democracy.