Professor points out news ‘gonzofication’

Kyle Miller

Although there was another political figure in town, Steffen Schmidt still delivered his assessment of the current political environment in a lecture in the Sun Room of the Memorial Union on Monday.

As part of the fall 2007 Presidential University Lecture, Schmidt, university professor of political science, spoke in a light-hearted tone about “gonzo journalism,” the upcoming caucus season in Iowa and all the “unique situations” that have sprung up along the way to a full crowd.

The title of his talk was “More Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail,” an allusion to the philosophy of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson. Schmidt connected that in this current election season, Hunters’ impact on the worlds of journalism and politics are still being felt.

“In 1972 or ’73 when this book [‘More Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72’] came out, Thompson was essentially a novelty,” he said. “I propose that in ’07 and ’08 we are seeing the proliferation of gonzo journalism. The line between journalism and other art forms has been essentially erased.”

Schmidt defined Hunters’ unique approach to journalism as “fiction and fact blending with each other.” He said Hunter’s legacy has been taken up by political bloggers and podcasters who use the Internet not to make a large political point, but to defame the very controlled image of a candidate, such as the YouTube “Obama Girl or her counterpart, the Giuliani Girl,” he said.

“It is virtually impossible for candidates to control their message.” he said. “It’s the gonzoficaton of journalism.”

Schmidt went on to assess the similarities between the candidates, such as the fact that both Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani are from New York, which is a unique situation that Iowans participating in the caucuses and political scientists have to assess.

Voters are now faced with few other unprecedented variables, such as a woman and a black man both running successful campaigns – something Schmidt said has not happened before.

“When people ask me, ‘Well, what do you think? Do you think a woman can win?’ I say, ‘I don’t know. It’s never been tried,'” Schmidt said.

Schmidt went into detail about the election cycle, which he called “very strange,” citing the fact that there is neither an incumbent president or vice president running for re-election, a situation that has not occurred since the Eisenhower administration.

“It’s encouraging to have this situation in front of us,” Schmidt said.

The rest of his talk was taken up by both the recent rise of “527s,” or organizations that are not nonprofit, but can take in tax-exempt contributions for their own political agendas, such as the recent New York Times scandal.

“Politics is not civil in the United States anymore,” he said.

The impact of Iowans on the candidates, who present “interesting political situations” to candidates in connection to foods, Schmidt said, shows that Iowans have a certain set of values, and they challenge candidates “with a divergence of factors.”

For instance, there were 2,000 pounds of beef served at Sen. Tom Harkin’s steak fry, an event that Dennis Kucinich, a vegan, attended.

“[Iowans] test these peoples abilities to deal with unexpected situations,” he said.

Attendees felt the tone of his assessment of the current political climate was entertaining and to the point.

“Really, what he highlighted was this is really a unique situation, since we have not had an incumbent nor a vice president running since Eisenhower.

“This is a time of firsts,” said Narren Brown, graduate student in political science.