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McGovern Criticizes News 'Saturation' of Democratic Primary

      Although he didn’t have a winning track record in presidential elections, 1972 Democratic presidential nominee and former South Dakota Sen. George McGovern had no problem critiquing the media for lack of substance.


     McGovern, an anti-war icon of the left in the late 1960s and early 1970s, appeared at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on August 12. He discussed news coverage of the Democratic nominating process with Washington Post columnist David Broder and University of Maryland journalism professor Haynes Johnson.


     McGovern told reporters that the changing news business – offering more media outlets – led to too much coverage, causing “saturation” and over-analysis of the candidates on the campaign trail.


     “Well, it is a fact that we have saturation coverage on candidates these days,” McGovern said. “You have three or four thoughtful people examining what it meant that Hillary [Clinton] shed a tear in New Hampshire. What did that mean? Was it – did she become more human? Has she broken down to the strain? And these discussions would go on, sometimes in great depth. What did Barack [Obama] mean by a quote that he gave that seemed …”


     McGovern said that too much competition among numerous outlets – versus the three TV networks of his era – were causing the media to give too much credence to details of the campaign.


     “I think the, when you’ve got all these cables and all the networks and everybody else competing for a breakthrough, you get enormous coverage on the details of the campaign,” McGovern said. “I personally would like to see more thoughtful debates.”


     McGovern also offered some criticisms of the U.S. foreign policy – specifically the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq and overthrow former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical regime. He compared the war to AIDS – a disease that claimed an estimated 2.1 million lives, including 330,000 children, in 2007, according to the World Health Organization.


     “That war is about as popular as AIDS around the world in other capitals and it’s hurt us a great deal I think,” McGovern said. “There’s almost no support for it anywhere. So, I think there’ll be an improvement there. I think also people around the world – most of whom are not white – are going to take a renewed sense of accomplishment in seeing a black man in charge of the most powerful country around the world.”


      Despite McGovern’s hyperbolic comparison, he said his faith in the United States remains steadfast.


     “I’ve always thought this is the greatest country in the world – I still think that,” McGovern said. “We have to be great because we make these enormous blunders like Vietnam and Iraq and yet we survive.”


     Even with the obsessive media coverage McGovern criticized, he said he still thinks presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama, Ill., will defeat presumptive GOP nominee Sen. John McCain, Ariz., in November. McGovern had supported Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., for the Democratic nomination, but switched his support to Obama as the nomination race drew to a close.


     “Not simply because I’m a Democrat and a supporter of his, but I think Barack is going to win this election,” McGovern added. “I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t. I’m not always too reliable on predicting how the election’s going to come out, but that’s what I think.”


     McGovern lost the 1972 presidential election to President Richard Nixon by a margin of 23.2 percentage points, the fourth largest margin in presidential history.