In today’s world, we have it very difficult to imagine a presidential election, or any type of election, without media coverage of it. As the last presidential elections in the United States showed, media coverage is one of the key factors that make the difference between winning and losing (Faulkner, 17). But it is difficult for us to understand a world without audio visual media. Once upon a time, there were elections, of course, even presidential elections, but their reporting was done in the only format of media possible at the time, the printed press. It was through the newspapers that presidential candidates tried to reach voters. And it was through these newspapers, along with personal meetings and gatherings, that their portrait was made and the public had the opportunity to decide for whom it should vote. This is certainly the case for the 1892 presidential elections held on November 8, 1982. Three main rivals were pretending to get elected in office. The candidates were the incumbent president, Benjamin Harrison, the former president, Grover Cleveland, and James Weaver for the Populist Party. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle was one of the major newspapers in New York. It is interesting to see the way it favors one presidential candidate over the other. At least, the newspaper shows elegantly and sometimes even with harsh language, its disfavoring of a certain candidate. In our case, it is the incumbent president, Benjamin Harrison which is the focus of this disfavoring policy of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
Several editorials deal directly with the figure of President Harrison in metaphoric language. It is through this ‘masquerade’ that one candidate is favored and the other disfavored.
The psychological portrait of Benjamin Harrison
On October 25, 1892, the Daily Eagle runs an editorial for a ‘funeral’ to be held at the White House. The entire editorial is written in a sense of irony full of metaphors. Of course, this obituary was for the actual president, re-running for office again. We find a similar obituary two days later, on October 27, 1892. The language used is almost the same and the metaphors also. It tries to input to the reader the sense that this is not a man you would like to run the country. President Harrison is described as ill and physically not capable of bearing such a weight. His physical portrait is completed by describing his conditions even as pitiable.
These physical deteriorating conditions are the key metaphor to make Americans believe that this man is not capable anymore of directing governmental affairs. It should be noted that at the time the physical resistance for a president was an important issue among voters (Josephson, 8). A man with defects in physical capability was not considered to be able to take care of community affairs from the American public opinion. Here is a traditional case where a media, particularly this newspaper, is trying to indirectly influence public opinion regarding the abilities of a candidate. The same is repeated in the next editorial where President Harrison is labeled as ‘dead’. Of course, this is a metaphor for a ‘political death’. There is a beautiful illustration of the political death of President Harrison by the metaphor of the ‘two guarding policeman’. The editorial on October 27, 1892, writes that the staff at the White House appointed two policemen to guard the gates and not allow any curious or from the public to pass through. Unfortunately, continues the editorial, there was no need of them as no one was gathered before the gates.
This is a message to all the voters who read this newspaper that this man has virtually no support among the masses. In certain sense, it is an invitation not to vote for him. Why would you vote for somebody who has no support? This way you would lose your vote in vain. And we must not forget that this message was being sent to the readers amid an electoral campaign. The elections were no more than two weeks later. But there is not only just a physical portrait for President Harrison during this campaign period.
But there was not just a physical portrait of the presidential candidate Harrison. Four days after the second editorial there was a third one, on October 31, 1892. This time President Harrison was portrait as ‘returning from the dead to get elected in the office again. This gives the reader a sense of calamity this man had with this ‘political power chair’ and that, ultimately, he was not thinking about the public good, but fighting for his greed. The editorial described how his spirit would get around the White House scaring the guards and ensuring that no one else gets into the oval office. Thus, he was portrayed as a person following his ego and whose power had corrupted his soul. The message to the reader was clear that such a person was not suitable anymore to become president again.
Faulkner, Harold U. Politics, Reform and Expansion, 1890–1900. New York: Harper, 1959
Josephson, Matthew. The Politicos: 1865–1896. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1938.