The Iowa Caucuses Through the Eyes of the Media

Posted: January 28, 2020 | By: Gabi Watkins Tagged: Blog

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to talk with my friend and 2019 Drake graduate, Josh Cook, about his experience working in the media during caucus season. Working for Iowa Starting Line, Cook has had the opportunity to cover various campaign events throughout the state. In his opinion, the most difficult aspect of reporting during the caucuses is the lack of a concrete schedule that comes with attending a multitude of political events across Iowa.

When asked about the media narrative involved throughout the nomination process, Cook stated that one thing he’s noted throughout this cycle is how easily pieces can be spun to favor certain candidates. While members of the media try to stay impartial, he notes that everyone has a preference and therefore, a bias. This is especially true on issues that are personal but not necessarily partisan, such as healthcare.

Something that’s pleasantly surprised Cook during this election cycle is the consistency of the messaging between urban and rural areas. “When these Democrats go [to rural centers] they don’t soften their rhetoric or hesitate to talk about issues with the Trump presidency”, Cook said. He believes the reason for this, and why it’s been so effective, is that many candidates are able to pinpoint issues that resonate with rural and urban Americans alike. Issues such as anti-trust legislation, access to healthcare, and corporate consolidation of agriculture impact Iowans from all different walks of life and thus appeal to a diverse electorate.

In this election cycle, Cook has found that healthcare has been a big issue among voters. He stated, “People that aren’t necessarily super progressive but are supporting progressive candidates, I find that most it’s on the basis of healthcare… if you know a person who’s been bankrupt on healthcare costs then most end up supporting a candidate that wants to limit those debts”. Other large factors among the electorate have been concerns about political corruption and how detached Washington D.C. seems to be from the rest of the country; as discussions about corporate influence in politics become more prominent.

Some of Cook’s favorite pieces that he’s worked on this cycle have been rural centered; most notably, a piece he did on the food desert affecting certain parts of rural Iowa. Cook enjoys reporting in rural areas, as he feels that the issues there are often overshadowed in national news. He notes that his most memorable and odd experience thus far was participating in the Field of Dreams softball game with the Bernie Sanders campaign. When Cook came up to bat, he nailed the pitch and sent it flying right back towards the Vermont Senator. Although Sanders was able to dodge the ball and impending doom, the incident made a lasting impression on Cook’s colleagues: “For two months on the trail almost every national reporter I met knew me as the kid who almost killed Bernie Sanders with a softball”.

In terms of media coverage following the caucuses, Cook is most interested in the reporting of first alignments and how this restructuring will impact media narrative and electability going into New Hampshire. He speculates that this coverage could give lesser-known candidates such as Andrew Yang and Amy Klobuchar momentum to continue in the race if they’re able to positively spin first alignment support.

Up next from Cook will be a piece on Andrew Yang and his ground game in Iowa; it will detail his different methods of recording voter support and cover where his supporters may go if he’s unviable in the first alignment. Although his caucus experience has been hectic, Cook notes it’s also been extremely rewarding for him as a young professional and he’s excited to see what awaits him following the election season.