By CHARLOTTE MACKINNON
When I was going through the news this morning, I noticed that among the headlines regarding the primary race for the upcoming 2016 election was Lincoln Chafee’s announcement that he was ending his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Being that Chafee is the former governor of Rhode Island, my home state, I had been keeping up with his campaign since he announced his participation this past June. Since then, he hasn’t had an overwhelming amount of support behind him – Hillary Clinton has surely been stealing the spotlight lately, especially this past week where she did well in the debates and her competition, Virginia Senator Jim Webb as well as Vice President Joe Biden, both dropped out. The fact that he followed suit isn’t exactly groundbreaking news to many.
Regardless, seeing the announcement brought back a few memories of when he was actively governing my home state that made me think about all the pressures that politicians face when they constantly have the media watching their every move.
Chafee’s son, Caleb, was actually a high school classmate of mine when I attended Portsmouth Abbey School. He was in the graduating class above mine and we were good friends, as we both boarded on campus and it was a close-knit community. The week of his graduation, all the seniors ended their classes earlier than the rest of the students, and we had final exams while they were celebrating “grad week” – an annual week notorious for off-campus parties.
Caleb threw a party at his house while his parents were out of town and one girl who attended it ended up being hospitalized for alcohol poisoning. Everyone there was obviously under age, and the police inevitably got involved. Suffice to say, it stirred up a lot of publicity seeing as the party took place at the governor’s house and Rhode Island has a strict social host law which left Gov. Chafee responsible for the events that took place there. It was a bit of a local scandal in the weeks surrounding the incident.
Obviously what had happened was innocent enough, and there wasn’t that much damage done by the news media to Chafee’s reputation in the aftermath, but it did leave an impact on Caleb’s personal life (he ended up having to defer a year from Brown to do community service abroad in order to restore the University’s confidence in him as a freshman admit).
At the time, I didn’t really know much about the news media’s role in politics, but now that I’m a journalism major, it makes me more fully understand how critical that role is. Had the incident happened this past spring, Chafee may never have decided to even enter the race at all, considering it would have occurred in entirely different circumstances.
The incident would have been magnified under the lens of the news media and entire nation would have known about it — and it would have been used as a weapon against him by his competitors. The things that occur to a person have an entirely different meaning when that person is a potential presidential candidate and it is the media that is single-handedly responsible for this fact.
Although the incident happened years ago and is water under the bridge at this point in time, especially since Chafee is no longer campaigning, it’s very interesting to me how I can look at the things that have happened in the past now with the eyes of a journalist, rather than just another on-looker.