Ithaca College Media Literacy Initiative Helps Young People Prepare for 2012 Presidential Election Campaign

ITHACA, NY — Though all of the votes from the 2010 midterm elections have yet to be counted, the political focus is already shifting to the 2012 presidential campaign. In fact, the first debate among potential Republican candidates, to be televised by NBC, is scheduled for next spring.

To help young people prepare to sort through the overwhelming flood of information that will soon pour forth from the media about the campaign, a media literacy initiative at Ithaca College has published an update to its popular curriculum kit for teachers. Produced by Project Look Sharp, “Media Construction of Presidential Campaigns” is a free online teaching aid that uses examples from past campaigns to help students understand how the media cover elections and how candidates use the media.

“According to one estimate, in just the last month before the midterm elections, American television viewers were exposed to almost 1.48 million political ads, the largest output on record,” said Chris Sperry, director of curriculum and staff development for Project Look Sharp and coauthor of the curriculum kit. “We can expect the upcoming presidential campaign to subject the public to even more commercials. With the ascent of new media such as Facebook and Twitter, and candidates making appearances on what are nominally comedy programs like ‘The Daily Show,’ it will be even harder to escape this onslaught.”

“Media Construction of Presidential Campaigns” has been updated to include eight new lessons using material from the 2008 presidential campaign:

  • Targeting Youth with New Media
  • Is Obama a Muslim?
  • Clinton and Palin
  • Political Satire or Libel?
  • Fear in TV Commercials
  • Historic Magazine Covers
  • Biographical Films
  • Economy Ads

“Media Construction of Presidential Campaigns” can be downloaded by teachers for free from the Project Look Sharp website at Hard copies — complete with a 500-page teacher guide that includes lesson plans, copy-ready student handouts, an annotated resources list and DVDs and CDs of all of the audiovisual materials — are also available for purchase at cost.

The materials and lessons are designed for students in middle school through college-level courses. Teachers can use them to teach the history of U.S. elections in a way that will prepare students to think critically about historical, political and ethical issues related to media and democracy.

The kit includes over 190 historic media documents, ranging from bumper stickers and political cartoons to recordings of old-time campaign songs and video clips covering presidential elections from 1800 to 2008. The 1964 “Daisy Girl” ad, the Obama fist-bump illustration from the cover of the “New Yorker,” an excerpt from the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debates, newspaper editorials about Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and screen shots of candidate Facebook pages are among the included materials.

“By having access to this information, students can learn to look and listen critically and decode the messages in campaign materials,” said Sperry. “The kit provides teachers with the resources they need to engage students in a dynamic, interactive and rigorous study of American democracy through understanding the impact of new technologies and evolving techniques for image construction and marketing in an historical context.”

A program of the Ithaca College Division of Interdisciplinary and International Studies, Project Look Sharp promotes and supports media literacy education at the community, state and national levels. In addition to presidential campaigns, it has produced curriculum kits that infuse media literacy into the study of such topics as the Middle East, global warming, Martin Luther King Jr., war, peace and health.

For more information, contact Chris Sperry at (607) 274-3471 or

Two video clips included in the "Media Construction of Presidential Campaigns" curriculum kit:

Image from "Media Construction of Presidential Campaigns"