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Released April 19, 2004


By Christopher Mapp

HATTIESBURG - Ever since John F. Kennedy's star-making turn in the 1960 presidential debate with Richard Nixon, television has influenced the public's political perceptions.

But does television shape the politicians too?

In his latest book, "Legislative Television as Political Advertising," Frank Mixon, a Business Advisory Council professor of economics at The University of Southern Mississippi, examines how cameras both change the behavior of politicians and how they can benefit their re-election campaigns.

"Everyone remembers how in the O.J. Simpson trial, when the cameras came on, lawyers, judges, witnesses - everyone - used it as a platform to perform," Mixon said. "We take that premise and see how politicians behave in the legislative arena."

Co-authored with Kamal P. Upadhyaya, an associate professor of economics at the University of New Haven in Connecticut, the book also illustrates the impact of television on the length of sessions in the U.S. House and Senate and explains how the parliamentary procedure differs in the presence - or absence - of cameras.

Mixon said that anyone who has watched C-SPAN or C-SPAN2, the nonprofit cable networks that cover gavel-to-gavel coverage of the House of Representatives and the Senate, respectively, has seen a politician giving a lengthy, passionate speech before a largely empty chamber.

"They probably wouldn't be standing there as often or as long if there weren't cameras on them," Mixon said. "But they are using that 'free' air time to speak to their constituents back home. Before television, voters had to obtain a copy of these speeches, which could be about 30,000 words or more."

Americans have been watching politicians at work - and shaping their behavior - for almost 25 years, Mixon said. Through C-SPAN, a public service organization dedicated to providing unedited, balanced views of government and public policy forums, viewers can witness firsthand the parliamentary procedure as it unfolds.

Moreover, C-SPAN, the occasional target of late-night comedians' jokes, isn't just for insomniacs and hard-core political junkies anymore. With the introduction of C-SPAN3, which covers public policy forums, the combined viewership of the three networks tops more than 28.5 million each week.

Accessible in 85 million homes, the C-SPAN network garners more viewers each week than The West Wing, NBC's highly popular television drama that reaches 17 million viewers in a similar span. "Put into that context, C-SPAN's influence is pretty amazing," Mixon said.

While televised legislation has influenced voters, it has also shaped the politicians who represent them. A look at the length of proceedings in Congress suggests that cameras tend to welcome "grandstanding and posturing that might not otherwise take place," Mixon said. In the U.S. Senate, where recorded votes are an average of 63 minutes longer when cameras are present, incumbents use that chamber's parliamentary procedure as "low-cost advertising."

Although this time amounts to "free" advertising for incumbents, it is anything but that for taxpayers. Administrative costs (in the Senate) for this added procedural time amounts to as much as $3 million per Congress, according to Mixon.

In the book, published by iUniverse, Inc. and available since mid-March, Mixon examines the increased use of "1-minute speeches," that period each day before or after House proceedings that allows politicians to directly address their constituents. This avenue gives incumbents competitive exposure that up-starts must pay top-dollar for, reinforcing the virtual stranglehold on office that incumbents enjoy.

"It's like this whole reality TV thing right now, where you're not sure who's acting and who's being spontaneous," Mixon said. "It's sort of like what's happening in Congress. These fist-pounding, fiery speeches wouldn't be there probably without the cameras on them."

This is Mixon's second book. His first, published in 2002 by Writers Club Press, detailed the social opportunity costs of the Social Security System. He has recently published journal articles for Economic Inquiry, Southern Economic Journal, Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, European Journal of Law and Economics, and Public Choice.


OCEAN SPRINGS -- Award-winning wildlife photographer Tom Ulrich will lead two photographic events at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory on Wednesday, March 10.

He will present a nature photography workshop from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and then a talk and slide show called "Wildlife Images 2003" at 7 p.m., both at The University of Southern Mississippi GCRL.

Admission to the evening event is free and will be held in the Caylor Auditorium at GCRL. The veteran photographer will feature photos from his 2003 photographic safaris abroad and in North America. He will answer questions and sign his books during the reception following his slide show.

The registration fee for the all-day workshop is $50 per person, payable to GCRL. Registration includes a continental breakfast, light lunch and snacks. Participation is limited to 20. Though the workshop is geared toward beginners, Ulrich tailors the experience to meet needs for all degrees of skill.

"The beginners will definitely benefit from the workshop, but I always help the more advanced get something out of it also," Ulrich said. "I lead many photo trips and always find a wide range of levels."

Ulrich said participants do not need to bring their photographic equipment unless they need an explanation about some aspect of their equipment.

Topics include a brief review of the principles of photography, relationships between shutter and aperture settings, fundamental elements of composition, use and timing of fill-in flash, digital versus film photography, techniques of close-up photography, and a brief discussion of slide etiquette, the photography business and marketing.

Ulrich grew up in South Chicago, graduated with a degree in biology from Southern Illinois University and taught for four years before launching his career as a freelance photographer. He has supported himself with nature photography for the past 29 years.

His library of more than 300,000 transparencies includes birds and mammals from all over the world. His photographs have been featured in publications such as National Wildlife, Audubon, National Geographic, Montana Outdoors and Life.

He has published six nature books, including Mammals of the Rockies, Birds of the Northern Rockies, Once Upon a Frame and his 2002 release, Photo Pantanal. Dr. William E. Hawkins, GCRL executive director, said Ulrich brings the scientific and artistic worlds together.

"Tom earns his living photographing wildlife all over the world," Hawkins sad. "He is an outstanding observer and a biologist. His approach to photography is to capture his subjects exhibiting their natural behavior."

The GCRL is home to the university's Department of Coastal Sciences, the Center for Fisheries Research and Development, and the Gulf Coast Geospatial Center. The J.L. Scott Marine Education Center and Aquarium is also a unit of the laboratory. The GCRL is part of the Southern Miss College of Science and Technology. For more information, call the laboratory at (228) 872-4200.


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM