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PS 101 The Media And American Politics
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PS 101 The Media And American Politics


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Slide show prepared for a series of lectures on the media and American politics for PS 101 American Government at the University of Kentucky, Fall 2007. Dr. Christopher S. Rice, Lecturer.

Slide show prepared for a series of lectures on the media and American politics for PS 101 American Government at the University of Kentucky, Fall 2007. Dr. Christopher S. Rice, Lecturer.

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  • 1. The Media and American Politics Dr. Christopher S. Rice
  • 2. What do we mean by “the media”?
    • News organizations and journalists of either the print (newspapers, magazines), broadcast (television, radio) or internet (websites, newsfeeds, blogs) media.
  • 3. What gets covered?
    • News is often described as a mirror held up to society, but actually it is a highly selective portrayal of reality .
    • News is an account of events which are:
      • Timely – new, unfolding events rather than old, static ones.
      • Dramatic – striking developments vs. commonplace ones.
      • Compelling – developments which arouse people’s emotions
  • 4. The importance of information
    • Popular sovereignty requires high-quality information and debate.
    • Quality of democracy depends upon quality of the media…
  • 5. Trust and Information
    • Americans skeptical about the quality of information from mass media.
    • Still willing to accept content of “mainstream media” as (reasonably) accurate.
  • 6. Media Giants!
  • 7. Roles for the media in a democracy
    • Common-Carrier
    • Watchdog
    • Signaler
    • Public Representative
  • 8. The media as common carrier
    • The media can serve as critical links among political and governmental institutions.
    • Vehicles for government, political parties, interest groups to speak to citizens.
    • Spin - Officials try to get the most favorable coverage they can.
      • Spin can often fail
      • Spin can take legitimate and illegitimate forms.
  • 9. The media as common carrier
    • Channels of communication among political and governmental institutions.
    • The Incredible Shrinking Sound Bite
      • Sound Bite – amount of time a candidate speaks in a news story without interruption.
      • 1960’s – average sound bite was 40 seconds.
      • Recently – average sound bite has been less than 10 seconds. Hardly enough time to utter a complete sentence.
  • 10. The media as signaler
    • “ Reporting”: alert the public to important events as soon as possible, keep public informed in a timely manner.
    • Report “the facts”
    • Clarify electoral choices
    • Present ideas about public policy to the American public.
  • 11. The media as public representative
    • Critical political linkage serving as spokesperson/ advocate for the public.
    • Two flavors:
      • Advocacy
      • Acting as self-interested actor.
  • 12. The media as public representative
    • Why journalists may not be well suited to this role:
      • Lack of accountability
      • Representation requires a point of view - media bias?
  • 13. The media as watchdog
    • Press should dig up facts, warn public when officials doing something wrong.
      • Watergate
      • Iraqi Prisoner Mistreatment Scandal
      • Justice Dept. US Attorney Firing Scandal
    • Importance of the First Amendment…
  • 14. Effects of the media on politics
    • Media coverage influences public opinion and policymaking.
    • Agenda-setting effects
      • Media covers what people believe is important? Or vice-versa?
      • Framing
    • Policy Preferences
    • Effects on policymaking
      • Indirect
      • Direct
  • 15. What is bias?
    • Bias is difficult to define and measure.
      • Count the proportion of references to a political figure or policy which seem to be positive or negative?
      • A deviation from some perfect representation of objective reality?
      • Some studies have looked at slanted language.
    • All of these methods questionable, involve personal judgment.
  • 16.  
  • 17. What is bias?
    • But “bias” can’t just be negative coverage, right?
    • What IS objectivity, anyway?
    • The problem with “Fair and Balanced”
  • 18. Media Bias - a definition
    • The tendency to present an unbalanced perspective so that information is conveyed in such a way that consistently favors one set of interests over another.
  • 19. An interesting note…
    • People tend to be more concerned about media bias than they are about government censorship in the United States.
  • 20. Objective Journalism
    • Still standard for US news coverage.
    • Most interpretations left implicit, or given by “experts” interviewed for comments.
      • How experts selected
      • Trends
      • How Fox News has blurred the line between commentators and reporters.
  • 21. Objective Journalism
    • Descriptive Reporting – older form of objective journalism, so-called because of its straightforward description of events.
    • Interpretive Journalism – style of reporting where journalist analyzes and explains developments rather than merely reporting on them.
  • 22. Is the media biased?
    • Observers disagree whether media biased in liberal or conservative direction.
    • Little to no evidence reporters’ personal values regularly affect what appears in the media.
  • 23. Dominant points of view
    • Even if we can’t be sure media is biased (or to what extent), we CAN identify certain tendencies in media coverage…
  • 24. Dominant points of view
    • Foreign affairs – most news about foreign affairs takes an ethnocentric viewpoint.
      • Focuses on things that interest and concern Americans.
      • Tends to put US in a good light, opponents in a bad light.
  • 25. Dominant points of view
    • Ethnocentrism + dependence on US government news sources = most foreign news coverage fits well with US foreign policy.
      • Media have tended to go along with government conjectures in assuming the worst about those who oppose us.
      • Reliance on official news sources = media sometimes propagates false, misleading government statements.
  • 26. Other dominant points of view
    • The media tend to run stories that generally approve of American-style capitalist economic system.
    • Incumbent politicians tend to get a pass from the media.
  • 27. Subtle techniques of slanting news
    • How you choose your sources.
    • Controlling the prominence of a story – above or below fold, page 1 or buried.
    • Solicitation and selection of quotations.
    • Choose which facts to report.
    • Frame the meaning of stories with the headline or first line of story.