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The Media and American Politics


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Presentation developed for a series of lectures on the media and American politics for PS 101 American Government at the University of Kentucky, Spring 2007. Dr. Christopher S. Rice, Instructor.

Published in: News & Politics, Business

The Media and American Politics

  1. 1. The Media and American Politics Dr. Christopher S. Rice
  2. 2. What do we mean by “the media”? <ul><li>News organizations and journalists of either the print (newspapers, magazines), broadcast (television, radio) or internet (websites, newsfeeds, blogs) media. </li></ul>
  3. 3. What gets covered? <ul><li>News is often described as a mirror held up to society, but actually it is a highly selective portrayal of reality . </li></ul><ul><li>News is an account of events which are: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Timely – new, unfolding events rather than old, static ones. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Dramatic – striking developments vs. commonplace ones. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Compelling – developments which arouse people’s emotions </li></ul></ul>
  4. 5. The importance of information <ul><li>Popular sovereignty requires high-quality information and debate. </li></ul><ul><li>Quality of democracy depends upon quality of the media… </li></ul>
  5. 6. From where do you get most of your information about politics? <ul><li>Newspapers </li></ul><ul><li>News Magazines </li></ul><ul><li>Television </li></ul><ul><li>The Internet </li></ul><ul><li>Word of Mouth </li></ul>
  6. 8. TRUE or FALSE : People who rely more on television for the source of their news tend to be better informed than those who get their information from other sources.
  7. 9. Studies have shown that consumers of political talk radio: <ul><li>tend to be more misinformed than people who get their news from other sources. </li></ul><ul><li>are more likely to have an inaccurate understanding of political events and government than people who get their news from other sources. </li></ul><ul><li>tend to have greater confidence in their political viewpoints than those who get their news from other sources. </li></ul><ul><li>all of these choices. </li></ul>
  8. 11. TRUE or FALSE : Americans tend to be skeptical about the quality of information provided by the mass media, and are not willing to accept/believe a great deal of it.
  9. 12. Trust and Information <ul><li>Americans skeptical about the quality of information from mass media. </li></ul><ul><li>Still willing to accept content of “mainstream media” as (reasonably) accurate. </li></ul>
  10. 14. Some people believe that too few companies control too many news media outlets. What is your feeling on this issue? <ul><li>The concentration of media ownership among just a few companies is not a major problem </li></ul><ul><li>The concentration of media ownership among just a few companies is a major problem </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t know </li></ul>
  11. 15. Media Giants! <ul><li> </li></ul>
  12. 17. If you had to give a grade to the media for their coverage of politics, what would it be? <ul><li>A </li></ul><ul><li>B </li></ul><ul><li>C </li></ul><ul><li>D </li></ul><ul><li>F </li></ul>
  13. 18. Roles for the media in a democracy <ul><li>Common-Carrier </li></ul><ul><li>Watchdog </li></ul><ul><li>Signaler </li></ul><ul><li>Public Representative </li></ul>
  14. 19. The media as common carrier <ul><li>The media can serve as critical links among political and governmental institutions. </li></ul><ul><li>Vehicles for government, political parties, interest groups to speak to citizens. </li></ul><ul><li>Spin - Officials try to get the most favorable coverage they can. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Spin can often fail </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Spin can take legitimate and illegitimate forms. </li></ul></ul>
  15. 20. The media as common carrier <ul><li>Channels of communication among political and governmental institutions. </li></ul><ul><li>The Incredible Shrinking Sound Bite </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Sound Bite – amount of time a candidate speaks in a news story without interruption. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>1960’s – average sound bite was 40 seconds. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Recently – average sound bite has been less than 10 seconds. Hardly enough time to utter a complete sentence. </li></ul></ul>
  16. 21. TRUE or FALSE : Compared to other industrialized democracies, Americans tend to have low levels of political knowledge.
  17. 22. The media as signaler <ul><li>“ Reporting”: alert the public to important events as soon as possible, keep public informed in a timely manner. </li></ul><ul><li>Report “the facts” </li></ul><ul><li>Clarify electoral choices </li></ul><ul><li>Present ideas about public policy to the American public. </li></ul>
  18. 23. Which comes closer to your view? <ul><li>A person who wants to learn about politics in the U.S. can get all the information he or she needs from the mainstream media </li></ul><ul><li>A person who wants to learn about politics in the U.S. can get some of the information he or she needs from the mainstream media, but would also have to seek out additional information from sources like C-SPAN. </li></ul><ul><li>A person who wants to learn about politics in the U.S. can’t get the information he or she needs from the mainstream media. </li></ul>
  19. 24. The media as public representative <ul><li>Critical political linkage serving as spokesperson/ advocate for the public. </li></ul><ul><li>Two flavors: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Advocacy </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Acting as self-interested actor. </li></ul></ul>
  20. 25. The media as public representative <ul><li>Why journalists may not be well suited to this role: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Lack of accountability </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Representation requires a point of view - media bias? </li></ul></ul>
  21. 26. The media as watchdog <ul><li>Press should dig up facts, warn public when officials doing something wrong. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Watergate </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Iraqi Prisoner Mistreatment Scandal </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Justice Dept. US Attorney Firing Scandal </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Importance of the First Amendment… </li></ul>
  22. 27. When reporters choose to focus on one aspect of a story over others, it is known as: <ul><li>agenda setting. </li></ul><ul><li>framing. </li></ul><ul><li>focusing. </li></ul><ul><li>priming. </li></ul>
  23. 28. Effects of the media on politics <ul><li>Media coverage influences public opinion and policymaking. </li></ul><ul><li>Agenda-setting effects </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Media covers what people believe is important? Or vice-versa? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Framing </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Policy Preferences </li></ul><ul><li>Effects on policymaking </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Indirect </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Direct </li></ul></ul>
  24. 29. I believe the media in America: <ul><li>Has a liberal bias. </li></ul><ul><li>Has a conservative bias. </li></ul><ul><li>Is fairly well-balanced in its presentation of the news. </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t know/don’t care. </li></ul>
  25. 30. TRUE or FALSE : Research has found no significant evidence of ideological or partisan bias in the US media.
  26. 31. What is bias? <ul><li>Bias is difficult to define and measure. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Count the proportion of references to a political figure or policy which seem to be positive or negative? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A deviation from some perfect representation of objective reality? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Some studies have looked at slanted language. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>All of these methods questionable, involve personal judgment. </li></ul>
  27. 33. What is bias? <ul><li>But “bias” can’t just be negative coverage, right? </li></ul><ul><li>What IS objectivity, anyway? </li></ul><ul><li>The problem with “Fair and Balanced” </li></ul>
  28. 34. Media Bias - a definition <ul><li>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. </li></ul>
  29. 35. An interesting note… <ul><li>People tend to be more concerned about media bias than they are about government censorship in the United States. </li></ul>
  30. 36. Which comes closer to your view? <ul><li>The media have an obligation to present the public with impartial, unbiased information </li></ul><ul><li>It is okay if the media present information from a particular perspective, since people have lots of choices about what news source to read or watch </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t know/Don’t give a flyin’ flip </li></ul>
  31. 38. Objective Journalism <ul><li>Still standard for US news coverage. </li></ul><ul><li>Most interpretations left implicit, or given by “experts” interviewed for comments. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>How experts selected </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Trends </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>How Fox News has blurred the line between commentators and reporters. </li></ul></ul>
  32. 39. Objective Journalism <ul><li>Descriptive Reporting – older form of objective journalism, so-called because of its straightforward description of events. </li></ul><ul><li>Interpretive Journalism – style of reporting where journalist analyzes and explains developments rather than merely reporting on them. </li></ul>
  33. 40. Is the media biased? <ul><li>Observers disagree whether media biased in liberal or conservative direction. </li></ul><ul><li>Little to no evidence reporters’ personal values regularly affect what appears in the media. </li></ul>
  34. 41. Dominant points of view <ul><li>Even if we can’t be sure media is biased (or to what extent), we CAN identify certain tendencies in media coverage… </li></ul>
  35. 42. Dominant points of view <ul><li>Foreign affairs – most news about foreign affairs takes an ethnocentric viewpoint. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Focuses on things that interest and concern Americans. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Tends to put US in a good light, opponents in a bad light. </li></ul></ul>
  36. 43. Dominant points of view <ul><li>Ethnocentrism + dependence on US government news sources = most foreign news coverage fits well with US foreign policy. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Media have tended to go along with government conjectures in assuming the worst about those who oppose us. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Reliance on official news sources = media sometimes propagates false, misleading government statements. </li></ul></ul>
  37. 44. Other dominant points of view <ul><li>The media tend to run stories that generally approve of American-style capitalist economic system. </li></ul><ul><li>Incumbent politicians tend to get a pass from the media. </li></ul>
  38. 45. Subtle techniques of slanting news <ul><li>How you choose your sources. </li></ul><ul><li>Controlling the prominence of a story – above or below fold, page 1 or buried. </li></ul><ul><li>Solicitation and selection of quotations. </li></ul><ul><li>Choose which facts to report. </li></ul><ul><li>Frame the meaning of stories with the headline or first line of story. </li></ul>