Look at trends in news coverage of elections, esp. those documented by Thomas Patterson (looked at trends toward “infotainment”). Look at alternative explanations for these trends, including those by John Zaller.
trivial and negative Politicians love this book!
4. Trivial Coverage: Policy issues to reporters’ issues
1474 1450 1300 1150 788 805 1000 850 700 550 400 250 100 1992 1996 2000 Note : Based on 772 stories from August 31, 1992 to November 2, 1992; 483 stories from September 2, 1996 to November 4, 1996; 462 stories from September 4, 2000 to November 6, 2000 from the ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news. Data: Center For Media And Public Affairs/Brookings
THE SHRINKING SOUNDBITE on network television 2000 (9/4-11/5) 7.8 1996 (9/2-11/4) 8.2 1992 (9/7-11/3) 8.4 1988 (9/5-11/7) 9.8 0 2 4 6 8 10 Seconds Note: Based on 589 stories from September 5, 1988 to November 7, 1988 ; 728 stories from September 7, 1992 to November 3, 1992; 483 stories from September 2, 1996 to November 4, 1996; 462 stories from September 4, 2000 to November 6, 2000 from the ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news. Data: Center For Media And Public Affairs/Brookings
Horse Race as Percent of Total Campaign Coverage, Last 2 Mos,‘92 to 2000 90% 80% 70% 60% 2000 Horse Race 50% 1996 Horse Race 40% 30% 1992 Horse Race 20% 10% 0% 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 k k k k k k k k k ee ee ee ee ee ee ee ee ee W W W W W W W W W Note: Horse Race stories focus on who’s ahead, who’s behind, and candidate election strategies. Statistics on the percent of stories based on total number of election stories from that particular news organization. Based on 772 stories from August 31, 1992 to November 2, 1992; 483 stories from September 2, 1996 to November 4, 1996; 462 stories from September 4, 2000 to November 6, 2000 from the ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news. Data: Center For Media And Public Affairs/Brookings
Patterson: Source of Trends in NewsCoverage of Presidential Primaries Change in party nominating rules in late 60s: More primaries and longer campaign down with parties, up with journalists, candidates Journalistic values vs. Voters’ or Candidates’ values or behavior A popular explanation among candidates
W. Bush: Ignored the “filter,” the fourth estate. News management strategies (later). Obama: sees as two overarching problems: coverage that focuses on political winners and losers rather than substance; and a “false balance,” in which two opposing sides are given equal weight regardless of the facts. Mr. Obama prefers small sit-downs with columnists, including The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan, The Washington Post’s E. J. Dionne and Ruth Marcus, and The New York Times’s David Brooks Mr. Obama has said the lack of an effective narrative has been one of his administration’s biggest missteps.
Early Coverage of the 2008 Presidential Campaign (October 29, 2007): What the public SAYS it wants What Topics the Public Wants Covered More LessCandidates’ position on issues 77% 17Candidate debates 57% 32Candidates’ personal backgrounds and experiences 55% 36The candidates who are not front runners 55% 37Sources of candidates’ campaign money 55% 35Which candidate in leading in the latest polls 42% 45Source: Pew Research Center for People and the PressSeptember 28 – October 1, 2007
“Horse race” coverage Politics is a game of winners and losers, not a serious debate over ideas and issues Campaign strategies, tactics, victories, and blunders are the focus of coverage Early primary victories build “momentum” ▪ Coverage of Iowa and New Hampshire races is far out of proportion to their relative delegate share ▪ States compete to position their primaries & caucuses earlier in the season Focus on candidate character and image Personality flaws are fair game Parties become less important
Why do media produce such large amounts of horse-race coverage in their election coverage? Organizational forces? Market forces? ▪ Campaigns as sporting events? ▪ Issues less interesting? Journalistic response to candidate manipulation? 2000: Study of reader attention to different topical chapters on a CD ROM programmed to enable “usage tracking;” 187 participants returned usage data. First cut of tracking data: People read stories earlier in the CD. Need to remove this artificial influence on usage data.
Patterson: Consequences of Trivial & NegativeCoverage
Evolution of news media coverage of politics1. Lapdog journalism (1941-1966): reporting that served and reinforced the political establishment: FDR, JFK.2. Watchdog (1966-1974) scrutinized and checked the behavior of political elites by undertaking independent investigations into statements made by public officials: LBJ, RMN.3. Junkyard dog (1974 to present): reporting that is often and harsh, aggressive, intrusive, where feeding frenzies flourish and gossip reaches print: WJC.
Advances in media technology: Instantaneous transmission 24-hour news stations Internet More women in the press corps Competitive pressures increased Watergate and Vietnam (Wood-Stein coverage) Change in culture, audience tastes Conclusion: From his condemnatory tone, Sabato still largely blames the media for dysfunctional coverage, but at least he (unlike Patterson) doesn’t want to return to the days of lapdog coverage.
1. Causal analysis2. Near-exclusive focus on one actor as source of a dysfunctional system Journalists Candidates Voters
A more realistic model of news coverage? 3 streets, all 2-way. Journalists Candidates Voters
Zaller, A Theory of Media PoliticsThe conflicting goals of 3 actors that influence news coverage of elections: Voters: “Don’t waste my time!” “Tell me only what I need to know!” (based on “rational ignorance”) Candidates: (Use journalists to) “Get Our Story Out.” Journalists: Maximize their "voice" in the news (i.e., autonomy vs. stenographer).
Zaller, A Theory of Media Politics Given the goals of voters, how can we explain coverage of: Horse-race? Conflict vs. consensus? Relative lack of issue coverage?
Zaller, A Theory of Media Politics Given the goals of journalists versus candidates, how can we explain negative coverage—especially press-initiated negative coverage?
Zaller, A Theory of Media PoliticsZaller’s measure of press-initiated versus Patterson’s measure, whichincludes all negativity from any source, including the opposition candidate.Zaller’s measure
Zaller, A Theory of Media Politics Looks like a clear-cut case of political bias? But wait!
Zaller, A Theory of Media Politics Harry Trumans 1948 Campaign Tour Whistle StopCampaigns have changed drastically. Candidates want to controltheir message completely. Events now are completely scripted, Conservatives angry at Romney’smanaged and controlled. controlling of Ryan’s message.
Assignment due before class, Tuesday Oct. 2 Extra credit attendance, Oct. 2: James Gibson, Judicial Elections, Courtroom, Law School, 4 pm. Midterm Oct. 9 Review questions posted Oct. 2
Message control Candidate cancels major rally or event in order to avoid demonstrators (positive). Candidate refuses to debate major party opponent (positive). Candidate responds to specific opponent attacks, excluding debates (negative). Candidate takes questions from group or individual, where questioner(s) have been screened or selected by the candidate himself. (Includes friendly talk show.) (positive). Candidate engages in exchange -- that is, back-and-forth discussion -- with demonstrators or hecklers in crowd (negative).Crowd exposure. Rally or speech in unfriendly territory, e.g., Clinton addresses VFW Convention during draft controversy (negative). Rally in controlled setting; audience screened or selected by campaign. (positive).Willingness to debate Candidate refuses to debate with major party opponent. Positive.
Interview access Press conference for national press (negative). "Press availability;" i.e.,, candidate meets informally with group of reporters (negative). On his own initiative, candidate engages in light, non-substantive banter with reporters (negative).Interview restrictions No one in the campaign will respond to queries about sensitive issue, including press secretary. (positive). In response to queries from reporters about sensitive issue, the candidate or press secretary issues statement, but no one will verbally respond to questions. (positive). Candidate has interview with selected print journalist(s) with restrictions on content. (positive). Candidate refuses request from traveling journalists for press conference (positive).Media exclusion Any public or quasi-public event from which reporters are excluded, e.g. fund-raisers. (positive). Campaign creates impediments to reporting of news (e.g., party workers hold up signs to block picture-taking). (positive).
In Chicago, Mitt Romney regaled wealthy donors with a boyhood memory of volunteering to clean up a litter-strewn football field, the kind of humanizing tale he typically avoids on the campaign trail. In Palm Beach, Fla., he walked contributors through a list of the federal agencies he planned to shut down or combine, a level of specificity he had not offered to voters. At a fund-raiser in Wilson, Wyo., he heaped praise on former Vice President Dick Cheney, aligning himself with an unpopular Republican presidency in a way he is loath to do in public.
Zaller, A Theory of Media Politics Mystery solved! What looked like partisan bias in press criticism is more likely press chafing at Republican candidates’ stricter news management.
Zaller, A Theory of Media PoliticsWhat causes what? Zaller finds that, for the most part, candidates’ attempts to “manage”the press “caused” the press to respond with more negative, press-initiated coverage. Candidates’ News Management Press- Initiated Negativity