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Chapter 10 - The Media

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Chapter 10 The Media38.5 KB
  1. Journalism in American Political History
    1. In America the media has much greater freedom than in other countries, such as France and Great Britain, because in the U.S., media companies are privately controlled, and they only need licenses from the gov’t—nothing else.
      1. In England, politicians can sue those who make fun of them, while in France, broadcasting is governed by a national agency that can control what and what not to show the public.
    2. The media can provide exposure for a political candidate, but it can also ruin a politician’s career by showing negative views of him or her.
    3. Basically, there are four general periods in American journalistic history, each with its own major change during the time:
      1. In the early years of the Republic, newspapers were expensive to print and usually read by the political elite, and the lack of transportation made each paper’s circulation small; as a result, the earliest newspapers tended to be very partisan and support political parties.
        1. There was not necessarily objective news reporting.
        2. Alexander Hamilton created the Gazette of the United States, while Thomas Jefferson created the National Gazette, financing its editor with federal funds.
      2. Advances in technology and transportation made newspapers cheaper to buy and more widely available, and the invention of the telegraph meant that news could be flashed almost instantaneously from cities across the country!
        1. The partisanship became one that was based on the editors’ points of view, not on the influences of the political parties, and many journalists resorted to sensationalism, or the filling of stories with violence, romance, patriotism, and exposés, to popularize their papers.
        2. As a result, the real stories were often embellished to make readers interested, and many stories were just flat out made up!
        3. Strong-willed publishers like William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer became powerful political forces, using their influence to shape political actions (i.e. Spanish-American War) and enrich themselves.
      3. The middle class was soon repelled by this “yellow journalism,” and many opinion magazines, like the Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, McClure’s, Scribner’s, and Cosmopolitan sprang up, bemoaning the issues of corruption during the times and constantly adding muckrakers, or people who looked to expose the dirt and evil in society (monopolies, corrupt gov’t, et al).
        1. Some people didn’t like the muckrakers, calling them troublemakers.
      4. In the 1920s and 40s, the invention of the radio and television greatly enhanced political strategy, since candidates could buy [expensive back then in the early days] radio or television time to expose their ideas to the public.
        1. However, people could simply tune to another station or channel.
        2. Eventually, CBS, NBC, and ABC came to dominate the news market, covering all the events with their massive influence, but recently, due to the Internet and other forms of media, their power has declined.
        3. The sound bite, of a video clip of a presidential contender speaking, has dropped from 42 seconds in 1968 to less than 10 seconds in 1988, which means that candidates have had a harder time recently to get their messages across television.
    4. Many candidates prefer call-in, town meeting formats when they are on TV as opposed to confrontational, disputative debates, but when they are prepared on what to say, it doesn’t necessarily help the public decide who is the best one, since no one can be sure how the candidate really feels.
      1. Most politicians nevertheless crave the spotlight, and they constantly try to get “visuals,” or filmed stories, about themselves on television—simply to get more exposure and more fame.
    5. It used to be that the media covered small groups of people, and that the readers of the newspapers were highly partisan, but as media has become less concentrated, the public has become freer to form groups according to what they believe, not to what others tell them to believe, and with electronic journalism in the form of the Internet and cable news networks, a new era of journalism has begun.
  2. The Structure of the Media
    1. The relationship between media and politics is a two-way street: while politicians can try to use media for their own gain, the media can use politicians for humorous or informative purposes.
      1. The media does not simply deliver the truth; there is a process of editing and choosing behind the scenes, dictating what really is shown and what is not.
    2. The number of newspaper companies has not declined, but the number of cities with competing paper companies HAS; only 4% of America’s cities have competing newspapers.
      1. However, many smaller cities have access to different papers due to readership overlaps.
    3. Television and radio, on the other hand, are highly competitive, for although there are only five major networks, there are over 1000 TV stations, and each one has its own news programs.
      1. There are a multitude of cable TV channels and a plethora of radio stations.
      2. Astonishingly to foreigners, the American press—radio, television, and newspapers—is independently operated by local enterprises, not national ones.
    4. However, the American newspaper is more locally geared (more local stories than national ones) then European papers.
      1. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) prohibits people from operating more than one newspaper, AM radio station, FM station, or TV station in a given market, and companies cannot own more than 12 TV stations and 12 AM and 12 FM stations in the country.
      2. Networks cannot make a local affiliate accept any particular broadcast (it’s all voluntary).
      3. The recent 1996 Telecommunications Act gives broadcasters greater freedom to enter new businesses and purchase more TV and radio stations; its effects are unknown as of now.
    5. Certain publications and broadcast services have offset local orientation: the Associated Press and United Press International supply most of the news reported in local papers; the Cable News Network shows news 24/7; certain magazines like Newsweek, Time, and U.S. News & World Report have national influences; network evening news broadcasts from ABC, NBC, and CBS are usually shown by local affiliates; and the New York Times and Washington Post have acquired national influence because they’re read by practically every important person in Washington, thus joining the three truly national papers—the Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, and USA Today—in popularity and scope.
      1. The existence of a national press is important because politicians pay attention to the opinions of a writer in a national paper; also, reporters for national papers tend to come from more prestigious colleges, be more liberal, be better paid, and seek the chance to write stores that are not accounts of a certain news event but rather investigate about issues and policies.
    6. The national press can play the role of the gatekeeper by deciding what topics and stories get attention and what topics do not (i.e. auto safety, H2O pollution, quality of prescription drugs weren’t big issues till the press covered them).
    7. It can also be the scorekeeper by keeping track of and helping to make national reputations.
      1. This is where the exposure that politicians so dearly desire comes from.
      2. As a result, though, the news often covers presidential elections as if they were horse races rather than choices among policies (i.e. the attention lavished on the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries, the “discovery” of Gary Hart in 1984 and George McGovern in 1972 after they finished second in primary races).
    8. The press can be the watchdog, exposing scandals and corruption when and where needed (i.e. the press discovering Gary Hart’s infidelity to his wife).
    9. Newspaper folks have more freedom and less pressure than TV folks, but they make less money.
  3. Rules Governing the Media
    1. Interestingly, the newspapers, which have the least competition, are the most loosely governed, while radio and TV, which are the most competitive, must have gov’t licenses and follow a lot of gov’t rules.
    2. The 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution has given the press virtually complete freedom, with the only restrictions being very narrowly defined.
      1. After publishing something, a paper CAN be sued if it is libelous or obscene or if it incites someone to commit an illegal act, but to collect damages, it must be proven that the printed material was false AND was printed with intended, malicious intent.
      2. It’s illegal to use printed words to advocate the violent overthrow of the gov’t if one invites others to join, but that rule has been applied to newspapers rarely.
    3. Reporters believe that they should have the right to hold the confidentiality of their sources, but in many cases, reporters were jailed for not revealing their sources because the case required the identity of such sources as evidence so that the trial would be fair and just.
    4. TV stations must renew their licenses ever five years while radio stations do so every seven years, and until recently, the FCC required all broadcasters to meticulously detail information about their programming and how their planned to serve “community needs,” thus receiving valuable information that could be manipulated so that the FCC would influence what was put on the air.
    5. Radio and TV stations are still regulated by a few rules that are still stringently enforced:
      1. The Equal Time Rule states that if a station sells time to one candidate, it must be willing to sell equal time to all other candidates.
      2. The Right-of-Reply Rule states that if a person is attacked on a broadcast program (not regular news), he can reply on that same program.
      3. The Political Editorializing Rule states that if a broadcaster endorses a candidate, the opposing candidate(s) has/have the right to reply.
      4. For many years, there WAS the fairness doctrine, in which broadcasters had to discuss both sides of a controversial issue, but in 1987, the FCC abolished that rule because if felt that it inhibited the free discussion of issues; many broadcasters still follow it voluntarily.
    6. At one time, the equal time rule meant that TV and radio could not broadcast a presidential debate between Democrats and Republicans without inviting ALL the other groups as well, so they simply it a “news event” and had the League of Women Voters sponsor it, but today, there’s no problem.
    7. A market is an area easily reached by a television signal, and about 200 of these exist in the U.S., but some are larger than others, and some are cheaper (# of people reached per dollar spent) than others, so some politicians use TV more than others (senators more than house reps).
  4. The Effects of the Media on Politics
    1. The media does have SOME effect on the public as to what is important and who is the best candidate.
      1. The effect is not that great, since TV and radio also suffer from selective attention, where the viewer or listener sees and hears what he/she wants to see and hear.
      2. Nevertheless, politicians spend millions on advertising because they know that people will somewhat rely on the ads to made a decision that will stick for two, four, or even six years.
    2. Local newspapers have generally picked Republican candidates over Democrats, even though Democrats have won eight of the 14 elections between 1932 and 1984, but this has actually affected people to vote a certain way! It’s not all useless!!!
    3. Media doesn’t affect major elections that much, usually minor ones, but it can help unknown’s get their name out (say, at a major event covered by the press) and suddenly gain major political power.
      1. The media also sets agendas on issues that have little effect on people, but on issues that have great on people, the media has very little effect (this varies from person to person).
    4. Viewers of different types of media have different opinions too (i.e. newspaper readers thought Jimmy Carter was more liberal and Gerald Ford was more conservative than did television viewers).
      1. TV can also affect the popularity of presidents through its commentary on them.
  5. Government and the News
    1. Gov’t agencies all try to shape public opinion, and they have to, because if they don’t sooner or later, they’ll find themselves weak, without allies and in trouble.
    2. Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to use the press to his advantage, giving inside stories to his friends in the press, keeping them away from those he didn’t like, and including a reporters’ room in the West Wing of the White House.
      1. Franklin Delano Roosevelt made his press secretary a major instrument for cultivating and managing, as well as informing, the press.
    3. The White House press corps is a group of men and women who are closest to the president, always there whenever anything newsworthy occurs.
    4. Congress has watched with jealousy at all the attention lavished on the president but has been unsure how to act; it was only in 1974 that significant press coverage of Congress began.
      1. Since 1979, C-SPAN has provided coverage of House events, but the Senate has used TV much more fully, allowing many events to be broadcast for live TV or for videos, and as a result, many senators have used this TV coverage to propel themselves to the presidency.
  6. Interpreting Political News
    1. New stories are apt to be accepted by the public without question, and Americans tell pollsters that they thing that TV is more reliable than newspapers, but lately, many people have felt that the media tends to cover one side of stories more than it is fair—the exact opposite of what the media thinks of itself.
      1. The question is whether or not the media is totally accurate or not, and in studies, the media seems to be a lot more liberal on many controversial issues.
    2. There are three types of stories, and these types of news can have different types of influences from the media, simply because of their characteristics and importance:
      1. Routine stories are easily described by acts or statements and are not really significant.
      2. Feature stories are not routinely covered by reporters and reporters must take the initiative write about them and persuade their editors to print them.
      3. Insider stories involve information that is not usually made public but has been suddenly “leaked,” thus indicating that someone on the inside has helped the reporter.
    3. Routine stories can actually be misinterpreted if the facts are not totally reported, as was the case of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam.
    4. Since feature and insider stories must be chosen, they can be greatly affected by political bias.
      1. Some selected stories will be common, though, since sometimes, the press wants to focus on the same story because it is a great newsmaker.
    5. If a nonroutine story is major news, the media will all cover it, but with slightly varying degrees and views…each group putting a different version and opinion to the story.
      1. Every reader or viewer should keep in mind: what beliefs or opinions led the editors to run a certain story, how representative of expert and popular opinion are the views of the people quoted in the story, and what adjectives are being used to color the story?
    6. Insider stories are the trickiest, because there involves a motive for the insider to “leak” a story, and many times, reporters will not reveal the insider.
    7. There are so many news leaks because each branch of gov’t has different power, and those different branches compete for power by leaking news so that one can seem more powerful than another.
      1. In other countries, where the power is centralized, there is less competition and less leaks (plus, there are laws preventing this more than in the U.S.).
      2. However, ever since the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, and the Iran-contra affair, the press has been less willing to simply accept leaks at face value and more likely to see if the stories are actually true—thus becoming an adversarial press.
    8. Now, as the press is really distrustful of politicians, it is more likely to seize any little error made by a politician and maybe blow it into epic proportions, covering all goofs and mess-ups.
      1. After Bill Clinton became president, the press started to uncover his sexual escapades, the Whitewater deals, and Hillary Clinton’s profits in commodities trading, and turned on him.
      2. People’s confidence in big business (which includes the media) and the gov’t has eroded, and as a result, people are not trusting the news as willingly as before.
    9. With this adversarial media likely to stay for a long time, many candidates have turned to attacking their opponents on a personal level because such tactics work: they DO help them win; but such tactics do come with a price: reduced voter turnout.
    10. Reporters must balance between not expressing their personal views too much in stories (or risk losing their sources) and keeping a source (and risk becoming its mouthpiece), but luckily for them, Congress has become a goldmine for sources, because there are so many (thousands) of potential sources.
      1. Press officers sometimes try to win journalistic friends by releasing background stories, or stories that proportionately and anonymously explain a current policy.
    11. The ultimate weapon of the government’s effort to shape the press is the president: he can favor friendly reporters and tongue-lash unfavorable ones.
      1. The press and the president do not trust one another, but they need one another, and resulting relationship is almost always rocky but necessary.
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