The Media – Class Notes and Outline
Read our detailed essay on the Media.
1. Describe the evolution of journalism in American political history and indicate the differences between the party press and the mass media of today.
2. Demonstrate how the characteristics of the electronic media have affected the actions of public officials and candidates for national office.
3. Describe the impact of the pattern of ownership and control of the media on the dissemination of news and show how wire services and TV networks have affected national news coverage. Discuss the impact of the “national press.”
4. Describe the rules that govern the media and contrast the regulation of electronic and print media. Indicate the impact of libel laws on freedom of the press and of government rules on broadcasters.
5. Assess the impact of the media on politics and indicate why it is so difficult to find evidence that can be used to make a meaningful and accurate assessment. Explain why the executive branch probably benefits at the expense of Congress.
I. Journalism in American political history
A. The party press
1. Parties created, subsidized, and controlled various newspapers.
2. Possible because circulation small, subscriptions expensive
3. Newspapers circulated among political and commercial elites
4. Government subsidized the president’s party press
B. The popular press
1. Changes in society and technology made possible self-supporting, mass readership daily newspapers
a. High-speed press
c. Associated Press, 1848; objective reporting
d. Urbanization concentrated population to support paper, advertisers
e. Government Printing Office established 1860-end of subsidies
C. Magazines of opinion
1. Middle class favors new, progressive periodicals
a. Nation, Atlantic, Harper’s in 1850s and 1860s
b. McClure’s, Scribner’s, Cosmopolitan later
2. Individual writers gain national followings through investigative reporting
3. Number of competing newspapers declines, as does sensationalism
4. Today, national magazines focusing on politics account for a small and declining fraction of magazines
D. Electronic journalism
1. Radio arrives in 1920s, television in 1940s
2. Politicians could address voters directly but people could easily ignore
3. Fewer politicians could be covered by these media than by newspapers
a. President routinely covered
b. Others must use bold tactics
4. Recent rise in talk show as political forum has increased politicians’ access to electronic media
a. Big three networks have made it harder for candidates by shortening sound-bits to less than ten seconds
b. Politicians have more sources: cable, early-morning news, news magazine shows
c. These new sources feature lengthy interviews
5. No research on consequences of two changes:
a. Recent access of politicians to electronic media for campaigns, elections, governing
b. Narrowcasting, where segmented audience targeted by TV and radio stations
6. Politicians continue to seek visuals even after they are elected
7. New era of electronic journalism emerging
II. The structure of the media
A. Degree of competition
1 . Newspapers
a. Number of newspapers has not declined
b. Number of cities with multiple papers has declined
(1) Sixty present of cities had competing newspapers in 1900
(2) Four percent in 1972
2. Radio and television
a. Intensely competitive, becoming more so
3. Composed mostly of locally owned and managed enterprises, unlike Europe
a . Orientation to local market
b. Limitations by FCC-widespread ownership created
c. Telecommunications Act of 1996 may effect some changes
B. The national media
1. Existence somewhat offsets local orientation
2. Consists of
a. Wire services (AP, UPI)
b. National magazines
c. Television network evening news broadcasts
e. Newspapers with national readerships
a. Washington officials follow it closely
b. National reporters and editors distinctive from local press
(1) Better paid
(2) From more prestigious universities
(3) More liberal outlook
(4) Do investigative or interpretive stories
4. Roles played
a. Gatekeeper: what subjects become national political issues, for how long
b. Scorekeeper: track political reputations and candidacies
(1) Elections covered like horse races
c. Watchdog: investigate personalities and expose scandals
III. Rule governing the media
A. Newspapers versus electronic media
1. Newspapers almost entirely free from government regulation
a. Prosecutions only after the fact-no prior restraint
b. After publication, sue only for libel, obscenity, incitement to illegal act
c. Each of these conditions defined narrowly, to enhance freedom of the press
2. Radio and television licensed, regulated
B. Confidentiality of sources
1. Reporters want right to keep sources confidential
2. Most states and federal government disagree
3. Supreme Court allows government to compel reporters to divulge information in court if it bears on a crime
C. Regulation of broadcasting
1 . FCC licensing
a. Seven years for radio license renewal
b. Five years for television license renewal
c. Stations must serve “community needs”
2. Recent movement to deregulate
a. License renewal by postcard
b. No hearing unless opposed
c. Relaxation of some rule enforcement
3. Other radio and television regulations
a. Equal-time rule
b. Right-of-reply rule
c. Political-editorializing rule
4. Fairness doctrine was abolished in 1987; still voluntarily followed by many broadcasters
1. Equal-time rule applies
a. Equal access for all candidates
b. Rates no higher than cheapest commercial rate
c. Debates formerly had to include all candidates
(1) Reagan-Carter debate sponsored by LWV as news event
(2) Now stations and networks can sponsor debates limited to major candidates
2. Efficiency in reaching voters varies
a. Works well only when market and district overlap
b. More Senate than House candidates buy television time
IV. The effects of the media on politics
A. Studies on media impact on elections
1. Generally inconclusive, because of citizens’ . . .
a. Selective attention
According to Doris Graber, newspaper readers are highly selective. The average person reads only about 20 percent of newspaper stories in full.
b. Mental tune-out
2. Products can be sold more easily than candidates
3. Newspaper endorsements of presidential candidates
a. Local newspapers often for Republicans
b. This endorsement cut successful Democrats’ winning margins by five percentage points
B. Major effect: on how politics is conducted, candidates perceived, policy formulated
1. Conventions scheduled to accommodate television
2. Candidates win party nomination via media exposure
a. Estes Kefauver (1952)
3. Issues established by media attention
b. Consumer issues
4. Issues that are important to citizens similar to those in media
a. TV influences political agenda
b. But people less likely to take media cues on matters that affect them personally
5. Newspaper readers see bigger contrasts between candidate than do TV viewers
6. TV news affects popularity of presidents; commentaries have short-run impact
V. Government and the news
A . Prominence of the president
1. Theodore Roosevelt: systematic cultivation of the press
2. Franklin Roosevelt: press secretary cultivated, managed, informed the press
3. Press secretary today: large staff, many functions focused on White House press corps
B. Coverage of Congress
1. Never equal to that of president; members resentful
2. House quite restrictive
a. No cameras on floor until 1978
b. Gavel-to-gavel coverage of proceedings since 1979 (C-SPAN)
3. Senate more open
a. Hearings since Kefauver (1950); TV coverage of sessions initiated 1986
b. Incubator for presidential contenders through committee hearings
VI. Interpreting political news
A. Are news stories slanted?
1. Most people believe media, especially television where they get most news
a. But percentage increasing among those who think media biased
b. Press itself thinks it is unbiased
2. Liberal bias of journalists, especially national media
Austin Ranney’s analysis of the media concludes that cynicism pervades reporting, not liberalism. The loss of public confidence in the government may be the consequence.
3. Various factors influence how stories are written
b. Audience attraction
c. Fairness, truth imposed by professional norms
d. Need sources with different views
4. Types of stories
a. Routine stories: public events, regularly covered
(1) Reported similarly by all media; opinions of journalists have least effect
(2) Can be misreported: Tet offensive
b. Feature stories: public but not routinely covered so requires reporter initiative
(1) Selection involves perception of what is important
(2) Liberal and conservative papers do different stories
(3) Increasing in number; reflect views of press more than experts or public
c. Insider stories: investigative reporting or leaks
5. Studies on effects of journalistic opinions
a. Nuclear power: antinuclear slant
b. School busing: probusing
c. Media spin almost inevitable.
6. Insider stories raise questions of informant’s motives in providing confidential information
a. From official background briefings of the past…
b. . . . To critical inside stories of post-Watergate era
B. Why are there so many news leaks?
1. Constitution: separation of powers
a. Power is decentralized
b. Branches of government compete
c. Not illegal to print most secrets
2. Adversarial press since Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-contra
a. Press and politicians distrust each other
b. Media are eager to embarrass officials
c. Competition for awards, etc., among journalists
3. Cynicism created era of attack journalism
a. Most people do not like this kind of news
b. Cynicism of government mirrors public’s increasing cynicism of media
c. People believe media slant coverage, have too much influence, abuse their constitutional protections
4. Public confidence in big business down, and now media are big business
5. Drive for market share forces media to use theme of corruption
D. Government constraints on journalists
1.Reporters must strike a balance between expression of views and retaining sources
2. An abundance of congressional staffers makes it easier to gain information.
3. Governmental tools to fight back
a . Numerous press officers in legislative and executive branches
b. Press releases–canned news
c. Leaks and background stories to favorites
d. Bypass national press to local
e . Presidential rewards and punishments for reporters based on their stories
adversarial press – The suspicious nature of the national press toward public officials.
attack journalism – The current era of media coverage that seizes upon any bit of information or rumor that might call into question the qualifications or character of a public official.
background story (news) – A tactic by government officials to win journalistic friends. The official purportedly explains current policy on condition that the source of the information not be identified by name.
confidentiality – Reporters’ keeping sources of their stories secret. Most states and the federal government allow courts to decide whether the need of a journalist to protect sources outweighs the interests of the government in gathering evidence in a criminal investigation.
equal-time rule – An FCC regulation requiring that if a station sells time to one candidate seeking an office, it must sell time to the opposing candidate as well.
fairness doctrine – An FCC rule, abolished in 1987, that required broadcasters to give time to opposing views if they broadcast one side of a controversial issue.
feature stories – A type of news story that involves a public event not routinely covered by reporters
and that requires a reporter to take initiative to select the story
and persuade an editor to run it.
Federal Communications Commission- An agency of the federal government with authority to develop regulations for the broadcast media.
gatekeeper – The role played by the media in influencing what subjects become national political issues and for how long.
insider stories – A type of news story that involves information not usually made public which requires investigative work on the part of a reporter or a leak by some public official.
loaded language – The use of words to persuade people of something without actually making a clear argument for it.
market (television) – An area easily reached by a station’s television signal.
mental tune-out – The attitude of a person who ignores or is irritated by messages from radio or television which do not agree with his or her existing beliefs.
muckracker – A journalist who investigates the activities of public officials and organizations, especially business firms, seeking to expose and publicize misconduct or corruption.
party press – Newspapers created, sponsored, and controlled by political parties to further their interests. This form of press existed in the early years of the American republic. Circulation was chiefly among political and commercial elites.
political editorializing rule – A regulation of the FCC providing a candidate with the right to respond if a broadcaster endorses the opposing candidate.
popular press – Self-supporting daily newspapers aimed at a mass readership.
prior restraint – Government censorship by forbidding publication of the information.
right-of-reply rule – A regulation by the FCC permitting a person the right to respond if attacked on a broadcast other than in a regular news program.
routine stories – A type of news story that involves a public event regularly covered by reporters. These stories are related in almost exactly the same way by all the media. The political opinions of journalists have the least effect on these stories.
scorekeeper – The role played by the national media in keeping track of and helping make political reputations.
selective attention – Perceiving only what one wants to perceive from television or radio reporting.
sound bite – A video clip used on nightly newscasts. The average length of such clips has decreased, making it harder for candidates to get their message across.
trial balloon – A tactic by an anonymous source to float a policy to ascertain public reaction before the policy is actually proposed.
watchdog – The role played by the national media in investigating political personalities and exposing scandals.
yellow journalism – The use of sensationalism to attract a large readership for a newspaper.