Politics and the media have long been intimately involved with each other, with media strongly setting an agenda in which politics is very important. (Harris 1999,p.167) “Our perceived reality of the real world is largely a product of the media.” (Harris 1999,p.186) It is not known which is the bigger influence but there are definitely two sides to the story. Many studies have attempted to draw definative conclusions, but each yields different answers. Many say that the media has more of an impact on politics than does politics on the media. “The two have always been natural adversaries.” “Skewering each other in print and in conversation, but generally enjoying each other’s company. (Forum)
It is the role of the mass media to keep the general public informed and up to date with current news and events in their community, state, country, and around the world. In politics the media can either build or damage a political figure by changing the public’s opinion. Many people depend heavily on television as their source of information where they see or hear about political issues, events, and policies. Because television is the single most powerful medium of global communication and nightly newscasts are the most frequently watched source of information for the public. (Forum) The mass media is everywhere we turn, from television sets, to airwaves, to print, and even the Internet.
In the media’s role, are they actually giving us the right message or is it a rumor, which you often see in tabloids in which it is created just to sell? 75% of the public believes that the top priority of the media is to find and report important information on public issues. Approximately 18% say that it is to give readers and viewers what they ask for. Less than 6% say that it should be for profit. (Forum) The Forum Magazine (September 1994) also discussed a survey done by Kees, a former executive editor of The Fresno Bee, and former chief of staff of the Republican National Committee. The survey results found many accusations were made about the media. They were more interested in sensationalism than issue, they were political insider’s who can’t report fairly, they didn’t understand the real issues facing the country, they underestimate the public’s taste, and they conspire to disgrace politicians. On the other hand the survey also accused the politicians of wrongful doings. It was stated that they waste taxpayers money on perks, listen to consultants and not the public, listen to the public only when running for office, gain support by promising jobs, and become corrupt. In this situation both have been affected.
“The media frames many issues, which is the central organizing idea for making sense of relevant events, and suggesting what is at issue. News and information have no basic value unless implanted in a meaningful context, which organizes and provides it with logic. It shapes the way the public understands the cause and the solutions to political problems.” (London)
The Media also sets the agenda. Many believe that this works against the democratic process. They determine what people believe to be important issues. When the media focuses on a problem, the public’s opinions on that problem then become altered. This is also true for the president. The president reacts by responding to changes in attention to the media. The media has a strong influence on the policy agenda of public officials. The public’s familiarity with political matters is closely related to the amount and extent of their attention to certain issues received in the mass media. (Edwards 1999, p.328) From this one can say that the media does in fact have the winning hand. “They may not be successful in telling us what to think, but they are successful in telling us what to think about.” (London) Television coverage can affect many attitudes of the public on the importance of certain issues so it should be quite important to public officials to put those on their agenda. A prime example is in the “War on terror” and the media’s view on how the president is dealing with it.
The president is also said to be the agenda setter. “No other single actor can focus attention as clearly, or change the motivations of such a great number of others, as the president.” (Edwards 1999, p.327) Yet others believe that it is the way in which his overall agenda is presented to the public and that is done by the media. There is still argument for both sides but leaning more towards the media.
Presidential elections, campaigns, and policies have always been important in the media and to the public. The media creates a political world that is the basis of the public’s knowledge and the later behavior, such as voting for the president or any public official. The themes and issues that are repeated in the media become important to viewers. Those that are highlighted become especially influential when it comes to choosing a candidate. The media affects evaluations of presidents. Presidential approval is strongly influenced by how the media portrays the candidate to the public. For example, during the Gulf War, George Bush received bad publicity based on his performance with the war even though his prior economic performance was exceptional. (Edwards 1999, p329) The values in which people used to evaluate him on were influenced by what the media had to say. Particular televised political advertising, televised candidate events. And news articles also affect the preferences and opinions of the voters. Televised networks covered a lot about his campaign which possibly aided his election. This just goes to show that the media were wrong in conveying an appropriate understanding of the issues involved.
Campaign information affects voters’ issue preferences, candidate evaluations, and the likelihood of voting. Exposure, reception, and acceptance all play a role in this gathering of campaign information and in the voter perception. Exposure involves one physical proximity to a message. Reception involves actually getting or taking in a message. Lastly acceptance involves allowing the information contained within the message to influence one’s preference, opinion, or attitude. (Shaw 1999,p.347) The more campaign ads seen and the amount of campaigning covered also has a greater effect on the voter turnout and the information gathered about the candidates and the issues. For example, in the election for the New York mayor.The media brought up the fact that Bloomberg spent 69 million dollars on his campaign. Many people questioned if he should have been allowed that amount of money. Campaigns are used to prime the voter’s perceptions of politics and their candidate preferences. “To a considerable degree the art of politics in a democracy is the art of determining which issue dimensions are of major interest to the public or can be made salient in order to win public support.” (London )
Many times the media often bring up the worst in a public official or candidate as seen by that of Gary Condit . They cover low salient issues that are irrelevant to everyday life and also overplay or cover the issue too much. Another example is with the Texas Governor, George W. Bush. The main issue on the media’s mind was the rumor of his past cocaine use. They should have been covering his views on Social Security, HealthCare Reform, Russia , and the Middle-east. The media should be filling in to the public’s knowledge the political issues at stake and who is likely to be the next president of the United States of America. (Kalb 1999)
Coverage of a political event or campaign also plays a significant role in the eye of the public and also to the candidate. “Candidates who do well will receive more attention from the news mediaactive candidates will receive more coverage. The greater the activity by a candidate, the more likely the candidate will receive more coverage.” (Haynes 1998,p.420) News coverage and their input to the public’s information on presidential campaigns are very critical in determining the outcome of the election.
Elections are influenced by two factors. The first being the strength and political skills of the incumbent and the second being the interpretation of the incumbent’s performance by the mass media, particularly television. A study was taken during the 1996 presidential election race between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole. Clinton regained positive news coverage by the major television newscasts by battling with Dole over Medicare and the United States budget. This event was covered live by the media and displayed to the public in an encouraging manner in favor of Bill Clinton which in turn strengthened Clinton’s political image in the eye of the voters. Many news stories came about depicting Clinton as the strong incumbent and it proved successful with an easy victory over Dole in the 1996 election. (Dover 1998,p.47) As seen here the mass media coverage does structure voters ‘ opinions about their political leaders.
Many domestic and foreign policy issues are affected by the media in which are brought to the politicians. These domestic issues consist of education, healthcare, poverty, and crime. The foreign policy issues at hand are the Russian relations, terrorism, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Crime and terrorism has a high interest value among humans. “Sensitive to contextual cues when they reason about national affairs. Their explanations of issues like terrorism or poverty are critically dependent upon the particular reference points furnished in media presentations.” (Iyengar 1987,p.828) It is an important issue among the media because all people are concerned with there safety. It will be put on the agenda because there are strong incentives for the media and for the politicians, which are to gain mass appeal and to facing the public in elections. (Edwards 1999,p.341)
There have also been an increasing number of women running for public office and gender has now become a common ground for the news media about certain voters, candidates, leaders, and issues. The question is whether or not the media advances or holds back women’s participation in politics. Many news stories about politics tend to be presented in masculine terms, but there is good news, women receive about the same amount of news coverage as men in comparable positions. Over the years the number of women in the mass media has increased. There are many more women journalists, which has resulted in expanded coverage of women’s issues and women as public officials. By publicizing and raising certain issues, this has helped women candidates gain credibility and support among voters. (Pippa 19-41)
The Media Dependency Theory is very important to think about when it comes to political communication. The three main aspect of the theory are the Social system, Media system, and the Audience. The three lead up to and produce the last aspect which is the Effect or what the final product. The social system, which is the government, has goals that have to be met and they are publicity and support. There resources are public funds and legislation. The media system, which is television, newspaper, radio, etc., also has goals which are to make money through the public. Their resources consist of gathering information and dispersing it to the public. The audience is the public like you and me. Our goals are to acquire news, entertainment, and education. Our resources are money and notes. All of these are dependent upon one another through each of their goals and resources. They all affect one another, but some more than others. Each one needs the other in order to create the Effect.
Due to our democratic government and free speech the media can basically due almost anything they want as long as it abides by the FCC. The FCC is the government’s approach to regulate the media. They censor what is broadcast on television and over the radio. Under the president and the senate, five commissioners are appointed to the job. The amount that can be regulated is minimal.
In Summary, the media has a huge and particular impact on society and politics. The media does much to set the policy agenda and influence how the public and those in political office understand it. Politicians not only use the media to influence us viewers, but are themselves influenced by it. The media affects our every day ways of thinking, our intentions, and our norms. What they see as important, we do also. Therefore in my opinion, the news media sets the agenda for what is important.
Dover, E. (1998). The presidential election of 1996: Clinton’s incumbency and television. Westport, CT: Praeger.
Edwards, G. (1999, June). Who influences whom? The president , congress, and the media. American Political Science Review. 93. 327-342.
Harris, R. (1999). A cognitive psychology of mass communication. Makwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Haynes, A. & Murray, S. (1998, October). Why do the media cover certain candidates more than others. American Political Science Quarterly. 26. 420-438.
Iyengar, S. (1987, September). Television news and citizen’s explanations of national issues. American Poltical Science Review. p.828.
London, S. (1999). How the media frames political issues.
Pippa, N. (1996) Women, media, and politics. Oxford University.
Shaw, D. (1999, June). The effect of tv ads and candidate appearances on statewide presidential votes, 1988-96). American Political Science Review. 93. 345-361.
The love-hate relationship between politicians and the news media. (1994, September). The Forum Magazine.