Black Print: From TEXT

Blue Print: Definitions

Gitelson Chapter 9: Media and Politics

The media is the influential institution in society today. Media encompasses a vast arena of sources, Mass media, provides news and other bits of information

Myth of media manipulation: the myth that television, radio and the print media dominate and direst the publics thinking about politics. It’s not confined to any particular group in society; others of widely varying political perspectives share it.

Press specialized in publications for the elite before the 1830’s. These partisan papers were usually a part of a political party’s points of view. The only alternative sources of news were commercial papers, which were for merchants and traders. Both made no attempt to reach a wide audience.

1833-publication of the New York Sun, entered the age of mass journalism. The Sun was the 1st paper to appeal to the public. It was sold on the streets a penny-a-copy.

Penny Press: The 1st generation of newspapers with mass popular appeal. Tried to reach a greater spectrum of readers. The name comes from the New York Sun, which was sold for a penny a copy in the mid-1800s.

Joseph Pulitzer owned the New York World. William Randolph Hearst owned the New York Journal.

As the first generation of newspapers gained mass appeal, the penny press used sensationalism to grab the attention of its readers. Sensationalism in the penny press gave rise to a new type of journalism. Yellow Journalism.

Yellow Journalism: -was named for the Yellow Kid comic strip that 1st appeared in World and then in Journal flourished in the late nineteenth century and whose popularity was based on sensationalized stories of scandal and corruption.

Hearst is usually credited with arousing in the American public the strong anti-Spanish feelings that led to the Spanish-American War.

A conservative paper, the New York Times (owner: Adolph Ochs), attacked yellow journalism as indecent and stressed objectivity in its reporting. Thus Times became a standard by which journalism as a whole was judged.


The first regularly scheduled radio station, KDKA began operation in 1920. Owner Westinghouse. Many radio stations were owned by non-profit institutions and were seen as public service entities designed to educate citizens for life in a democratic culture.

1928, the Federal Radio Commission (Predecessor to the Federal Communications Commission) reallocated frequency assignments in a way that greatly favored commercial owners and the non-profits disappear.


During the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt employed the medium skillfully to deliver his famous "fireside" chats. He also used this tool to manipulate listeners. During the 1944 election, FDR learned that his opponent Thom. Dewey had purchased airtime following FDRs. Roosevelt was scheduled for fifteen minutes, but used only fourteen, when people heard silence they turned off their radios, missing T. Dewey’s campaign.

CBS popularized new reporting on the radio during WWII. CBS’s owner, William Paley saw it as cheap programming. It’s team of overseas journalists, Edward R. Murrow and Eric Sevaried, became celebrities at home. (p. 238)


Throughout the 1950’s, CBS, NBC, and ABC provided news segments 15-minute/day, five days a week. It all changed with the 1960 presidential debates.

All three networks broadcast the debates between candidates John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon. This marked the first time for a face-to-face discussion between two presidential candidates. Drawing an audience of 60 to 75 million viewers. News programs ceased to be viewed simply as a means of improving a network’s public image. And became credible and popular television programming. (p.238)


Critics say the increasing concentration of media ownership is evidence of media manipulation. About two-fifths of all daily newspapers published in the United States belong to the twelve largest chains. The largest, Gannett, owns 75 newspapers, including USA Today. Only 2% of American cities have more than 1 daily newspaper.

Ownership of television stations is even more concentrated than printed media. 85% of the nation’s commercial television stations are affiliated with ABC, CBS, and NBS. Large conglomerates own all three major networks with multiple media interests that combine publishing, broadcasting and Hollywood production studios.

Recent innovations in mass media have changed the concentration slightly:


Direct Satellite Transmission

Video and Computer Processing technology

Internet and World Wide Web

Corporations are quickly buying up these new resources. Time Warner, AOL, RoadRunner, Disney, CNN, and Infoseek (P. 238-241)


U.S. mass media are freer of government restrictions than any other nation. HOWEVER, the government does exercise some control, especially over radio and television. Publications have libel and obscenity restrictions.

Congress created the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1934 to monitor and regulate the use of the airwaves. FCC issues licenses, renews licenses (which must be renewed every five years for television and every seven years for radio and to renew depends on "satisfactory performance" that "serves the public interest, convenience, and necessity"), and revokes licenses.

FCC denies few applications and exercises little control.

FCC requires the equal-time rule:

Equal-Time rule: A FCC rule that requires a broadcaster who permits one candidate to campaign on the station to provide all other candidates for the same office with equal time at identical rates.

Congress seems to like this rule and will not alter it, however presidents (Reagan) usually oppose it. (p.241-242)


New York Times motto: "All the News That’s Fit to Print."

No form of mass media can carry every newsworthy event; all are constrained by costs and availability of space and time.

Average daily newspaper is 62% advertising and 38% news accounts, human-interest stories, and pure entertainment features.

Network television news is even more limited. Each half-hour program contains only 22 minutes of news and human-interest stories. Although the basis of news judgment often seems vague and unarticulated is possible to identify criteria most often used in selecting stories.

Elements of News

    1. Stories must be timely and novel. Breaking stories. Routine items are not newsworthy.
    2. Newsworthiness is heightened by the presence of violence, conflict, disaster, or scandal.
    3. Familiarity: well-known people 85% more likely to make the news; unknown people make the national news usually as victims.
    4. Interviews: Interviews are a popular form of coverage; interview availability increases likelihood of coverage.

Mass media has recently relaxed its standards for news, blurring the line between newscasts and entertainment programming. Talk shows and infotainment that stress opinion not news provide most of the programming for the all-news outlets. Such as Hardball (CNBC), and Entertainment Tonight (CBS). (p.242-244)


Social Scientists who have examined the issue are far less certain of the media’s impact. In fact, most research suggests that the media by and large fail to change people’s political opinions. Individuals who already hold beliefs on particular issues or candidates are unlikely to change their minds as a result of what they are told by the media.

The media’s power to change established political beliefs is limited because people exercise selective exposure – absorbing only information that agrees with their existing beliefs. Existing beliefs also influence the way people interpret what they see – Selective perception.

In matters where a person has neither experience nor a firmly held opinion, the information and interpretation supplied by the media may shape that person’s political attitude, adopting the views of the media commentators.

The media has a way of framing issues that show the public where to point the finger for blame. Episodic framing – focuses on the individual. Thematic framing – focuses on the societal forces or the motives and actions of public officials. (p. 244-246)


The media influence the political agenda and the conduct of politicians. When deciding what to cover, journalists focus on some aspects of public life and ignore others.

The media has most influence in shaping opinions on new events and issues.

When the public knows events and issues well, press has less impact of its attitudes. Thus the media wield the most influence in shaping the public agenda when the events and issues are either outside an individual’s experience or new to the society.

Effects of agenda setting by the media have identified a process called priming.

Priming: is the capacity of the media to isolate particular issues, events, or themes in the news as the criteria for evaluating politicians.

The more attention the media give to an issue; the greater that issue’s weight in the formation of public evaluations of candidates and public officials. (P.246-247)


Politicians are more used to the media than is the public. Campaign staffers supply the media with daily schedules, advance copies of speeches, and access to telephones and fax machines. The campaign exploits the reporters’ need for a story and influences the content of news coverage. However if the campaign cannot attract reporters, it routinely create pseudo-events – staged events.

Pseudo-events: events such as speeches, rallies, and personal appearances that are staged by politicians simply to win maximum media coverage.

A convention in which the outcome is questionable will contain enough drama to attract widespread attention. However ever since 1952, the parties have nominated their presidential candidates on the first ballot.

National Conventions are large pseudo-events.

Coverage of Presidential elections is diminishing in national TV broadcasts. Candidates are turning to smaller affiliate, video news releases (VNR), radio call-in shows, morning TV programs, late-night TV programs, cable stations, and televised town meetings.

Besides affecting the candidates’ conduct, media-oriented politics also diverts attention from issues toward campaign strategies.

The media-oriented strategy gives a "horse-race" quality to the election that news producers like for many reasons: it’s easier and cheaper than trying to discuss complex issues. They claim that the public prefers it. It adds a dramatic element to the election that keeps the public interested.


"Politics and media are inseparable. It is only the politicians and the media that are incompatible." –Walter Cronkite.

Journalists court officials to obtain the information that is their livelihood and government officials woo the media in order to build public support for their policies.

Government officials are more avid consumers of journalism than the general public. The media serves as an important communications link among officials, forming an uneasy alliance.

Even though it sometimes works against them, government officials are dependent upon the mass media. (p.250-251)


The alliance between the media and government is most apparent in the White House. Where a press corps made up of some 75 reporters and photographers work to make their story with the most newsworthy person in government, the President.

One-third of the high-level White House staff is involved in media relations. But most of the responsibility for dealing with the media is the job of the president’s press secretary, which gives a daily briefing, press releases, arranged interviews and occasional photo opportunities. (p.251)


Beginning with a short statement, followed usually by a thirty-minute affair. The president uses this time to speak directly to the public.

Careful preparations are used to control the conferences. Days or weeks before, the staff prepares a list of questions most likely to be asked and then provides answers so that the president can study them. Reagan used these "mock" conferences to be prepared

Reagan also had reporters seated in the front row who were known as "friendlies"; they asked the easy, more comfortable questions.

Leaks to the Press

Presidents typically react in an angry fashion when leaks "leak" out information that they preferred the public not know about. However they applaud other leaks.

Often presidents use reporters to send up trial balloons story about a proposal under consideration is leaked. If the public or Congress reacts negatively, the president can disclaim the story and drop the proposal. (p.251-253)


Media do not seem to pay as much attention to Congress as they do to the executive branch, primarily because there is no figure head to focus on.

State media is normally kinder to Congressmen and State Reps. Mainly because they depend heavily on their local senators to provide a regional perspective on national issues. Many members even become regular contributors to the local media.


"…Must stand on their own merits without embellishment or comment from the judges who write or join them." –Justice William Brennan

Judicial branch is the least covered by the media. Most decisions the U.S. Supreme Court may make go on unnoticed.

They do not hold press conferences or grant interviews to explain their decisions. Reporters are expected to read the decisions and draw their own conclusions.