Lecture Outline:

Political Behavior and the News Media


I.     Potential influence of the news media is great due to the fact that the media is the sole window to political reality and it mediates almost all political communications.

II.   Role of mass media in a democracy: the media as the “marketplace of ideas” and journalistic dilemmas (see Robert Entman, Democracy Without Citizens)

A.  Mirror role: media as passive purveyors of “all the news that’s fit to print”

B.   Accountability or watchdog journalism: investigative journalism, etc.

C.  Marketplace of ideas

D.  Media partially tries to fulfill all of these roles, but they are contradictory and unrealistic as ideals

III.Economic and political constraints on the media

A.  Economic: The media is a business that must earn a profit by selling advertising, faces fierce competition, and is increasingly concentrated economically, which has implications for ideal roles above.

B.   Political: Reliance on “official” sources and symbiotic exchange with political elites

IV.Media as Gatekeeper to Political “Reality”

A.  Political bias or slant:  biases of journalists, editors, owners, and the market

B.   Production (structural) biases: organizational pressures that influence the gathering and assessment of newsworthy information

1.    Criteria by which stories are selected as being “newsworthy”

2.    Criteria used to report a story: biases in the content of the news (Lance Bennett, News: The Politics of Illusion):

a)    Dramatic versus Analytical

b)   Fragmented versus Historical

c)    Personalized versus Institutional

d)   Authority-Disorder Bias

e)    Examples from Gulf War and elections

V.  Trends in News Coverage of Elections

A.  Larry Sabato, Feeding Frenzy: The transition from Lapdog to Watchdog to Junkyard dog

B.   Thomas Patterson, Out of Order: Has the news become too trivial and negative? 

1.    Positive to negative coverage

2.    Governing to game schema

3.    Descriptive to interpretive

4.    Politicians to journalists

5.    Policy issues to reporters’ issues

C.  Reasons for change

D.  Consequences

E.   Who is to blame?


VI.Media Coverage of War: Lapdog Coverage of “Consensus” Issues: Vietnam and the Gulf War

A.  Issues raised in media coverage of war

B.   Coverage of the Vietnam War: Daniel Hallin, The Uncensored War: Did the media lose Vietnam?

C.  Gulf War censorship rules

D.  Conclusions 


VII.Impact of Media Coverage on Public Opinion and Political Behavior

A.  Conventional wisdom of “minimal effects”

B.   More subtle media effects:

1.    Agenda setting: media less important for what we think than what we think about

2.    Priming: thinking about certain issues increases the accessibility or weight of these issues as standards of judging the President

3.    Framing: How themes affect the interpretation of the “story”