Political Science 475G, Politics and Mass Media

Fall, 2008, TR 11:00 pm - 12:15 pm,

Classroom Bldg Rm. 246 

Professor Mark Peffley, 257-7033, 1653 Patterson

Office Hours: TR 1:30-2:30 pm


The syllabus is posted at my web-site (http://www.uky.edu/AS/PoliSci/Peffley/), where new material (e.g., lecture outlines, exam review questions, written assignments) is posted and updated throughout the semester.



This course examines the way in which modern mass media have altered the dynamics of democratic politics in the United States. More generally, we shall be concerned with the ways the mass media influences how we think and act in the political world. Specific topics include why Americans hate the media, how news is made, the role of the media in campaigns and elections, how the news influences our political attitudes and behaviors, and how media coverage of government influences policy makers.



Several texts are assigned for this course, all of which are available at the university bookstores.

·         Shanto Iyengar and Jennifer McGrady. Media Politics: A Citizen's Guide, 2007. (DVD included, but not required)

·        Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph Cappella. 2008. Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment.

·         Tom Fenton. Bad News: The Decline of Reporting, the Business of News, and the Danger to Us All, 2005


In addition, 2-3 required articles (e.g., Patterson, Zaller) are available on-line by clicking the appropriate link in the on-line syllabus. To access these articles, you need to be using a computer on campus or a computer with Acrobat Reader installed. To install Acrobat Reader, a free program, click on the "Get Adobe Reader" icon next to the article.


Student Responsibilities

1.     Graduate students should see me about additional readings and a research paper requirement.


2.     Participation

Students are expected to have read and considered the course readings in preparation for each class. Students are also expected to participate in class discussions and to be ready to do so on the subject of the day. Class participation is 10% of the grade and will definitely influence borderline grades.

Our class time will not be spent simply "going over" the assigned readings. Rather, the readings will serve as a foundation and point of departure for lectures and discussions. It is, therefore, imperative that students complete the assigned readings before a particular topic is taken up in class. Also, the assigned readings should not be viewed as absolute truth. Read the material thoughtfully, challenge the conclusions of the authors, and voice your criticisms in class.

Students should feel free to raise questions concerning the readings, the lectures, and the comments of other students. In other words, meaningful participation is strongly encouraged and will, no doubt, enhance the quality of our class sessions.


3.     Examinations and Grades

Grades will be based on the following criteria:


40% of Grade

Final Exam

50% of Grade

Class Participation

10% of Grade

While class attendance is not mandatory, exams will be based on both readings and class discussions. Also, attendance and participation will definitely influence borderline grades.
If a student has a university-excused absence, arrangements for a make-up exam may be made. (See Section, Part II of the
Student Rights and Responsibilities handbook for a definition of university-excused absences.) Note, however, that the format of a make-up will not be the same as the regular exam.


Tentative Reading List

I. Introduction (Aug 28)

Aug 28: Guest Instructor, APSA Conference


II. News and Democracy: What Should Be the Role of the Media in a Democracy? (Sept 2): 2-3 classes


Read: Iyengar and McGrady, Media Politics, Chs 1 (“Introduction”) and 2 (“The Press and the Democratic Process”)


            Lecture Outline I: Democracy and the Role of the Media


“Misperceptions, the Media, and Iraq War” (The Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA))



III. Analyzing the Modern Media: How Does the Media Make the News? (Sept 11): 4-5 classes

Media modes, making the news, media bias


Read: Read: Iyengar and McGrady, Media Politics, Chs 3 (“The Media Marketplace”)

                     Hall & Cappella, Echo Chamber, Chs. 1-6 


Lecture Outline II: Making the News, News Bias


Film: September 18: “OutFoxed!” (A condensed version of a critical expose’ of Fox News by a liberal organization; still useful for understanding news slant or bias)


Check out opposing interpretations of media bias by the liberal Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting vs the conservative Media Research Center on biased 2008 campaign coverage. In what ways might accusations of media bias suffer from a political bias?

Check out the economic concentration of media ownership at Columbia Journalism Review's site, "Who Owns What"

Manipulate news coverage in your own backyard! Maximize Media Coverage of Your Event, Jason Salzman, author of Making the News: A Guide for Nonprofits and Activists



IV. What's Wrong with Modern News Media? Problems & Possible Solutions (Sept 30): 3 classes

Read: • Tom Fenton, Bad News, entire


Review Questions:  Fenton, Bad News


Find out how the public views the press in the Pew Center poll reports: News Media's Improved Image Proves Short-Lived and Public More Critical of Press, But Goodwill Persists

Can the press play a positive role in supporting democracy versus cynicism? Find out about Civic Journalism, visit the Pew Center for Civic Journalism web-site, a comprehensive site loaded with examples of CJ media outlets.


Film: “What’s Happening to the News?” Part III of News War (Frontline)

Film: “Smoke in the Eye” (Frontline expose’ of how news coverage of the health effects of tobacco was compromised by their financial interests)



V. Trends in Political News Coverage of War

Lapdogs, Watchdogs and Junkyard dogs (Oct 9): 3 classes


Read: Iyengar and McGrady, Media Politics, Chs 4 (“Reporters, Official Sources, and the Demise of Adversarial Journalism”)

Thomas Patterson, "Doing Well and Doing Good"


Lecture Outline V: News Coverage of War


Practice Questions for Midterm

Review Questions for Midterm (posted 1 week before exam)





VI. News Coverage of Elections (Oct 21): 2-3 classes


Read: Iyengar and McGrady, Media Politics, Ch, 6 (“Campaigning Through the Media”)

John Zaller, A Theory of Media Politics, Chs 1 (see New Chapter 1), 2 , & 7 (skim 5 & 6) . New Chapter 1


Lecture Outline:  Trends in News Coverage of Elections


Lecture Outline: Zaller v Patterson


Discussion Questions for Zaller


Optional: A First Look at Coverage of the 2008 Presidential Campaign (A study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy). 63% of the campaign stories focused on political and tactical aspects of the campaign.


VII. Strategies for Managing the News (Oct. 30): 2 classes


Read: Iyengar and McGrady, Media Politics, Ch. 7 (“Going Public: Governing Through the Media”)


View presidential campaign ads at these websites:

Presidential Campaign Ads, 2000, 2004, 2008 (Political Communication Lab, Stanford University)      

Presidential Campaign ads, 1952-2004 (The Living Room Candidate, Museum of the Moving Image)         


November 4th: Election, Academic Holiday 


VIII. How Much Influence Does the Media Have on Political Behavior? (Nov 11): 3-4 classes


Read: Iyengar and McGrady, Media Politics, Chs 8 (“How News Shapes Public Opinion”), 9 (“Campaigns that Matter”), and 10 (“Going Public and Political Leadership”)

          Hall & Cappella, Echo Chamber, Chs. 7-14 (Review Chs. 5 & 6)


Review Qs for Echo Chamber


PIPA: Public Misconceptions of Iraq War, by news source (p. 13)


Lecture Outline VI: Media Effects    


Table: Different Methods


Nov. 27: Thanksgiving break started Nov. 26!



IX. The New Wave: The Impact of Cable TV and the Internet on Political Behavior (Dec. 2): 3 classes


Read: Iyengar and McGrady, Media Politics, Chs 5 (“The Rise of New Media”)

          Prior. 2005. “News vs. Entertainment: How Increasing Media Choice Widens Gaps in Political Knowledge and Turnout.”


Lecture Outline VII: Post-Broadcast Democracy



X. Conclusion


Read: Iyengar and McGrady, Ch 11 (“Evaluating Media Politics”)


Dec. 11: Last Day of Class! 


Review Questions for Final Exam (posted 1 week before final) 


FINAL EXAMINATION: Friday, December 19, 10:30 AM to 12:30 PM