The Media

Historical Stages of the Media

The Party Press

Politicians created, sponsored, and controlled papers

Were opinion, not fact-reporting.

Circulation was mainly among commercial and political elites.

In early days, party in power would give out government jobs to those who ran presses for their particular faction

Elites read because: they were literate; they cared; they could afford it

The Popular Press

Technology and society’s changes allowed for the rise of a publicly-supported paper with mass readership

Cheaper printing; telegraph allowed "wiring" of stories, etc.

1848 – AP forms to allow dissemination of information

To attract subscribers, it had to be unbiased

Papers were still partisan, but partisanship arose from feelings of editors and publishers rather than those of the party machines that controlled them

Popular papers (Like that of Hearst) could be powerful political tools

Still, papers began to create a common national culture, to establish feasibility of true freedom of the press¸ and to show that newswriting could be popular

The Magazines of Opinion

Middle class was growing tired of yellow journalism, and magazines thus sprung up that discussed public policy

Nation, Atlantic Monthly, Harpers

Investigative reporting; championed certain issues

Made certain names household-words

National political magazines are in decline today

Electronic Journalism

Radio in 1920s, Television in 1940s

Problems with electronics

People can ignore tv and radio broadcasts

It costs more to add info

People thus must DO something

Soundbite dropped from 42 seconds in 1968 to <10 seconds in 1988

Cable, news-magainzes, and talk shows have all given politicians an increased format


The Structure of the Media


There has been a decline in the number of cities where there are competing daily papers

Radio and TV are very competitive and becoming more so

There is more local competition on TV

American Press is much more locally-owned-and-operated than its european counterpart

FCC has traditionally held very tight rein on who can own what

National Press importance

Washington DC officials pay attention to what national papers say about programs

National press tends to differ from the local ones, are more educated, more liberal

Four functions of the media

Information gatherer

Gatekeeper: influences what becomes news, and for how long

Scorekeeper: keeps track of who makes political reputations, who is winning and losing in washington politics.

Watchdog: watches what people do

Missionary Journalism and the Ayatollah Corollary

Used to be the concept that reporters would actually go to the scene of the event

Where news occurs is an uncomfortable place

Reporters thus visit the site simply to get footage, then go back to americanized place

Ayatollah corollary – you must go to the reporters if you live in a remote place

Rules Governing the Media

Least-competitive media (printed press) has the least regulation, and the most competitive (electronic) has the most regulations

Government can’t have prior restraint

Newspapers can be prosecuted if material is libelous, obscene, or incites someone to committ an illegal act

To be libel, it must be wrong, damaging, and printed with reckless disregard for its truth

It is illegal to use printed words to advocate the violent overthrow of the government if by your advocacy you incite others to action

Confidentiality of sources

The court has upheld the right of government to compel reporters to divulge information as part of a properly conducted criminal investigation if it bears on the commission of a crime

A persons right to trial includes the right to compel reporters to give up information

Regulating broadcasting

FCC’s license renewal policies were used to control what was published

Equal-time rule: if a station sells time to one candidate, it must be willing to sell equal time to another

Right-of-reply rule: if a person is attacked, they have a right to respond

Political editorializing rule: if a broadcaster endorses a candidate, the opposing candidate has a right to respond

Fairness doctrine: required broadcasters to broadcast both sides of an issue; 1987 fcc abolished it

The effects of the Media on Politics

Is it effective? Elections are not a good indicator because there are too many influencing factors

Many suffer from selective attention: they only hear or see what they want to.

Why can we sell products but not candidates? The citizens are not idiots

The major effects of the media has less to do with how people vote and more to do with the manner in which things are conducted

The media helps set the agenda on those things which people have little personal experience


The Media, President, and congress

The President

No other nation has brought the press so close to the president

i.e. White House Press Secretary position, etc.

Thus, we are much more personalized


House of Representatives doesn’t receive much coverage because they are so specialized and so numerous

Senate uses TV more fully, broadcasting of committee meetings turns it into an "incubator of potential presidential candidates"

The Liberal Press

Journalists are more liberal; national ones are most liberal

Evidence: Most vote for democrats

Three story types and bias

Routine stories: public events regularly covered; still can be incorrectly reported when issues are complex

Feature stories: involve acts and statements not routinely covered;

Insider stories: information made public because somebody inside tells a reporter


Eric Jonas's 1998-1999 AP American Government Notes
This material copyright Eric Jonas, 1999.
These notes have been taken from American Government, 7th edition, by Wilson and DiIulio, and from in-class lecture by Mr. Greg Sandmeyer at Timberline High School.