Media Effects The role of the mass media in American politics
What is “mass media”? • Print media (newspapers, magazines) • Broadcast media (television and radio) • Internet
Importance of mass media • Primary conduit of information about politics • But is the media passive? • Is the media biased or objective? • If biased, does it matter?
Traditional view of media effects • Expected effects: - information - persuasion • Experimental design • Findings: - little retention of information - little persuasion • “Minimal Effects Hypothesis”
More subtle effects • Agenda-setting • Priming • Framing
Agenda-setting • Importance of issue • Scope of issues/answers • Iyengar, Kinder and Peters study • Effect increased by - lead story status - vivid story, emotional engagement - lack of political sophistication of viewer
Priming • “Cognitive misers” • Which aspect of an issue weighs most heavily in our attitude • Iyengar, Kinder and Peters Study
Not just the news . . . • Entertainment shows may also have effects - agenda-setting - priming • Even “better” than the news - full hour on single issue - consistency from week to week • Examples
Framing! • What is the “frame” of a story? • What is the cultural or ideological context in which we place an issue?
Manipulating the frames • Klan rally - free speech - social order • Bosnian conflict - genocide - centuries of ethnic conflict
Characteristics of the Media and Media Coverage (and their implications)
A look ahead • Ideological bias • Corporate control of media • Personalization/Personality Politics • Dramatization • Fragmentation
Ideological bias? • Allegations of liberal bias – journalists • Allegations of conservative bias – media owners / advertisers • Does it matter?
Corporate control of media • Limits the number of “real” news outlets • Profit motive - demand-driven news - cost-cutting measures - journalists “sell souls” for access - rush to print
Demand-driven news • Saturation coverage of ultimately non-historical events • May crowd out other stories • May “burn out” the public, make us jaded • Examples: O.J., Paris Hilton
Cost-cutting measures • “Canned” news stories (same stories in every paper) • Lack of in-depth research • Usual suspects interviewed, no diversity of viewpoints
Objectivity vs. Access • Willing to do “puff pieces” in order to get choice interviews • Embedded journalists
The rush to the presses • Use sources and tips without confirmation • Trying to predict the news • Implications - may get things wrong, and people don’t pay attention to retractions - elections: people behave strategically
Personalization / Personality Politics • Tendency to focus on issues through lens of individual “victims” • Tendency to focus on personality of candidates • Implications • May actually engage some viewers • Personality characteristics may be good cues to how politicians will actually behave • But . . . May gloss over important policy issues
Example of personalization: CNN (October 17, 2000) • “there might have been a defeat for Gore on the likeability factor.” (Bob Novak) • “Gore’s clear decision to be aggressive, to try to define very sharp differences [might make him seem] assertive and tough minded [or] rude and smug.” (Jeff Greenfield) • “In this forum, where he was answering questions and being that aggressive, it will be interesting to see whether or not it plays as [if] he was a little terrier running out and trying to answer this person’s question versus standing back and saying: You know, let me talk down to you.” (Tamala Edwards)
Dramatization • News told through narrative structure and visuals • “If it bleeds, it leads” • May result in important pieces of information being cut because they don’t fit with the narrative structure • Oversimplifies issues • Polarizes issues by playing up dramatic conflict
Fragmentation • News told in small bits (esp. w/ broadcast media) • Oversimplification • Don’t see stories in context, developing dynamic, connection between various issues and events
In sum • Many aspects of news coverage result in poor quality information and skewed decisions about which stories to cover • May not persuade us to vote Republican rather than Democratic, but these biases do affect how we think about political issues
So . . . • If media is such an important component of political life and • Media is so terrible • What can we do about it?