Media and Politics

The media provide the arena in which political battles take place. This article examines how the media report on politics and participate in politics themselves.

  1. Introduction

    • Politics is the process of deciding who gets what, when, where and how. Who gets elected, who gets appointed to a cabinet post or to the Supreme Court, what agencies and programs get a budget increase or decrease--these are all political questions. The media--print, broadcast, and online--comprise the arena in which political battles take place. What we know about politics and our politicians comes to us largely through the media, since most of us do not have the opportunity to personally evaluate a presidential candidate or member of Congress.

    History

    • The media and the government are natural adversaries. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution anticipated this conflict and prohibited the government from silencing its critics. Politicians know the power of the media and will try to use them to their own advantage, but they also fear criticism by the media. Members of the media, especially newspaper and television journalists, often see themselves as the public's eyes and ears.

    Significance

    • Someone once observed that nothing really happens in America until it happens on TV. This illustrates the power of the media in the political process. The greatest source of media power in politics is the ability to determine what gets covered; in short, what is newsworthy. Every day, reporters and editors select from hundreds of issues and events to determine what will be reported, broadcast, and talked about. The power to determine what is newsworthy also gives the media the power to help set political agendas, determining what issues will be addressed by government. Media reports can shape public perception of issues and help determine what problems become issues that require a government remedy.

    Criticisms

    • Criticisms of the media's role in politics generally fall into three categories: sensationalism, negativism, and bias. The media's need to attract an audience creates an incentive to report news that has an emotional impact, with political and social significance a secondary consideration. The media also display a bias toward "bad news" that focuses on issues of crime and violence, corruption, scandals, and the personal lives of politicians. Finally, many critics charge that the media have a liberal bias that reflects the way they cover and portray events.

    The Internet: New Media

    • Just as television helped reshape politics in America, the Internet is having its own impact on politics. The Internet's biggest contribution is that it provides a means for interactive participation in the political process. The proliferation of political websites and blogs demonstrates how the Internet empowers anyone who can design a website to become a part of the media and spread his or her views.

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