The American political system has entered a new period of high-tech politics in which the behavior of citizens and policymakers, as well as the political agenda itself, is increasingly shaped by technology. The mass media are a key part of that technology. Television, radio, newspapers, magazines, and other means of popular communication are called mass media because they reach out and profoundly influence not only the elites but the masses. This chapter describes the historical development of the mass media as it relates to news coverage of government and politics. Questions regarding how news is defined, how it is presented, and what impact it has in politics are also addressed.
THE MASS MEDIA TODAY
Modern political success depends upon control of the mass media. Image making does not stop with the campaign. It is also a critical element in day-to-day governing since politicians' images in the press are seen as good indicators of their clout. Politicians have learned that one way to guide the media's focus successfully is to limit what they can report on to carefully scripted events. A media event is staged primarily for the purpose of being covered. A large part of today's so-called 30-second presidency is the slickly produced TV commercial. Few, if any, administrations devoted so much effort and energy to the president's media appearance as did Ronald Reagan's.
The Reagan White House operated on the following seven principles: plan ahead stay on the offensive control the flow of information limit reporters' access to the president talk about the issues you want to talk about speak in one voice repeat the same message many times
THE DEVELOPMENT OF MEDIA POLITICS
The daily newspaper is largely a product of the late nineteenth century, while radio and television have been around only since the first half of the twentieth century. As recently as the presidency of Herbert Hoover (1929-1933), reporters submitted their questions to the president in writing, and he responded in writing (if at all). Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945) was the first president to use the media effectively. Roosevelt held about one thousand press conferences in his twelve years in the White House and broadcast a series of "fireside chats" over the radio to reassure the nation during the Great Depression.
At the time of Roosevelt's administration, the press had not yet started to report on a political leader's public life. The events of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal soured the press on government. Today's newspeople work in an environment of cynicism; the press sees ferreting out the truth as their job since they believe that politicians rarely tell the whole story. Investigative journalism-the use of detective-like reporting methods to unearth scandals-pits reporters against political leaders. There is evidence that TV's fondness for investigative journalism has contributed to greater public cynicism and negativism about politics.
Scholars distinguish between two kinds of media: the print media, which include newspapers and magazines, and the broadcast media, which consist of television, radio, and the Internet. Each has reshaped political communication at different points in American history.
The first American daily newspaper was printed in Philadelphia in 1783, but daily newspapers did not become common until the technological advances of the mid-nineteenth century. Ever since the rise of TV news, however, newspaper circulation rates have been declining.
The broadcast media have gradually displaced the print media as Americans' principal source of news and information. As a form of technology, television is almost as old as radio; the first television station appeared in 1931. Nevertheless, the 1950s and 1960s were the developmental years for American television. The first televised presidential debates were the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debates. The poll results from this debate illustrate the...
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