PO 111: INTRODUCTION TO AMERICAN POLITICS Summer I (2014) Claire Leavitt Boston University TABLE OF CONTENTS • Development of the Media: 19th Century – What did a “free press” mean? – Pluralism and partisanship in American newspapers • Development of the Media: 20th Century – Newspapers Radio TV Internet – The FCC and regulation of communications • The Modern Media – Effects of media choice and diversity – Priming and framing – Problems with media tactics/culture (Patterson and Crouse) THE MEDIA: 19th CENTURY • History of the media is a history of rapid adaptation to change • Pamphlets most influential medium during colonial era (Common Sense) • Rise of newspapers heralded with Federalist Papers • Early mediums helped democratize politics, making politics accessible to the masses THE EARLY PARTISAN PRESS • Free Press: Freedom from government censorship, not from government influence • Early newspapers were unapologetically partisan; relied on their party’s staying in power for profits/livelihoods • Journalists were political figures and often party hacks THE MOVE TOWARD AN INDEPENDENT PRESS • Newspapers distanced themselves from political parties for economic reasons – Expanded readerships – Increased profits – Increased stability • Advanced technology allowed newspapers to flourish without political support • Media competition increased MEDIA EXCEPTIONALISM • Why was the American media able to resist government censorship? (Tocqueville) – Americans took a free press for granted (thanks to First Amendment protection) – Moves toward independence initiated by newspapers themselves – Media driven by market forces – US media was pluralistic (and thus stable) RAPID CHANGES IN THE MEDIA • The era of newspapers gave way to the dominance of radio • Radio competition induced Congress to start regulating the media – Creation of the FCC in 1933 • TV supplanted radio as dominant news source – Power of the “big three” networks – FCC’s “equal time” doctrine THE INTERNET AGE • The Internet has further democratized news • Media choice has proliferated • More choice in media = less informed populace overall • Media presents more diverse ideological views than alternative sources of political information (i.e., neighbors, community members) THE POWER OF THE MODERN MEDIA • Media cannot change audience’s minds directly, but can shape their opinions indirectly – Priming: How important is a certain issue? – Framing: How should we think about a certain issue? • Political campaigns can also prime voters and frame issues to shape opinions PATTERSON’S CASE • Primary-election reforms decreased the power of political parties • No institution available to play the role the parties used to play (choosing nominees) • The media steps in as the only source that helps people make sense of various candidates PATTERSON’S CASE • Media incentives ≠ voter incentives • Voters care about solving problems; media cares about increasing its audience – Sensationalism – Focus on “gaffes” – Focus on horse-race quality of political campaigns MEDIA CYNICISM • What did Watergate do? – Demonstrated the importance of an independent media that would check government excess – Made media suspicion of political figures the norm • Is media cynicism a good or bad thing for democracy? DISCUSSION QUESTIONS • What is the modern news media’s biggest problem? – Is it too hard on politicians? – Is it too easy on politicians? – Does it focus on the wrong things? • What has to change?