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The Influence of the Media in Politics, Campaigns and Elections Published: Wed November 14th, 2007 By: Laura Lane

Category: Opinion and Editorial The Influence and Relationship of the Media in Politics, Campaigns and Elections - In an age of timeliness and demand for information, the media plays a crucial role in informing the public about politics, campaigns and elections. But while the public demands information from the media, there is also an underlying cynicism in the American culture against the media and politicians for negative campaign coverage and a perceived media bias. What is often missed is the influence the government has on the media, and equally, the influence the media has on the government. Additionally, the media helps influence what issues voters should care about in elections and what criteria they should use to evaluate candidates. There is a cyclical relationship between the media, the government and the public and while the media can occasionally shape public opinion, it has a greater influence in communicating to voters what issues are important and less of an influence in convincing them what to think about those issues. The media works more effectively by placing a spotlight on certain issues they feel the public should be concerned with. "A large body of evidence now indicated that what appears in print or on the air has a substantial impact upon how citizens think and what they think about: e.g., what they cite as 'important problems'" (Page 23). The government plays a role in dictating the media's content through the media's regular use of public officials as sources in the news. Just as the government influences the media, the media can help set the political agenda by focusing on specific issues and influencing what issues the public and government should be concerned with. HE AFFECT OF A MEDIA BIAS here is a wide-spread belief that there is a strong political bias in the media and while that may be true to some extent, it doesn't have a significant effect on shaping the voter's views. One area that newspapers do take a stand on is in editorials, which has largely dictated by how people view certain publications. Page argues that various media outlets take distinctive stands, which can remain consistent over a period of time. He states that The Nation leans left, and the National Review tilts right. The Washington Post and the New York Times are socially (and, to a lesser extent, economically) liberal, while Wall Street Journal editorials thunder with conservatism; other publications line up at various points along the ideological continuum or continua" (21). hile I would argue the political stereotypes of these publications have shifted in the past ten years, the argument is still relevant that there is a wide-spread belief of a media bias. Even though editorials are clearly opinion pieces, Page argues

that newspapers have a central viewpoint throughout all coverage and news stories often mirror the political views expressed in editorials. Through his studies of the 1952 Nixon and Stevenson "fund" coverage by 31 different newspapers, Page found the news stories typically have similar viewpoints as the editorial endorsements of each publication. Similarly, he found a correlation between news and editorial stories in the media's coverage of the Los Angeles riot (22). In his studies of New York Times articles on the whether or no to go to war with Iraq, Page argues that columns and editorial "came from limited kinds of sources, expressed a limited range of viewpoints, and were arranged with almost perfect symmetry on both sides of the Times's own stand" (21). ewitt feels that the media has a very strong bias when it comes to the coverage of the war. He says, "The assault on the war began with an assault on the American military, and it was an assault with deadly consequences" (50). One major example he gives is regarding a Newsweek article which stated that interrogators had flushed a Qur'an down the toilet and abused detainees by leading them around on a dog leash and mistreating them. The article sparked world-wide rage and response from the White House. When independent sources could not verify the incident, Newsweek finally admitted there were parts of the article were not true until pressure from the White House forced them to retract the article. When the White House felt a retraction was not enough because so much harm had already been done, the media got extremely upset with the White House, due to the pressure they were putting on the publication (52-53). egala agrees with Hewitt that the media has a bias, but argues that it is a liberal bias. He cites the media's obsession with the Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal and how, "Even when Clinton was leaving office, he was hounded and pounded by the press" (199). He argues the news coverage was unfair, brutal and unethical in the way both Bill and Hillary Clinton were treated during the scandal (200). Begala also says Al Gore was treated very poorly by the press during the election, by being misquoted. Gore made major contributions during the early phases of the internet and made a comment on CNN saying he "took the initiative in creating the Internet." Begala argues this was blown out of proportion and more than a thousand articles have been written quoting Gore saying he said he "invented the internet" (202). he people's perception that certain publications are bias can have a negative affect on journalists as a whole. While the public demands that the press question politicians, Robinson says there is public discontent when bad news is reported due to the publics distrust in news and a "kill the messenger syndrome." At times, the public will assume all media is the same and when one publication is guilty of inaccurate or bias news, it can hurt all the media (96). But it is impossible for any political coverage to be completely free of opinion or objectivity. The media is forced to make decisions when covering politics about

cable companies. The media has a strong influence on the issues the public views as important because repeated coverage of certain issues become priorities for the viewers and can affect the evaluation of candidates. and Robert McCormick were attracted to the media because they each had political agendas" (22). what quotes and facts to select and how to interpret information. attitudes. ompaine disagrees that journalists today have an agenda and are influenced by their publications. Page suggests it is a combination of selective recruitment and internal expectations (23). the media is more effective in dictating what issues voters should view as important and less effective in shaping those views. value-laden adjectives and adverbs" and calling the piece an analysis (21). While it is hard to assess whether certain publications consistently have the same political stands and how they maintain those stands. information. saying that although he had very little experience. obinson agrees and says "while the media can play an important role in changing voters' perceptions. He argues the media is effective in telling voters what issues to focus on. book publishers. there is no one media conglomerate that owns newspapers. they are more frequently effective as a spotlight" (66). Even though there are some large media outlets. Since the media is practically the only way to get campaign information widely distributed. and even behavior. Compaine says that ownership no longer matters like it did when "media moguls like William Randolph Hearst. There is a wide-spread belief that the media is becoming monopolized. William Loeb. While the press could not necessarily influence the public's view of . Ramsden argues that although the media "might occasionally influence attitudes. Ramsden says this is true for judging both the policy of a candidate as well as their character. The new coverage dictated new criteria the public should judge Reagan by (Wood and Edwards 329). Despite what he notes as a brief period of muckrakers in the 20th century and the political reporting in Watergate." their viewpoints do not drastically change and the media has more of a reinforcing role than it does in shaping viewpoints (101). use the selection process to further their own policy by running articles with "colorful. Page argues that media outlets. HE MEDIA AS A POLITICAL SPOTLIGHT hile many are afraid that a biased media will shape people's views during elections. and less effective in telling them what to think of those issues. such as the New York Times. or television licenses in every major world market (21). radio stations. they influence what issues people should consider when evaluating a candidate and what criteria to judge them by (65). He uses the example of Jimmy Carter. One example is how Reagan's public approval rating dropped when the media began focusing on the Iran-contra affair. the public widely ignored this issue because the press did not make it a concern.who to interview.

his could have a negative effect if voters are not voting on candidates that best represent their views on public policy. It is however. In an indirect way. the media sets the agenda. the media helps to dictate what issues voters should be concerned with in elections and what criteria they should use to judge politicians by. important to note that not all political opinions are shaped by the media. The media can greatly influence the public by limiting coverage of certain candidates. and more likely to split their tickets and defect from their party's choice. but it can influence what they should be thinking about. Ramsden notes that the newspaper editors will argue that with so many candidates to cover and with limited resources. Although the public should ultimately decide on its own who they feel is a viable candidate. family and co-workers. HE MEDIA ACTING AS A SPOTLIGHT IN ELECTIONS y spotlighting what issues the public should focus on. the media can look for cues about where to allocate the most coverage. "Political discussion contributes to that information mix. however. Ramsden says the media should cover all candidates equally so voters can get to know them all. As a solution. In this way. Then after voters have been informed about the candidates. it is impossible to cover all candidates equally (80). if the candidate's stand on the issues or the candidate's ideology is relatively unattractive" (Robinson 97). The media can not directly dictate how voters will think. People will not think about issues or events they are not informed about (Ramsden 68). Voters also receive information from their friends. the media acts as a filter. with resulting influence on . because it allows voters to become more informed about an individual candidate they are voting for. While Ramsden argues that the media should stray away from covering the viability of candidates. by narrowing down candidates and sifting out lesser-known candidates and giving more coverage to the better-known. The media has the discretion to cover only the candidates it feels are legitimate candidates and have a viable chance of winning the election. versus blindly voting for a candidate of a particular party. be negative if voters focus too much on the candidates themselves and not on the issues the candidate stands for. "Voters are less likely today to vote simply along party lines. It could. it could influence what criteria should be used to evaluate him (66). he admits it would be useless to cover candidates who do not have a reasonable amount of voter support.Carter. This observation has both positive and negative implications. (81) attenberg argues media coverage practically ignores political parties and focuses instead on the candidates themselves (Wattenberg 225-226). This could potentially cultivate a more diverse electorate. "Most of the new information voters receive over the course of a political campaign is transmitted either by news media or through social networks such as interpersonal discussion" (Mondak 62). This tends to be a more unbiased approach. simply for the sake of equal coverage (80).

or "comparative advertising" as Bob Dole called it. In another district where there was far less media attention. Hetherington argues that relentless negative reporting explained why George Bush lost the reelection despite an economy that had rebounded from a recession. he first spot commercial ever used in presidential campaigns was in 1952 by Dwight Eisenhower. Mondak argues that without the media attention focusing on the negative campaigning by Hoke. lately voters have become turned-off from all the negative campaigning and name-calling. This can be seen by the media's role in forming voter's national economic evaluation in the 1992 election. egative campaigning has become a staple among American politics and negative reporting can have a major impact in shaping the public's evaluation of public officials. "In competing for the attention of the large swath of the electorate that is uninterested. because they have proven to have the most influence and be the most memorable. 20 months before the election (Hetherington 372). have become the ad of choice. interest groups and even the media often resort to negatively. a political banking scandal generated media attention which ultimately led to Republican Martin Hoke beating incumbent Mary Rose Oakar with 57% of the vote. sensationalism" (Hamm and Mann 18). disheartened or cynical. If reports say a certain candidate is ahead in an election. In the 1992 Ohio House race. the public will come to accept that evaluation.or is at least perceived that waypoliticians. campaign consultants know that voters are still cynical of politicians and will react to any sign of doubt. even as it amplifies it" (14). Since then. Although. campaign advertising has drastically changed. which can greatly influence how voters cast their ballots. he media also influences the public's perception on the viability of a candidate. While candidates hate to admit it. the incumbent might have been reelected (65). which ended by March 1991. "It can be argued that the negative campaign simply responds to cynicism. CAMPAIGNING he media can greatly effect elections by generating attention. negative reporting on the economic performance during the year affected the public perception of the economy. demonization. whose ads featured him answering a series of questions (Hamm and Mann 13). whether it is through negative campaigning or through their choice in coverage of a candidate. For the most part. people do not want to waste time on candidates they believe .electoral HE MEDIA'S choice" INFLUENCE (Mondak ON 83). negative campaigning. polarization and at times. Democratic incumbent Louis Stokes effortlessly won the reelection. Hoke campaigned nearly the entire time by attacking Oakar. which appeared to favor Bush for reelection. Despite positive economic conditions at the time.

and viability third. both domestically and internationally" (Gerges 104). This can be seen in Gary Hart's 1984 New Hampshire primary win." (78) MEDIA'S INFLUENCE ON GOVERNMENT ven after the election." meaning the media focuses too much on who is winning and who is ahead. Wood argues that while the media may not be a source of new ideas for the White House. which coined the phrase the "CNN effect" (Compaine 26). the media sparked political action by sending military force and humanitarian relief in response to the 1990 coverage of the starving children in Somalia. Hart convinced the media he was a viable candidate and not his opponent John Glenn. But over-reporting the viability of a candidate can turn the coverage into a "horse race. the government can equally influence the media's not have a chance to win. This incident caused President Clinton to say the media was "trying to force me to get America into a war" (Wood and Edwards 329). The media's favorable coverage helped seal Hart's victory (Ramsden. which is to elect candidates that represent the will of the people. This was evident through the media's coverage of U. 67). t can be argued that in some incidents the media can set the political agenda by covering issues the government does not want to focus on. This is an example of the media informing the public by spotlighting an issue that would otherwise be unknown. the media still plays a large roll in influencing the government's agenda through spotlighting issues and directing public and political concerns. character issues second.S. the media dictated what issue should be a concern. interventions in Somalia and Bosnia and the media's pressure on the government to take action. n another case. Instead of the President choosing what international affairs to engage in. it still has an affect on policymakers because "the public's familiarity with political matters is closely related to the amount and duration of attention these affairs receive in the mass media" (Wood and Edwards 328). GOVERNMENT AFFECT ON THE MEDIA Trust as the media can help to shape the political agenda. He argues "the media should allocate its coverage in terms of policy issues first. This can influence voters by swaying their focus on what candidate has the best campaign style and not necessarily who has the best "platform or leadership skills" (72). Page argues that the government can . because voting based largely on viability defeats the main function of democracy. it deserves much less coverage that it currently gets. Ramsden says that although the "horse race" needs to be covered. "The mass media can be seen not only as a driving force behind cultural and social change but also as an index for political mobilization.

it still influences the public through the "spotlight" affect by telling the public what issues are important. 'in continuous efforts to orchestrate. With paid media it is not always easy to get the message heard by voters. "To a large extent. but the two primary types of media are paid media and free media. Viewers are impatient now more than ever and political messengers must work in a 30-second commercial to break through cynical viewers who flip through channels and live in an entertainment-filled world. Paid media can make or break a campaign depending on how much a candidate has to spend on television. when the challenger is well-funded. The government can shape the media's agenda by providing the press with briefings. campaign spending is driven by the behavior of the challengers. Paid media can be expensive and because voters have learned to tune-out political propaganda. While the media does have the ability to select what information they use. fliers. etc. in the words of Hugh Heclo. the President still sets the agenda by receiving constant media coverage. Although Gerges argues that "The political process is more likely to have an influence on the news media than the news media on the political process (105). because the media regularly uses officials as sources in news stories and they are able to express their views and set their agenda on a regular basis. And they must use the most popular entertainment medium as the conveyor of their messages" (Hamm and Mann 13). posters. the incumbent will spend more in response" (Mondak 67). free-media can be much more effective. as Page argues. press releases. While . and inject the presumptive voices of the American people into the formulation and management of national policy'" (Hamm and Mann 18)." even if the media is skeptical of the President. Whether or not the media agrees with the White House. "They must sharpen and simplify their messages in order to be heard.dictate political media coverage to a certain extent. amplify. Bill Clinton and Bob Dole broadcast 1. The media has become dependent on using officials because of "the nature of newsgathering routines and the need for regular easy access to legitimate sources who possess valuable information" (22). THE DIFFERENT FORMS OF MEDIA There are many different forms of media that affect the political landscape. background.397 hours of commercials in the 75 major media markets from April up until Election Day (Hamm and Mann 15). During the 1996 presidential election. In some ways the media can be seen as an instrument for the government to propagate their agenda and political stance. the media is limiting itself by simply passing along the view points of whatever political power is currently in control (22). interviews and press conferences (Wood and Edwards 328). American politics is increasingly characterized by the 'permanent campaign' in which politicians and interest group leaders engage.

wanted to fulfill his promise of going to every state and went to Alaska. Glaser argues that people can recall television reminders more than radio or newspapers. TV. the public is still concerned with timeliness. (78). He noted a 1960 Gallop Survey that asked people "Where do you get most of your information about what's going on in the world. major media outlets where he would be seen by a large audience. found that by studying the 1992 Pittsburgh elections. "Attention to the media for campaign news is mainly found among people who are already involved in political activities" (Robinson 98). While much has changed since these surveys were conducted. He says television leaves a more lasting impression than other medias (83).from magazines. Although most people claimed they get most of their political information from television. Nixon on the other hand. Kennedy helped shape the modern day model for understanding the media and going public through his relationship with the media in the 1960 campaign. campaigns can also chose to send out targeted mail to voters who fit a certain profile or engage in political organizations (Glaser 76). OW PEOPLE GET THEIR INFORMATION DURING ELECTIONS During elections. voters turned to television for the Senate and presidential campaigns and only turned to newspapers "as substitutes for their missing local dailies" (68-69). Bill Clinton did a remarkable job of taking advantage of free media by appealing to wide-range of voters by going on MTV during the campaign and through his famous appearance at Arsenio Hall when he played his saxophone (Hamm and Mann 16).television reaches a mass audience. laser found that newspapers are often read more by people who are educated. Nixon on the other hand. But the best media of all is free media. Just before Election Day. radio. informed and already interested in politics. John F. Robinson found in studying the 1969 elections that there was a slight decline in newspaper and magazine use during campaigns. which I . where television is the leading source of information (97). What Nixon didn't understand was that it was more important to be seen by voters than it was to go to every state (Maltese 16). Kennedy visited northeastern states with large electoral votes and more importantly. it is printed media people frequently cite as the source of "specific news content" (Robinson 99-100). people turn to different forms of media to get their information. on the other hand. depending on what information they are looking for and how involved they are in politics. Mondak. He also said newspaper articles can inform the viewer more than television coverage can. Robinson agreed that people who pay attention to the media during campaigns are normally already involved in politics (98). did not have such a good relationship with the media and did not understand the importance of mass coverage. Knowing how to take advantage of the media is essential in a campaign. or newspapers" (74).

CONCLUSION Through free media and paid media. the press is able to influence voters by telling them what issues are important at the time. and behavior. It is cheap. easy and available to anyone. viewers don't want to wait through an entire broadcast to hear the information they are looking for and they certainly don't want to wait through commercial breaks. just as TV took the place of print. People go to the internet because it is accessible and immediate.would argue is one of the leading reasons people turn away from print during elections. the media. The internet is also a great outlet for individuals or small groups to reach the masses. what candidates will get the most coverage and what criteria they should use to evaluate candidates. but also merely by choosing which to stories to cover. campaigns and elections by dictating what issues are relevant. The media also influences the government through the spotlight affect and discussing issues that might not have been at the top of the political agenda. While there is a wide-spread belief that they media is bias to either the right of the left. I would also argue the internet has a clear advantage over television because viewers can chose what information they are looking for and when they get it. . Policy Issue: Citizens learn about politics and government primarily from television and newspapers. Recent studies suggest that media exposure can have a sizable impact in shaping the public’s political knowledge. attitudes. the media is affected by the government. While it is not absolute because outside factors also shape positions. it should be less of a concern to the public because the media is largely unsuccessful in shaping opinion. these studies may have overestimated the impacts of media influence due to individuals’ tendency to seek out information that agrees with their pre-existing views. These media outlets can influence voters not only through the slant of a particular report. Equally. who is able to use the media as a political instrument by furthering the political views of whatever power is currently in office. The media has a very strong affect in politics. would argue that the internet has just recently begun to take the place of TV. public and government has a cyclical relationship that influences one another. However. In the age where timing is everything. It breaks the saying that "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one" (Compaine 24).

This study takes advantage of this natural setting to measure the effect of political news content on people’s political behavior and opinions.347 households of registered voters who reported that they received neither the Post nor the Times. the population is far enough away from the nation’s capitol so as not to be dominated by citizens involved professionally with politics. their attitudes toward news events of the previous weeks. which candidate they selected or preferred. The presence of a liberal and conservative paper serving the same region creates an opportunity to study the effect of media slant in a natural setting within a single population. Here. and their knowledge about recent news events. and has a range of political Details of the Intervention: leanings. but close enough to be within the circulation of Washington’s conservative and liberal newspapers. the conservative Washington Times and the more liberal Washington Post.C. or to the comparison group that was not sent either paper.C. . Approximately one month prior to the Virginia gubernatorial election in November 2005. metro area is served by two major newspapers. a follow-up survey was administered asking individuals whether they voted in the November 2005 election. researchers administered a short survey to a random selection of households in Prince William County. which is subject to the same outside factors. A week after the election. From the 3. Voter turnout data was also collected for the November 2005 and 2006 elections from state administrative records. such as political events and outcomes. researchers randomly assigned households to receive a free subscription to one of the two papers for ten weeks. The Washington D.Context of the Evaluation: Prince William County in northeastern Virginia lies just 25 miles from Washington D.

Despite the political slant of the newspapers. the effects were similar for the Post and the Times. by Russell EFFECTS. In November 2006. It is surprising to see a result in 2006 but not in 2005. video games. there was a 2.2 percentage point increase in likelihood of voting for the Democratic candidate. MEDIA. however.Results and Policy Lessons: Impact on Political Knowledge: Receiving either paper produced no effect on knowledge of political events or stated opinions about those events. alcohol. This may be due to the fact that the Republican President’s approval ratings were falling over that period of time. Impact on Political Preference: Interestingly. AND POLITICS Madden What do cigarettes. junk food. and comic books have in common? . or the fact that 17 percent of the treatment group renewed their subscription after the free period ended. movies. resulting in an overall 7. or perhaps the Democratic candidate was conservative leaning. receiving either newspaper led to an increase of support for the Democratic candidate. This could be a result of the post-election exposure to the remainder of the ten-week newspaper subscriptions. In either case. and there were no differences between the treatment and comparison groups in voter turnout for the 2005 gubernatorial election.8 percentage point increase in voter turnout. these results suggest that the informational effect of more exposure to news was stronger than the effect of its slant.

Two social science theories attempting to explain these phenomena have competed for prevalence for nearly eighty years: the strong or powerful effects model and the weak or limited effects model. Because of such criticism. has disappeared into the electronic ether. books. music CD's. Media Mass media can be defined as avenues for messages that are created for consumption by large numbers of people. These "message consumers" are . Those practical consequences of accepting a particular abstract theory are ones to which we should pay close attention. Each views human nature in radically different ways. In order to better understand this situation. film. Joe Camel. and magazines are used by these watchdogs to justify restrictions on what mass media can or cannot portray for public consumption. Also. that long-time spokes-animal for Camel cigarettes. the World Wide Web. What we face is a direct assault on not only the foundations of our Constitutional government but on what it means to live in a free society. newspapers. I will examine some of the history behind these media-related controversies. Our campuses.These are all examples of products whose advertisements offend and frighten various politicians and "public interest" groups. Only one has dominated political thinking in this and other countries. after they were targeted for complaints. The mass media messages we see and/or hear on television. our work places. radio. (Perhaps they croaked?) These symbols of mass-marketed consumer products are not alone in receiving bad press from those who seek to control that press. Each leads to divergent conclusions. not much has been heard from the Budweiser frogs. even our entertainment choices Defining are being threatened Mass by this trend.

and others to reach large numbers of people. They are also diverse in terms of their interests. even through the Internet. Now movies are distributed not only in theaters but via television. however. attendees at a pro football game). Those who dared defy these monarchs by marketing their mass wares faced burning. mass media were limited to books. For the first time in history. followed by "talkies" in 1925 and "3-D" extravaganzas in the 1950's. Even today. burial alive. videocassettes. From the Twenties . printers made books -. and seizure of their property. radio spread throughout the country.and the ideas they contained -available to citizens of more modest means. for example. and other demographical characteristics. No longer would books be produced by hand solely for the edification of the rich. privileged. This spread of "dangerous" notions frightened rulers who depended upon a compliant and uncomplaining populace for their power and prestige. and magazines. newspapers. For centuries. he set the stages for a revolution. DVD's. Despite these harsh penalties. Eventually. values. The dawn of the Twentieth Century saw an explosion in new ways for writers. Before TV. they contributed to Martin Luther's "heresy" and the formation of the Protestant Church. and for short pieces.physically separated from one another (to distinguish a mass medium audience from. books continue their subversive ways. When Gutenberg produced those Bibles with his movable type press. books continued to spread. and powerful. business owners. The first mass medium was books. Thomas Edison's hand-cranked films led the way to silent movies.

news and. Model . the Internet and the World Wide Web are. Magazines and newspapers post electronic versions or eschew print entirely. In the Fifties. After the introduction of TV. so-called talk radio. and soap operas. Neither happened. merging these disparate mass media. especially in the latter part of the Twentieth Century. music at last achieved mass medium status. With the advent of cable TV and satellite dishes. a number of people feared that television would kill movies just as some thought it would lead to the demise of radio. ever-expanding options are available to viewers. As should be clear by now. Edison's cylinders gave way to 78 rpm discs. More consumers now view films on TV than in theaters. Now anyone can electronically publish a book or article for access by distant readers. distant radio programs are now available on the Internet. tape cassettes in various formats. single discs at 45 rpm. As the world moved from the Nineteenth to the Twentieth Century. Production and transmission of films. adventure serials. as with movies. in many ways. radio shifted its focus more towards music. Phonographs made classical and popular music available to anyone. The increasing reach of mass media makes it even more imperative that we properly The understand Powerful their influence Effects on the public. Long-playing 33 rpm records. As broad band Internet connections become more commonplace. and radio continue to evolve on the Internet.through the Forties. TV will also likely appear on the Internet scene. Again. TV. music. news programs. CD's. No doubt new and as yet unthought of types of mass media will be invented. and now MP3's continue the evolution of music for the masses. families gathered around their clunky AM radios and listened to variety shows.

and what morals revealed. These studies. was conducted by the Motion Picture Research Council in 1929. film. then the results are nothing more than a post hoc fallacy: the belief that because event X occurred before event Y. and radio at the start of the Twentieth Century caused concern for many observers. The researchers wanted to investigate this new mass medium and determine whether alarm was justified. the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Code determined what kinds of images could be shown.went to the movies every week. In the late 1920's. Youthful moviegoers imitated the behavior of movie stars. the culture was less homogeneous and less reliant on tradition than ever before. however. People suffering such "alienation.The advent of penny papers. and a progressively modernized society. Adults anxiously worried that such mass viewing undermined parental controls.17 million of them children under fourteen years of age -. 40 million young people in this country -. skepticism of movies' influences continued. then Y was caused by X. increased levels of urbanization and industrialization. unintentionally learned things their parents might prefer remain hidden. Nevertheless. and that they created a hazard threatening the stability of traditional culture. One problem they faced is still debated today: do movies reflect social values or do they create them? If the former. that those flickering images on the wall taught immoral behavior. suffered from methodological shortcomings. In the 1930's." such socially isolated lives seemed ripe for films to subvert. To everyone's horror -. what kind of stories told.though perhaps not their surprise -. and found themselves emotionally moved by what they viewed. for example. the Payne Fund Studies. In an era of burgeoning numbers of immigrants. .their dire suspicions seemed to be confirmed. One of the first of tens-of-thousands of such studies.

human behavior was thought to be guided in basically the same manner as that of lower animals. If this theory were correct. The notion that humans are infinitely malleable in the hands of a master sculptor led later to B. in a sense "injecting" messages into the psyches of viewers and listeners. freedom of the press as guaranteed by the Constitution might well be a bad idea. This theory essentially grew out of Darwinism. drinking and smoking. Many Americans agreed then . Such a dangerous capacity for mischief should be restricted for the good of all citizens. uniform across audiences. This uniform set of instincts ensured people would receive and interpret mass media messages in similar ways. In this theory. In that era. and powerful. With such a direct connection between message and action. mass media messages are viewed as "magic bullets" that miraculously bring about a desired result unattainable in any other fashion. and -. Such effects generate false images of the world's nature in consumers' minds.harmful. Beyond Human Dignity. from inherited instincts. that is.too often -. Skinner's work in behaviorism as detailed in his book. These media effects are thought not only to be highly effective as tools of persuasion for both children and adults but also (in a negative way) to dominate our political system. Mass media have a kind of "hypodermic" needle effect. the results would also be uniform. immediate in influence. immediate. This stimulus-and-response view posited human action as not being under rational control. They also encourage unacceptable behavior in the form of "copycats" who mimic what they see and hear. for example.The strong or powerful effects model states that mass media effects are significant in magnitude. F.

the soldiers learned facts about the conflict but experienced only minor changes in opinions. changed their votes. Army during WWII. that is. Membership in one's social group and the relationships one had with friends and families proved more significant. Bernard Berelson.indeed. sociologists Paul Lazarsfeld. To the chagrin of the top brass. Unfortunately for the (scientific) acceptance of the powerful effects model. got them to do what they planned to do anyway. "Why We Fight. Filmmaker Frank Capra produced a series of seven films collectively entitled. and Hazel Gaudet conducted a study on how media messages influenced voting. Media also reinforced the beliefs some people already had.) The second set of studies was done by the U. in Erie County. limited fashion. control them -. If mass media messages can so readily harm people -. strengthening their positions." Shown to soldiers. such messages could persuade people but only in a select. The scientists discovered that the media of the time activated people to vote. Ohio. They found that.S.and agree now with such fears. they . Few individuals actually engaged in conversion. the hope was to create resentment of Japan and Germany while simultaneously increasing confidence in the United States and the justice of its battles. Model demise. When changes did occur. that is. two In the 1940 presidential election. yes. (A modern example of this is the fact that teenagers who begin to smoke are influenced to do so more by peers than by cigarette advertising.then they should be controlled themselves and subject The studies in the Weak 1940's appeared to Effects to spell its censoring.

how those messages will be interpreted. While it readily acknowledges that mass media can and do influence people. membership in a particular social category. Given such a universe of possible combinations. gender. These kinds of distinctions lead to differences in what individuals will find of interest and what messages they will select to consume (i. The limited effects model offers a number of explanations for its predictions. Factors other than the message itself are more important determinants of how people will respond to that message. how closely they will focus upon or attend to those messages. Variations in individual psychology and values. In contrast to the strong effects model. as we will see. religion. the weak effects model contends that people not really isolated but interact socially with family. what they will choose to be exposed to).. any given mass medium message will have only limited effects on the public overall. disparities in income. One such example is the theory of American media and cultural imperialism. No wonder successful persuasion in such arenas as advertising is a headache to producers! By Any Other Name The hoary theory of eighty years ago continues to surface under other guises. age.were linked more to the soldier's level of intelligence and his schooling than the messages per se. and how those messages will affect them. friends.e. and other demographic characteristics can and often do overwhelm a mass medium message. While this result supposedly killed the magic bullet theory. . an influence is not the same as a primary cause. and co-workers. its influence continues half-a-century later.

S. In Canada. In France. Imported media messages create social change and alter the course of normal national development. the U. personal behavior. 420) Countries in opposition to the United States are said to be specially targeted for undermining. Because native peoples have limited choices in what media are available to them. is able to dominate domestic media and other economic producers. By controlling what news people hear. The responses to this theory are visible in a number of nations. they are exposed to what superficially appears to be an attractive alternative to their own way of life.This essentially Marxist concept says that mass media messages reflect "a deliberate policy designed by powerful economic and political interests to transform and dominate the cultures of other people. is to be determined solely by the politicians. or TV is restricted in favor of locally produced products. certain American words are outlawed." (DeFleur and Dennis. and Arab countries complain about encroaching Western hairstyles. To do . Realizing that media consumers are active individuals capable of exercising their free will is not popular with the leaders in our (or any other) country." of course. p. clothing. and speech that is offensive to their religious sensibilities. movies. Germany outlaws Nazi-related items on the Internet (viz their suit against Yahoo!). China controls satellite dishes. Media messages "instill" or "create" needs and wants for consumer products that citizens don't really need and can't afford. the supply of American videos. What is deemed "proper. Such unsatisfied desires can then lead to political unrest and exploitation by more sophisticated Western powers. would be to limit them in their attempts to exercise more political control. or music CD's. The publisher of the book Hit Man pulled the title after being sued for "inspiring" a murderer. for example.the discredited powerful effects model. V-chips are installed in new TV's to "protect the children". our national leaders view "violence" (however poorly defined) as a prime excuse for censorship and state oversight. in movies. comic books. there is no strict causality between media violence and subsequent real-life violence perpetrated by media consumers. the Internet. rapes. Whether on TV. the fear of "copycat" crimes pushes politicians and others to act. video games. is the recent decrease in youthful violence even as makebelieve violence in films and games has increased.and impose laws based upon -. Politics of Media The fact that actual violence abounded long before mass media were around does not deter the prohibitionists and the censors.. TV and game producers "voluntarily" label their products before the government can impose such ratings. Coverage of the mass murders at Columbine and elsewhere transform gun advertisements in magazines and innocent products such as toy soldiers and toy . The Violence "Excessive" violence in the media is a perennial boogeyman trotted out by politicians for each new election cycle. What the anti-violence crowd cannot explain. As the limited effects model suggests.. Wars.whether you have offspring or not. While there is evidence that such media-portrayed violence can influence certain children. kidnappings. usually such kids are more aggressive to begin with. and murders are staples in human history. One need not look far to find examples in which politicians operate from -.

lambasted EC Comics and led to the creation of the Comics Code Authority. violence. From the Comstock Act of 1873. In the Nineteenth Century." images of guns are expunged from movies and cartoons. again. "For the children." you can get away with mass killings in the media more easily than you can dirty words. In the eyes of such fear-mongers. According to this thesis. women are helpless pawns in a capitalist game waged by Revlon and Weight Watchers.guns into deadly threats that can only be dealt with by draconian "zero tolerance" policies in our government-run. "South Park. "Psychologically weakened" women fall prey to these "hallucinations" and suffer such ills as bulimia. The Beauty Myth. for any and all violence perpetrated in this country. to the Communications Decency Act of 1996. cosmetic. As pointed out in the movie. children) from sexual oriented materials. even literature discussing contraception was deemed "pornographic" and worthy of censorship. despite the irresistible . Beauty In her book. economic and sexual exploitation. the diet. In this scenario. Pornography is a favorite whipping boy. powerlessness. Not much has changed since Fredric Wertham's 1954 book. Somehow. though. anorexia. "Violent" lyrics in music are blamed for the murder of police officers. and. again. low self-esteem. sexual images in mass media are viewed as even more dangerous than violent ones. Seduction of the Innocent. the federal government has taken it upon itself to protect the public (and. and pornography industries promote false images of proper feminine beauty. mandatory schools. only media can explain and be responsible Sex If anything. Naomi Wolf discussed "How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women" (her subtitle).

rudeness.and particularly girls -. Wolf herself somehow managed to escape Morality Reminiscent of the concerns expressed in the Twenties. That will not alter the mind-sets of those politicians and citizens who view banning cigarette advertising in all media as the only logical means of blunting Alcohol the creation and of new smokers. Well.wages on. the debate as to which came first -. Even worse. smoking among young people -.influence of media messages on women. and parental authority. The Budweiser frogs are castigated for making drinkers of children by being too "cute and funny. Food being brainwashed. the recent lawsuits against "Big Tobacco" acted as though consumers of such products were naifs incapable of resisting the lure of the Marlboro Man.were .has continued to increase. Tobacco Despite the fact that the dangers of tobacco have been discussed for centuries. Ms. Joe Camel "seduced" children into the vile habit of smoking. our government has passed legislation outlawing same-sex marriages and wields the tax code as a means to encourage what it views as proper family arrangements and social behavior. billions of settlement dollars later and after Joe has retired to the desert. Liquor ads -. relativistic morality. the Murphy Brown vs Dan Quayle controversy).the problems or the depiction of those problems -. As in that earlier time.while not banned by the government -. Never loath to seize an opportunity." Hard lemonade is said to be packaged to "attract" and confuse young people. mass media today have been blamed for promoting such things as the breakdown of family values (viz.

Unfortunately. and the role of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in policing the media are but a few examples of those who do not understand all the facets of "no. Unlike most countries. of course. set the stage for the First Amendment. the now-defunct fairness doctrine. he was tried for "seditious libel" but was found not guilty because the jurors believed that what he said was true." is more honored in the breach than in its observance. When he criticized the British government.The case of John Peter Zenger. politicians push to eliminate junk food and soft drinks from our schools lest they "corrupt" the dietary habits of our children. has only just begun to gather steam. Serious calls are made to ban fast food advertising and ads for sugar-laden cereals. either preventing publication of "bad" ideas or jailing. the examples cited above also technically fall under this general heading. the phrase "Congress shall make no law. (Though. fining. or censoring producers of messages the government didn't like.. publisher of the New York Weekly Journal. The licensing of radio and television broadcasters. Meanwhile. our First Amendment to the Constitution is supposed to keep the politicians out of this realm."voluntarily" abandoned by the industry. This particular trend Ideas Most important to consider are how ideas in mass media are treated by the state. It remains to be seen whether recent forays into TV liquor advertising will attract the attention of regulators.." . regulation of permissible content in terms of language and plot. requirements that they act responsibly and improve their communities.) Past governments exercised prior restraint.

The virus of "politically correct" speech and verbal "sexual harassment" continues to spread from academia to the general public. p. Repetition of a message. tiny bits of information add up.. the public is less inclined to give that approval out of principle. if truly effective." (DeFleur and Dennis. is that most of those effects are small of freedom of the press is often based not on the idea that the government simply has no right to control the press. . accumulative. its consistency over time. Media Influences in Context As mentioned earlier. close to half of today's public agrees that "offensive" language should be prohibited.. Calls for "campaign finance reform" that prevent people from expressing their political views prior to an election continue this depressing thread. and apparent corroboration can help shift public opinion over the longterm. What is important to keep in mind. however. Too many people are far too ready to say "there ought to be a law" whenever their favorite ox is gored. This process has helped change attitudes and behavior in a variety of contexts. Such views have ruined more than one individual's life and crippled more than one business's operations.. support for its freedom is likely to diminish. no one disputes the fact that mass media can help alter behavior and beliefs. 497) Though people often recoil from images of Hitler and Goebbels (who headed the bureau of "Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda"). but on the belief that a free press is the best method for ensuring a well-informed public and a stable democracy.Despite the lip service given to freedom of expression. In other words. "Generally. When the press appears to be doing a poor job of informing the public.

Wells's "War of the Worlds. and fresh mass media outlets will correct the imbalance." in 1938. time. Madonna. are the struggles over their control. So. Technical inventions and innovations from home computers to microwave ovens to cable TV took years to become fully accepted. spacemen or soldiers.." In those studies. too. some for the worse. however. and dress of the people they admire does no permanent damage. Perhaps the best tool to keep mass media in their proper place is the one discovered after researchers studied Orson Welles's radio production of H. stimulus-response automatons. or a Power Ranger. Media stories helped bring about those changes. and the ozone hole have yet to push aside the dominant images people see and hear. Barbie or teacher. So. New media messages challenging such dogma as recycling. help them survive into adulthood. has smoking lost much of its mystique (though the backlash has gone much too far the other way). a member of the Beatles. Hopefully. For the vast majority of boys and girls who play cowboys and Indians. the short-term imitation of the actions. who imagine themselves as Davy Crockett. words.and may. few people now think that drunk driving is a proper thing to do. the strong media effects model continues to serve as a convenient tool for those seeking to limit our freedoms. too. actually.G. As long as we remember that we possess free will and moral autonomy. cops and robbers. those reactionaries will eventually lose. the pendulum in favor of "the environment" has swung too far into fantasy. Mass media are here to stay. Despite its view of humans as irrational..some for the better. For example. a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. the single greatest factor influencing whether the broadcast was . While disdain of littering and pollution is a useful result of media campaigns. for the "Mercury Theater of the Air. global warming. truth.

. .the ability to think critically.. That's a media lesson we all need to learn.taken literally or not was.