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The Role Of News And Media In American Politics

The Role Of News And Media In American Politics

The end of the 20th century has brought significant changes in the traditional methods of diplomacy. This is largely due to the increasing role that information technology begins to play in international relations. Today it forms a new level of relations between the countries of the world, creating a global infrastructure and penetrating virtually all spheres of life of the interstate. The modern world is subject to an unspoken rule: the actual event is significant only when it is publicly discussed in the media. While diplomacy is a fairly conservative area, such major changes could not pass it by. For example, the role of media is given priority in the relations among the most developed and active players in the global arena. As experts say, if the country today is not able to enter the world of information technology systems as a standalone player, it will have to give up some of its independence to other more developed countries in this regard. Transformation of the media into a system capable to effectively compete with rivals overseas means not only to ensure the information security of the country, but also to create another important tool for the protection of foreign policy interests.

Since world opinion is an important factor in international relations, the role of the media resource in foreign policy is becoming increasingly important. Being a recognized leader in this field, the US managed to create a mechanism to ensure information support of its interests in all regions of the world. Only official annual cost of foreign policy propaganda of White House exceeds $ 1 billion. Washington not only creates the necessary information image of the country through a network of specially created structures, but also actively corrects this information policy in many sovereign states. American diplomatic and media activities not just go hand in hand, but are united under one roof structure. Therefore, a so-called “Center for a quick response” is officially operating in the US State Department for several years. Its task is to correct the image of America in the event that it is not truly presented in the foreign media from the point of view of Washington. This center has a very broad range of responsibilities up to a direct impact on the editorial policy of foreign media.

Similar departments exist in other US agencies. For example, due to the information leak published in The Washington Post it became known that in 2008 the US Department of Defense paid private contractors in Iraq a total of $ 300 million for the production of policy briefs, news, entertainment programs, and public service announcements for the Iraqi media. The main objective of the campaign was to involve local population to support US policy.

Back in the early 60’s, Canadian sociologist M. McLuhan stated that the transmission medium itself is more important than the information in it. From this point of view, each system of mass communication has its own specific features. Not all media has the capacity for direct communication with the public like traditional institutions of communication, such as a church, school, family, political parties and organizations, etc. This capacity is used by advertising agents trying to convince the public to buy a particular product as well as by a politician or political party to achieve mass support for its program.

For a long time the main source of information for the public were newspapers and magazines. Initially, many of them originated from a particular political party or in one form or another have been involved in the political process. In any case, from the beginning newspapers made it clear that they were not going to be politically neutral. It is important to note  that the newspapers offered not only political and economic information, but also materials such as entertainment and local news. In this way they taught people to consider themselves part of the larger world, reacting to the events occurring in it.

The beginning of the “era of television” in the policy dates back to 1952, when it was first used for a wide coverage of the election campaign in the US.

In the 70’s and 80’s television, which has become more and more important in the political process, became the dominant mass medium. An example of the influence of television on the nature of political behavior, and especially on American electorate vote in the US. was the case of televised debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960. E. Roper, who at that time held a poll among voters, came to the conclusion that these debates have greatly contributed to the victory of Kennedy. In 1980, according to available data, debates enabled Ronald Reagan not only to eliminate 4-percent gap with Jimmy Carter, but also win 5 per cent ahead of him. Television also played an important role in the debates between the main contenders in the election campaigns between Ronald Reagan and William Mondale in 1984, George Bush and Boris Dyukakisom in 1988, and George Bush and Bill Clinton in 1992. It is also possible to mention the fact that some US media outlets have played a role in Presidents’ Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon leaving the scene. In other words, public opinion expressed through the media in any form plays an important role in limiting the power and actions of the ruling circles by exposing some of the most egregious violations of the law on their side.

In most industrialized countries, the media is a private business institute and economic sector, which employs dozens, if not hundreds of thousands of people. Their activities revolve around collecting, producing, storing, and selling information. As such, the operation of the media is subject to the laws of the market economy. They are interested in contradictions of the society and reproduce them in their publications and programs. They affect interests of diferent groups. With increasing economic power and cultural influence media has become relatively free from control of the state and big corporations – advertisers. Naturally, advertising, as one of the most important sources of financing and profit of media, served and continues to be a significant barrier to their moral and political independence. However, the case cannot be presented in a way that advertisers dictate directly to the editor of a newspaper or magazine. The largest media conglomerates in the West turned themselves into an independent and extremely profitable business sector with its own special interests that do not always coincide or often are at odds with the interests of some powerful forces in the society or its political leadership.

Commercial origin, which is the basis of most organs and media organizations is indifferent from the content. It involves the use of market information to sell to the widest possible audience. It is noteworthy that in February 1988, for the first 7 years of Reagan in power, three major US television companies denied the request of the White House to give Reagan the opportunity to speak on their channels. Officials from these companies have unanimously declared that since presidential speech did not contain anything new, the commercial interests of the companies would not allow them to waste their airtime.

Media in their publications, reports, and comments may shed light on the hidden springs policy of the ruling circles and uncover most odious aspects of their activities. Examples include publication by the newspaper “New York Times” of the so-called “Pentagon Papers”, exposure in the newspaper “Washington Post” of Watergate scandal, leading broadcast telecorporations revelatory hearing of the case to Congress, mobilization of public opinion leading media outlets of Western countries against the Vietnam War of  the US and much more. It should be noted, however, that many magazines, newspapers, radio, and television broadcasting stations, such as “Der Spiegel”, “Stern”, “Time”, “Newsweek”, “Cambio-16”, “Panorama”, “Europeo”, “Washington Post “, “Los Angeles Times”, “Le Monde”, “Figaro”, “Le Matin”, and many others, stayed afloat and even thrived on the opening of scandals exposing frauds, seeking out the secrets, and exposing them to the public. Revelatory or “research” journalism became the motto of many publications. Often these publications are focused on sensations, try to “blow up the bomb”, while revealing corruption, abuse, fraud and voter decline of political morality in the corridors of power.

Many of these titles set the tone of public discussions and debates, bringing the most relevant issues and topics, scandals, and scams to the public. It is with the submission of these and similar “elite” publications that the Watergate scandal became public. This led for the first time in American history to the resignation of the president. “Spiegel” published an article titled “Telephone Attempt on Citizen T.” to describe a scandal involving the secret infiltration of employees of Office for the Protection of the Constitution in house of engineer K. Traube and installation of listening devices on the phone. Soon after this revelation, the Minister of Internal Affairs of Germany V. Mayhofer responsible for these acts, was forced to resign.

It should be also noted that, appealing to so sensual, irrational, emotional, and volitional components of social consciousness as a sense of love of country, nationalist, and patriotic sentiments, the media is able to mobilize the support of large segments of the population of any groups of ruling circles or special interest groups. Typically, in such cases, the change in mass consciousness is of short duration, and after the campaign on this particular occasion all that being said, back to square one. This feature of functioning of the media is particularly evident in the electoral process during election campaigns.

An example of a skilled and widespread use of irrationalist impulses is the forcing by media in the US “patriotism” in the early 80’s and open nationalistic sentiments in relation to the Soviet Union. Enviable ability to appeal to emotional and volitional irrationalist impulses showed the British media during the Falklands War. Forcing in the country seemed to have sunk into oblivion imperial ambitions and claims as well as anti-Argentine mood. English press, radio, and television convinced the world that the average Englishman, despite the radical change in Britain’s position on the world stage, remained susceptible to spells spirits of “fathers” and executors of the colonial empire.

As a results of many sociological and socio-psychological research, constant media coverage of events deviating from accepted society norms, is usually made in sensational way to the readers, listeners, and viewers to provoke anxiety and fear of dislocation about the world order, the usual course of life, fear for their place in society, for the future, etc. At the same time, evidence suggests that people have too often resorted to the services of the media, which easily produces negative attitudes about the world. Thus, children who watch a lot of television often transfer opinions stuffed with violence propagated by it to a world in which they live. They start to believe that there is a lot of violence, disorder, and unfair dominance in it. They tend to be more willing to accept these negative perceptions. They do not consider them as a deviation from the norm or the result of dysfunction of the social system, but as an integral part of it.

Different groups of the population may react to these events in different ways. Persistent reports on crrime, drugs, terrorism, riots, etc. suggest the readers, listeners, and viewers to think about the need for “a firm hand”, a strong personality that can put an end to anarchy, to ensure law and order. Namely, in this part of the society a lively response was found by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and other leaders of right-wing and conservative forces, who spoke with such slogans. For the other part of the society private life, privatization, and for the third – joining various communities, communes, religious sects, etc. are compensatory mechanisms.

There are two main approaches that characterize the degree of influence of media on political process.

Proponents of the first approach, which emerged earlier, claimed that the media has a major impact on citizens and their political orientation. For example, Bourdieu inclined to believe that the media is the main tool of “brainwashing” of the masses. The theoretical basis for the proponents of this approach is the work of Walter Lippmann “Public Opinion”, which was published in 1922. The author studied the effect of the media on the electoral process in the United States, and came to the conclusion that the media was all-powerful in shaping political preferences of citizens. Later in 60s of the 20th century, the theory was further developed by B. Cohen, who opened and gave a definition of the special effects of media, enabling them to manage information flows and topics of public debate. He called this effect of the media the formation of “agenda”, thus he developed and adjusted work of Walter Lippmann. His thesis was that the media could not force people to think in a certain way, but can point to what its audience could think about.

Proponents of the second approach, on the contrary, minimize the degree of direct influence of media on the audience due to a number of indirect factors. They argue that the media only gives person some information about the political world without affecting his individual political preferences. P. Lazarsfeld analyzed the impact of media on the US presidential election in 40 years of the 20th century, came to the conclusion that the information submitted to voters via the media reinforces existing attitudes and orientations. These orientations were shaped by factors such as income, social status, or profession. In addition, P. Lazarsfeld introduced a two-stage model of communication. According to this model, the media presents assessment of current events not in the whole audience, but only in a small part of it, which is not bigger than 10%. Reflexive understanding of information is done only by this smallest part of the audience, which he called “opinion leaders”. These leaders convey their understanding of the current situation to the rest of the citizens who are less interested in the political processes.

James Clapper, based on the work of Walter Lippmann from 50s of the 20th century, suggested that the media does not form, but only reinforces political affiliation of voters, simultaneously creating in them the mechanisms of selective viewing of information that is becoming a significant barrier to successful propaganda. By 70s of the 20th century many researchers have gone a step further, stating that in media channels there is practically no political information important for the voters, because voters in political elections are focused on friends, relatives, and other non-media sources.

It is important to note, however, that both supporters and opponents of the significant influence of media on the political process cannot exclude the media from consideration of the political process and argue only about the extent of its influence on audience.

As noted by Strömberg in 1930, those US counties where voter turnout was higher, received more unemployment benefits. Media’s ability to raise or lower turnout could change government policy. The media can influence policy by influencing the outcome of elections. Such an impact can be twofold: on one hand, the media can get a politician to change his position, on the other – to influence the preference for the elected candidates. In areas where politicians are firm supporters of certain ideas, such as those associated with abortion or corruption, the media can change preferences for candidates, and where the politicians do not have a clear position, the first scenario is possible.

The role of media in politics cannot be assessed unambiguously. It is complex and multifaceted institution, consisting of many organs and elements designed to implement multiple tasks, create awareness about developments in each country and the world events and phenomena. G. Lasuell identified the following four main functions of the media: watching the world (the collection and dissemination of information), “editing” (selection of information and commentary), forming of public opinion, and spreading the culture. In other words, the media provides an extended form of human communication. It is important to add its another important function of the politicization of society and political education of the general population. The press, radio, and television are claiming to serve as the “watchdogs of public interest” and being the “eyes and ears of society”, warning about such events as the downturn in the economy, the growth of drug abuse, crime, and corruption in the corridors of power, etc. To justify such a claim or image, the media should look as independent as possible from both an economic and political points of view.



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