The Presentation of Political News
The Two-Step Flow of Political Information
Media Effects on Popular Opinion
Dominant form until 20th century.
Circulation in decline since World War II.
Dominant source today, but share in decline.
“Liberal” and “conservative” media outlets.
Reporters are overwhelmingly liberal.
The mass media is a business.
Media ownership tends to be conservative.
“If it bleeds, it leads.”
Media prefers “personality” stories and simple narratives instead of complex issues.
Journalists rely on other journalists for expertise and information.
Source: Tim Groseclose and Jeffrey Milyo. 2005. “A Measure of Media Bias.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 110(4): 1191-1237
Emphasis on the president and governors, less emphasis on legislators and courts.
Accentuates negative news.
Emphasis on “horse-race” coverage and “character” instead of issues.
Breaking news emphasized over long-term stories.
Manipulated by political “spin” by campaigns.
Media coverage is based on commercial pressures:
Ratings and circulation drive coverage.
Mass public is not interested in most issues.
Continuous news cycle driven by news networks (CNN, Fox News, MSNBC) and the Internet.
Positive: more in-depth news coverage available to those who seek it out.
Negative: only those who seek it out benefit.
Political information moves from political elites to the mass public in two stages:
Opinion leaders (political activists, major media organizations) decide on a narrative.
The mass public responds to the narrative(s) given by opinion leaders.
Politicians occasionally try to talk directly to the mass public (when they perceive opinion leaders to be hostile), but this is usually ineffective.
Agenda setting (and gatekeeping)
What the media covers—or doesn't cover—influences what people think is important.
Voters think about issues and candidates based on the context they are discussed in.
How arguments are made influences how people think about issues and candidates.
Political science research says:
Highly knowledgeable voters filter out information they disagree with, or can make arguments against it.
Least knowledgeable voters do not pay attention to the media in the first place.
Mid-range voters tend to be the most influenced.
The less people care about an issue, the more the media will influence their attitudes.
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