In America we value the freedom of the press. The press is the one place where most Americans go to get educated on issues facing their community, state, and most of all nation. Everyone knows that the media plays a major role in Americans? lives; however their role of gatekeeper is not completely understood. The press decides which issues to report and how to report them. In order to improve the nation and world, the media should present their unbiased findings to allow people to make up their own minds. However, this is not the case. The media often shows its bias. Their widespread exposure enables them to communicate their ideas to the public, regardless of the public?s responsiveness. The elections of officials for the federal government during the late 20th century serve as prime examples of their bias. An analysis of surveys, media delivery, and reporter?s testimonies, I have found that the media is actually more out of touch with mainstream America than the politicians they cover.
The media affects American interest towards politics by only showing the people what they want them to see. Even if there are many issues in a campaign, the media will focus on the one?s they believe to be the most important. Other issues maybe completely ignored. Hence people become interested only in certain areas of politics since they hear about them very often. There is usually a much greater turnout when voting for the president than voting for a Senator. This is mainly because the media covers a presidential race much more closely.
Americans focus on what the media frequently shows us rather than the little heard of issues of greater importance. A large number of people do not follow local elections mainly because they do not hear about it on the six o?clock news. I think that many Americans do not even know their Senators? or House Representatives? name. On the other hand, it would be very difficult to find someone who does not know anything about the recent presidential election. Everyone knows about the Florida ballot disputes only because the media has placed so much emphasis on them.
There is so much media coverage in politics today that in order to be elected one must be appealing to the public. Years ago the only way people could find out about candidates and the issues they stood for was by reading a newspaper or listening to the radio. Today, anyone can turn on the television or go to a web site on the Internet and see the candidates themselves talking about their issues. With almost all American homes having at least one television, a candidate must possess a good personality, plans and ideas. Now, more than ever Americans place excessive importance on appearance. This means that a candidate has to appear successfully, competent and inspire confidence. When was the last time a president was elected based on appearances? It was probably in the 1800?s with the election of Abe Lincoln. History shows what a great president he was. It sounds very superficial, but unfortunately this is true of our society. Candidates have to appeal to the public as much as possible, and appear comfortable on camera. However a candidate?s appearance is not the only thing that plays a major role in getting them elected.
In 1984, the nation?s economy was booming, most people were happy with their leader, and Ronald Reagan was up for reelection. Reagan had previously helped the nation cope with a recession, and had been in office when American hostages were released. With things going so well one wonders why anyone would oppose this popular conservative leader. However, former Vice President Walter Mondale disenchanted with the way things were going, ran for and received the Democratic nomination. Immediately, the press had found their new man. He was going to be the one to cut defense spending, to increase the reach of the government, and to make sure the government was there to consistently support the poor. In order to do this, at the 1984 Democratic Convention, Walter Mondale announced that he would raise taxes on the American people. The people were outraged, conservatives went wild, and the press sat quiet, leaving their criticism to a minimum. They were not as bothered by this news as one would think. Perhaps they were supportive of Mondale because, they thought taxes needed to be raised in order to help with the debt caused by new government programs and the rising costs of current ones. If this were the case then one would expect them to praise a conservative such as George Bush when he raised taxes in response to pressure from a Democratic Congress. Instead, they only pointed out that he had gone back on a promise, and refused to admit that what he did was put the economy on the road to becoming the strong system it is today. As for Reagan, when Election Day finally came around, the president had been reelected with 59% of the popular vote, and carried 49 states. He only lost Mondale?s home state, and even that by a small margin. Despite the large majority that Reagan won with, he received no help from the White House Correspondents. Out of ten of these correspondents surveyed, all ten voted for Mondale while zero voted for Reagan (US News & World Report). At a time when the American people were clearly united, the media went against the mainstream and voted for the liberal. The American public was backing Reagan?s policies, but the media was not.
Every morning and night, people turn on their televisions to be informed of what is going on in their country. Instead of getting the simple facts in reporting, they receive the media?s personal spin. Many Washington reporters do not simply come out and say they are in favor of a certain policy, yet they deliver information in a way which makes the alternative appear absurd. ?The new Republican majority in Congress took a big step today on its legislative agenda to demolish or damage government aid programs, many of them designed to help children and the poor,? reports Dan Rather (Liberal Bias). After hearing such words as ?demolish,? the average American automatically believes that what the Republicans are doing is harmful to society. Instead of reporting that Congress repealed some government programs, or trimmed spending, the media insisted on sensationalizing the news and making it seem as if the Congress was evil. Not to mention when the public turns out to support a conservative view, the media then works to lessen its importance and appeal. One example is the Republican victories in Congress in 1994. When reelection time came up, and Bob Dole was running for president, the media played down the sweeping reforms that took place at the hands of Congress: the welfare reform, the lobbyist reforms, or the line item veto. Instead, Katie Couric said, “Speaker Gingrich and company’s Contract with America was ultimately rejected by the majority of Americans and few people believe it was really behind the GOP sweep of the congressional elections in 1994″ (Liberal Bias). She wanted the public to believe that the 1994 elections were a result of voting against Clinton, and not for Republican principles. This is an obvious case of playing down the view of the public, and inserting the media?s own thoughts into the mouths of the average citizen.
Perhaps the most convincing piece of evidence of media bias comes not from statistics or polls, but from the personal admissions of prominent journalists. Such journalists are the best sources for analyzing their peers and industry. One individual, CBS correspondent Bernard Goldberg stated, “There are lots of reasons fewer people are watching network news, and one of them, I’m more convinced than ever, is that our viewers simply don’t trust us. This is a good reason. The old argument that the networks and other `media elites’ have a liberal bias is so blatantly true that it’s hardly worth discussing anymore. No, we don?t sit around in dark corners and plan strategies on how we’re going to slant the news. We don’t have to. It comes naturally to most reporters,” (Media Resource Center). If one of their own believes they cannot be trusted, then the American people cannot be expected to believe the press either. The Media claims that they do not plan their liberal strategies, yet what should be planned is to act on their responsibility to present the news in an unbiased way. Newsweek Bureau Chief Evan Thomas stated, “There is a liberal bias. It’s demonstrable. You look at some statistics. About 85 percent of the reporters who cover the White House vote Democratic,? (Evan Thomas). The people who hire these correspondents therefore are in a sense planting a liberal media in the White House. To do an informative job, they should attempt to hire an approximately equal number of reporters from each side. To do otherwise, the press admits, has a dramatic impact on a candidate?s chances. No matter how many good things a person does, if the media decides to publish the bad their chances are blown. Fifty-five percent of journalists at national media outlets felt that Bush?s chances in 1992 were hurt by the way the press covered him. While only 11% felt Clinton was hurt by his portrayal by the media (Times Mirror Center). The acknowledgement of this slant in news coverage by journalists themselves appears the most troubling of all evidence that exists to suggest that bias is present in the media.
More than anything else the media shapes public opinion in America. News broadcasts show the side of the story they want people to know and believe, and they do the same things when it comes to politics. When you are watching the news the opinion you come away with is most likely the one the station or the program wants you to obtain. The Media portrays events and dialogues in particular ways so that you will think something was said one way, when it may have been meant to be taken another way. To sum it up, most American?s believe what they are told, and the media takes advantage of this, in a way brainwashing America to believe what they want us to. This happens a lot in politics, when speeches are given and a handful of networks all say that the speech meant something different, they want you to believe what you hear.
Americans recognize the large role the media plays in their lives. Forty-three percent say that the press plays the most influential role in determining which issues and events are considered important (Times Mirror Center). The media?s role in politics is even more significant. They help shape the political culture, and have the power to make a candidate appealing or repulsive. In 1984 they tried to unseat Ronald Reagan by going against public opinion and not attacking Mondale as they would have done to any other conservative candidate. In 1992, they attacked George Bush for doing what Mondale had proposed, and as a result, Bush lost reelection. The media has taken many opportunities to try to help the public misinterpret the actions of conservatives, and as a result, all conservative candidates have had to fight an uphill battle. Therefore the media should stick to reporting on politics, and not shaping it. It should not be biased, but should offer information to allow ideas to form freely. They (the media) need to look in the mirror and then see who the real ?out of touch extremists? are. With only 16% of reporters calling themselves Republicans while 44% call themselves Democrats, one has the right to suspect that reporting is skewed (Freedom Forum). This suspicion is proven with numerous comments and viewpoints expressed by those within the media business.
Now, more than ever, the media influences and impacts almost every aspect of American lives. They tell us what is important, who should run in an election, how a candidate should appear to the public, and even what to think about an issue. With there being so many ways to get information today, we are influenced to believe what we are told and not to question it. In some ways the media influences politics in a good way, by making sure the candidate has some idea of what they are running for. However, the media has many bad influences on politics ranging from, ads that promote uninformed voting, all the way to only informing the public about what they believe to be important. I do believe that the media does exercise too much power in America. They should not be allowed to present biased news to the public and should let the people make up their own minds on what they want to believe.
Works Cited?Freed Forum?. Poll of 1400 random journalists. 1992.
Media Resource Center, http://www.abb.org/mrc.comThomas, Evan. ?Newsweek Washington Bureau Chief, Inside Washington?. May 12, 1996.
?Times Mirror Center for the People & Press?. 1992.
Walsh, Kenneth. ?U.S. News & World Report?. Survey for Feeding the Beast.