Mass Media Coverage of Presidential Election

Mass media coverage of the U. S. presidential election involves two key elements- news reporting and paid advertising. Combined they make the media an important and influential factor in the election process. The media depends upon the campaigns for both news and revenues. The candidates then rely upon the media to get in touch with the largest number of voters possible. The Media has a ” very powerful and justifiable role” (Fullerton-1) to play in presidential elections and can actually dictate a campaign agenda. “It is the media’s job to sort of be the watchdog (Fullerton-1).

” Their job is basically to ferret out the truth and sniff out the falsehoods. To view the media as one large entity is misleading. It’s actually a huge community that includes mainstream media which is the major newspapers and major television networks. Then there is the alternative media, talk radio and tabloid shows which play up the most sensational in politics The majority of Americans get their political information from the media, the most of which comes from television. Campaign events are covered on the nightly news, and the candidates themselves appear on news interview programs as well as daytime talk shows.

At the state and local level of campaigns, candidates usually provide time for interviews with area journalists and the coverage is usually very positive towards their respective campaign. The media itself, however, “tends to accentuate on the negative aspects of a political campaign, to hit hardest at those who are in power or running ahead, and to emphasize scandal. ” (Gorin-1). The candidates counter this, and attempt to use the media to their advantage by carefully staging media events. “These usually take place at national monuments or flag factories with balloons and banners in the background to set a real upbeat atmosphere.

The speeches made are carefully worded to emphasize making an impact on the news program” (Gorin-1). There was a dramatic rise of daytime talk shows as a political venue, with independent candidate Ross Perot starting the phenomenon back in 1992 with an appearance on the Larry King Live show. During the taping, Perot basically spelled out the circumstances under which he would consider running for presidency. “Such shows really impact the viewing audience due to the voters chance at speaking directly to the candidate and expressing their own views. ” (Gorin-1)

The presidential debates are probably the most important media events covered in a campaign because voters can see how candidates react in stressful situations and can read numerous articles analyzing the debate after they occur. The debates basically allow the candidates to go head to head with one another and see who can handle themselves more efficiently and who has the most going for them. As far as coverage, newspapers usually provide more material to the campaign than does television, due to the large amount of reporters able to cover the campaign as well as less cost and time restraints as TV.

Newspapers also have the benefit of “corrective journalism” (Gorin-2). “Instead of printing a candidate’s statement one day, an oppositions rebuttal the next and a related opinion piece the third day, journalists have the capability to include charges, countercharges, background research and analysis all in the same article. However, Louis Wolfson, a professor at American University says ” In a larger sense, I don’t think the media sent the agenda for a campaign he said.

I think the politicians do, because they try to campaign on the issues they are going to be most successful with and to avoid the ones they don’t want to answer for (Fullerton-1). ” One question consistently brought up is the use of negative advertising by campaigns. Negative ads tend to turn off many viewers, but says Drexel University political science Prof. William Rosenberg, ” negative ads aren’t by definition uninformative. They can contain some information about an opposing candidate that is reasonable to communicate in a campaign (Gorin-2).

” Negative advertising was a trademark of Steve Forbes’ campaign in the Iowa presidential caucus, yet he garnered a mear 10,000 votes with his commercials. Jim Innocenzi, a top political consultant, states that ” Forbes was really nothing more than the creation of his TV commercials. And when people start to poke, they found some holes, some soft spots (Fullerton-1). ” When asked about the power of such advertisements to distort issues or smear opponents, Innocenzi responded that “everybody smells a foul add immediately and that those that aren’t factual will be picked apart fairly quickly by the media.

The media has also come under a great deal of fire as to how they should report campaigns. Some believe the political reporting in the U. S. is biased, but Eleanor Cliff, a Newsweek Magazine editor, states that “sometimes we get so caught up in catching a candidate in this or that inconsistency, but overall the media generally does a good job though we could do a better job of putting the flows of those candidates into perspective (Fullerton-2).

” On a positive note, the media is now taking a closer look at the electorate to learn what is the voter thinking ? What does the voter want? Many voters do not feel they are partisan in this country. Clift goes to say ” In the past.. the media has created this set of expectations and they completely lose sight of the fact that the electorate is looking for how these candidates, if elected, are going to effect their lives (Fullerton-2). “

Because of the larger number of undecided voters heading into each years election, the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut has decided to conduct original research on the media’s effect on undecided voters. The Center turned to the Freedom Forum, a non-profit foundation dedicated to studying the role of media in society. The research will monitor the formation and change of opinion of non-committed voters throughout the course of the campaign.

After a number of key periods during the campaign, the Roper Center will measure the impact of campaign events and media influences on the attitudes of swing voters. Increased dissatisfaction with politics has made voters critical and more prone to vote for change According to Ken Dautich, associate director of the Roper Center, ” voters have become more educated and less bound by loyalties over the years (Mocete-1). ” “Back in the late 50’s and early 60’s more than two-thirds of the American public was either Democrat or Republican.

Over the past three decades there has been a thirty percent shift in people who do not have an allegiance to a particular party ( Mocete-1). ” The number of studies conducted in the 60’s and 70’s concluded that the media did not have much of an effect on influencing voters. That is not true for this day in age, because there are many people who aren’t faithfully aligned to political parties. The result of this has seen many many voters not trusting the Democrats or Republicans to provide them with information on the presidential campaign, so they are turning to the media.

To determine how undecided voters were obtaining their information early in the 1996 campaign, a national survey was conducted with 2000 voters before the NH primary that would measure for the project. According to the survey, 67 % said they obtain their information from the media (Mocete-2). Dautich believes ” The information the public is getting from the media will more likely be used since voters are not depending on the party labels as a voting cue (Mocete-2).

” “But just because swing voters are getting their information from the media does not necessarily mean they are satisfied with the information they are receiving,” he said (Mocete-2). The vast majority of the voters are interested in stories about issues and how the election may effect them. Instead the media is providing the public with stories such as the candidates’ personal lives which is not very useful to the uncommitted voter. By profiling theses voters, Dautich will identify issues most important to them, assess their attitudes toward candidates, assess their feelings toward the parties and possible independent movements.

Examining these undecided voters is extremely important in light of their potential impact on American politics. In conclusion, the media’s role in the presidential election process is basically to communicate reasonable information both through reporting and paid advertising. This is crucial to the voters because the majority of them receive their information via the media, so in the overall picture, the media can greatly influence the outcome of an election. Bibliography 1. USIA Worldnet.

Robert Fullerton, staff writer. http://www. usis-israel. org11/pubhsh/elections/wimedia. ntm 2. USIA Worldnet. Stuart Gorin, political affairs writer. http://www. usis-israel. org. 11/pubhsn/elections/wimedia. ntm 3. UConn News Release. Luis Mocete, office of Univ. communications. http://www. news. uconn. edu. rei96133. ntm 4. Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. Boller, P. E. , Jr. Presidential Campaigns ( 1996). 5. Grolier Mulitmedia Encyclopedia. Hess, S. , The Presidential Campaign, 3rd ed. (1988).