8.4 The Mass Media and Political Coverage
Though the mass media is the main source of political news, much time is not devoted to it on the local TV news. Newspapers also reserve less space for such news. Even network broadcasts, which reach out to the largest audience can just about relate the major stories. Hard core analysis and detailed coverage is only available on cable news stations.
Most of the political news centers on the president. His actions and words are promptly reported by the White House press. In fact, a fraction of the White House press corps move around with the president to make sure that every detail about his undertakings is covered.
Other branches of the government receive less attention. However, cable television tries to make up for this by showing the proceedings of the House of Representatives, and of the Senate in 1979 and 1986 respectively. The people gain an insight into the working of the judiciary through Court TV.
8.4a How reporters get the news
Reporters have the task of probing for information, being close to events as they happen, and mingling with the people who make news. They receive information from the elected secretaries. In order to give their story the right spin, these aides (to the press) have to present their material so as to put them, or their programs in an excellent position. The White House forwards press releases to reporters who also receive a daily briefing from the press secretary of the president. Members of the administration and the president also answer questions at news conferences. In fact, the administrative staff ensures that the president is prepared for the most probable questions in the presidential news conferences. Indeed, the reporterís best weapon is the power of the press. This in turn is based on the pressure of public opinion.
Sometimes the reporters receive information from the White
House staff, only on background. This prevents them from
identifying the source of the material, which has to be attributed
to "a senior White House official" or "sources within
the administration." They cannot report matters given off
the record, but are always on the lookout for leaks,
which take the form of an unauthorized release of information to
the members of the press. However, it has been observed that sometimes
administrative officials deliberately leak certain policies to attract
8.4b The Media and Presidential Elections
The presidential elections are a rich source of information to the media. So the media people give more importance to the position of the candidates in the election race, instead of the programs and policies of each candidate. Similarly, in presidential debates, it is only reported who was victorious and who was not rather than what views were exchanged. In public opinion polls, which have grown increasingly important in campaigns.
Media consultants are employed by presidential
candidates to present them and their views in the best possible
light. A politicianís terse remark, described as the sound bite
fits well in the limited nightly news during an election year.
The advertising campaigns of the candidates is designed by the public
relations people who utilize negative advertising emphasizing
the opponentís actions rather than the candidateís own perspective.
The development of radio and television talk shows have given candidates even greater access to the public mind. For example President Kennedy used live televised news conferences with excellent effects thanks to his easy delivery and quick wit. In an informercial a candidate can buy a half-hour block of time in order to put forward his policies. This was followed in the 1992 campaign by H. Ross Perot. Walter Lippmann in his Public Opinion rightly sums up the importance of mass media in modern times:
"Persuasion has become a conscious art and a regular organ of popular government."