The Media in Politics
The media is intended to be a honest and intelligent source of information. Recently, many critics have argued that honesty has been replaced by greed. The media is looked upon as a money hungry industry, trying to find the sleaziest headline to attract the public’s dollar. Caught in the middle of this mess are politicians. Although most are fairly honest men, the acts of a few have dragged the rest through the mud. Today, the biggest headline that a media mogul could ask for, is the President Clinton Scandal. Many people claim that the media went too far with their coverage, shedding their integrity for a few measly dollars. Did the public have a right to know? Or does a politician’s private life stay private once that person is elected to public office? Information via the media is the fastest it has ever been in the history of our time, and it is impossible not to take advantage of this resources. But, how can we trust an industry that may just be out for our money? By writing this paper, I would like to prove that the media, although it may sometimes go too far, is nothing more than an industry trying to give us information in the quickest possible way. The History of the Media Handwritten notices of ancient Rome known as Acta Diurna, Acta Senatus, and Acta Publica, are known as the world’s first newspapers. In the mid-15th century, a revolution occured in the printing business. German inventor Johann Gutenberg manufactured the movable metal type. Although in the Far East, the wooden type was being used since the 6th century, the metal type forged the way for the first mass printing of newpapers. In 1690, the first American newspaper was published.
Around 1890, yellow journalism was the new trend in the media. Yellow jounalism emphasized sensationalism and entertainment. This led to the 1920’s, when jazz journalism or tabloids began to circulate. Tabloids also had a sensational approach to the news and also had many illustrations. Then came perhaps the biggest influence of them all: television. “When I was a child, one thing I will always remember is John F. Kennedy’s funeral. That was one of the first politically related topics I had ever seen. Then, when Lee Harvey Oswald was killed on live television, it seemed to make the world a lot smaller place,” says Gretchen Sampson, a respected county employee. Also, shows such as “60 minutes,” “Nightline,” and “Meet the Press,” often feature politicians who present their viewpoints on political issues to national audiences. CNN, a all news cable channel, features round the clock political updates. With all of this information, it is hard for the general public to keep up, unless they have a degree in political science. The internet is the latest medium the media uses to reach out to the public. Chat sessions with politicians and web sites explaining certain candidate’s views are just a few of the many ways people can learn more about today’s politics.
Today, most news corporations are owned and run by big corporations, such as Disney, Gannet, and Knight-Rider. Critics say ownership by these corporations cause the news to lose its’creativity and independence. Jeff Peterson, a local member of the Green Party and a candidate for State Treasurer, says that the influence of big business causes the news to be “filtered, and not in-depth.” In past political history, a politician’s private life was just that-private. Presidents such as Kennedy, Johnson, and Eisehower were known to be “ladie’s men.” Reporting this in the media, though, would be considered impolite and unacceptable. For example, Kennedy’s alleged connection with Marilyn Monroe was widely known throughout the country, but never mentioned in any type of publication. Tammy Swiontek, who has four years of experience in covering politics for the Inter-County Leader Newspaper, is quoted in a recent interview as saying: “Ethics 30 yrs ago were a lot more strictly followed. Today we are hearing the President’s grand jury testimony on live TV.” It is hard to understand how the media could go from timid mice to viscous sharks. One possible reason could be the competition for readers. In the headlines lately, there has been talk of reporters at various newspapers and television stations fabricating entire interviews and stories just to get readers or viewers. In fact, a few reporters found to have done these deeds were forced to resign or were fired from their positions. This shows how desperate certain reporters can get when trying to get the “exclusive” story.The Relationship Between the Media and Politicians After watching one newscast, one might say that the media only hurts politicians. That is only partly true. What we don’t sometimes realize, is that politicians use the media as a valuable service. Jeff Peterson, a local member of the Green Party and a candidate for state treasurer, says that the media and politicians are “co-dependent.” A politician’s message is easier to convey if an article is written about them. Most politicians try to develop good relationships with the local media so favorable things are written about them. For some papers, though, that is not always the case. Swiontek is required to not favor any political candidate one way or another when she reports on politics. She also could not even sport a political bumper sticker on the back of her car. So how does the media hurt politicians? By intensive investigative reporting and super critical stories. For example, Salon magazine, a internet only magazine, was the first to break the story of Henry Hyde’s affair. The traffic on that site went up 30% and the magazine literally became hot overnight. The consensus between all new services is that sex sells, especially if it is someone in the public eye. Although President Clinton admitted to having an affair with Monica Lewinsky, his approval ratings barely even moved. It seemed as though the public didn’t even care about the affair, but they sure loved reading about it. So did the media got too far in covering the Clinton scandal? Jeff Peterson says “Yes.
The seriousness of the alleged crimes was not put into perspective. I think that there were offenses committed by President Clinton in his bombing of the chemical plant in Afgahnistan and Sudan. He violated federal law by bombing a sovereign nation without going to Congress. This was widely overlooked because the media was so focused on the scandal.” The University of Pennsylvania analyzed newspapers from ten different states and found that the coverage of the gubernatorial races has dropped significantly in 1998 compared to 1994. The report stated that the decline was the direct effect of the increased coverage of the Clinton Scandal. Could the media have handled the situation differently? Swiontek claims they could have. “The media that was covering the scandal could have done it with a lot more taste and sensitivity to the issue at hand.” Sensitivity is an area that critics say the media is lacking. For instance, in Kenneth Starr’s report, he used phrases such as oral sex, fondling breasts with hands and mouths, and fondling genitalia. Although these are graphic phrases, the media argues that they are necessary for the public to know exactly what happened. Others believe this is too revealing to be told on national TV.
Local Politics vs. National Politics “It seems as though we tend to be more critcal of national figures. The more remote they are, the easier it is for us to hate and despise them,” remarks Jeff Peterson. It is easier for us to criticize national figures, for it seems as though our thoughts don’t mean very much to such a nationally known figure. For instance, we all think that our small town ideas don’t mean anything to such a big politician like Newt Gingrich. However; if we were to go to Bob Duelholm with our opinions, we feel he is more likely to take us seriously because we are directly responsible for putting him into office. The media bases it’s reports on how well known a person is known nationally. Critizing a nationally known figure is easy for them because everyone is aware of who they are and what siuation they are dealing with. To harass a small, local politician is almost pointless to them because of the limited people who know that politician. Not many people knew about President Clinton’s problems when he was just a governor of Arkansas. In fact, I bet very few people in Wisconsin could give updates on the Senate race in Maine. Basing their stories on a national level is an easy way to give circulation a boost. For example, an article in a national magazine about the Senate race in Maine limits the number of readers because of lack of interest about that particular subject. Views of the Media and Politicians Obviously, every person has their own views about politicians and the media. According to Jeff Peterson, “I think the majority of the public views politicians with a certain amount of distrust. They feel that most politicians are saying only what the public wants to hear.” In a lot of cases that is true. George Bush, while running for President promised “no new taxes.” Soon into his term, he raised taxes on middle class Americans. “The general view of politicians by the public is that they are nothing more than sleazy people who are only looking out for themselves,” says Swiontek, “That is generally untrue from my experience. I have covered many stories where politicians are working their hardest to keep the promises they make. Although they are sometimes unsuccessful in keeping those promises, the effort is there.” So why does the public have such negative views about politicians? Generally it comes from the media reporting on the bad and not the good. For example, Clinton is the first President in a long time to actually obtain a government surplus instead of a deficit, but still his problems get more ink than his acheivements. Politicians, on the other hand, generally view the media as a link between themselves and the public. “Without the media, us politicians would have no way of getting our message out,” say Peterson, “Like they say, negative press is better than no press.” Being co-dependent with the media is a key to getting into office. “We spread the word that so-and-so is running and that his policy is this or that. You wouldn’t believe how much we actually help them,” remarks Swiontek. The media can also turn on a politician in a instant. Newt Gingrich was doing pretty well for himself, until word of his apparent trouble with the IRS surfaced. Suddenly, the media turned from his best friend into his worst enemy. Reports from practically every news organization in the country were calling for blood. Whatever may make a headline and gain reader attention is good enough for the media to print.The Privacy Issue Certain responsibilities come with being in the public eye. The real debate is whether being in the public eye means having no private life. Jeff Peterson says, “No. I think that everyone needs a private life and it should be no ones business but their own.” He makes a good point. The media knew of John F. Kennedy’s connection with organized crime, but left it as his own private business. Today, it seems as though no public figure can have a private life. Princess Diana, for example, could not go anywhere without the media hounding her. Even in her fatal car crash, instead of helping her, photographers stood and took pictures. So where can the line be drawn. “The question of Have I gone to far?’ should pop into the heads of every reporter before they print a story. I know in my case I pose that question to myself every time,” claims Swiontek. This is the area where the media gets itself a bad name. Sometimes, in the heat of a story, they forget their real job of reporting the news and instead go for the big headline, no matter who they hurt in the process.
Although, sometimes that is the case, we forget that the person they hurt perhaps did something wrong. Even in local papers, when a person gets a DWI it gets written in the paper. Just because that person may not be a public figure, he is now stereotyped as a drunk. Not all of the time is it the media’s fault. We must remember that if the person did not do something wrong, they wouldn’t be in the story in the first place.The Media’s Influence on the Public “When reporting the news to the public, all journalists are taught to remember that they do influence people’s lives,” says Tammy Swiontek, “If we did not remember this, it would be very hard for us to keep our stories in prospective.” The public is generally very trusting of the media and depends on them for basically all of their information in the world of politics. If we had national media back in the early 1900’s, there is no way our nation would have elected a President who was in a wheelchair. What the public receives from the media is thought of as the truth. “It is hard to measure how much of an effect the media has on the public,” remarks Jeff Peterson. “A lot of times, the public is going to believe whatever the media tells them. That, to me, is a bad thing.” Another influence of the media on the public are the campaign ads that litter our television sets during election years. These are ads that try to help politicians, but a lot of times it can hurt more than it can help. For example, in the Minnesota gubernatorial race, the two major candidates are busy telling people why they shouldn’t vote for their oponent. Meanwhile, a third party candidate is slowly gaining ground on the both of them. Money is another issue in politics right now. It is said that the common man can no longer hold political office for the plain fact that it costs too much money to run for a major office. The truth is, if you don’t have the money, you are not going to get the media attention that they may deserve.