In the United Stats, many citizens look to the media as their source of entertainment, general information, or education. It is difficult to dispute the impact that the media has had on the public in our country. With such influence, many scholars have wondered how the media may have adversely affected society. Through various experts and authors, it is clear that the media has created a more paranoid and deeply partisan society in the United States. Due to this alarming fact, we have seen an increase in tension, struggle, and outward aggression towards each other, as well as the development of a very aggressive society. Some scholars even claim that the general public does what it is told by the media due to a lack of motivation to think for themselves.
Edward Greenberg and Benjamin Page, political experts, in the book The Struggle for Democracy state, "For years, a number of journalists and scholars have maintained that the media tend to favor Republicans, the establishment, and conservative views, reflecting their corporate ownership and their dependence on official sources for the news." (170) In addition, Greenberg and Page point out that even during Democratic Presidents, and liberal movements such as the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's, the media tends to shy away from liberal experts. (170) To further expound and justify this stance, the authors point to a study conducted by Lexis-Nexis from January 1999 to October 2000 which showed that in news stories covered in that period, there were 949 references to experts from conservative groups, and only 161 references to liberal experts. (170) They do go on to say that when you include all forms of media, however, it is very difficult to say that the media is 100% biased, due largely in part to the explosion of the internet, various papers, magazines, as well as programs. (171) While it is hard to show that the media may be biased in the fullest sense of the word, it is apparent that mainstream media is very biased and involved in partisan politics. When studies indicate that a majority of the mainstream media favor only one side of an issue, it is then reasonable to assume that this will directly affect the conclusions drawn on the topic, as well as dictate the direction of the dialogue on the issue. A majority of Americans still drawn their information, especially about politics, from the mainstream; news programs, papers, and magazines. While blogging and the internet may even some of this out, many people, due to being involved in such a polarized partisan mindset, tend to stay clear of trying to find out about the other side of an issue. This is continuing the one-sided view on many debates.
With so many different outlets to get information, a majority of Americans still turn to mainstream media in order to gather information, as stated above. The accessibility of mainstream media in America is much greater than other forms, and simply by word of mouth, may also travel much quicker. As Kelton Rhoads points out in his article, "Media Framing," that the media had much to do with the decline of President George H.W. Bush after the Gulf War. We went into the conflict due to the fact that our ally, Kuwait, was being invaded by Iraq. Many Americans were not too familiar with the struggles that the nation was facing, and therefore did not have much information on hand to draw many opinions. Much like today, most of the information on the conflict came directly from the media, and their reporting of the events of the war. One must remember that during this time period, there was not a lot of disagreement with America defending Kuwait, due largely to the role that America has played in international relations for decades, that of one of defender. Directly after the war ended, Bush had a 90% approval rating, which was the highest in American history. This was contributed largely to the fact that the media reported positively on our being in Kuwait. (Rhoads) Why then, did the approval rating for the President afterwards decline so quickly? "Researchers Krosnick & Brannon (1993) used national survey data to answer this very question. During 1992, the media refocused its attentions from the war to the national economy. Based on sophisticated statistical analyses, Krosnick & Brannon demonstrated that this media refocus largely accounted for Bush's declining popularity in 1992," Rhoads furthers points out. Due to this fact, and throughout many years of research, it is more obvious that the public is highly influenced by the media, and can swing the general opinion of the population. "Because of this and similar research, many media experts are once again viewing the public as passive recipients of "hypodermic" media injections. Yeah, that's right: people are told what to think by the media. And the vast majority of people obediently think as they're told. It's just human nature--who has the time or the energy to sort out all the issues one's self? The media does this for us. It offers us safe, often comforting opinions that appear to be the consensus of the nation. (The internet is a chink in the armor.)" (Rhoads) With this information, and the years of research to back it up, it shows clearly that the media has direct influence over opinions of politics in America. With refocusing of information on someone's weakness, they can swing the popular opinion of the American public with ease. How can a nation go from 90% of those polled supporting a President, to a short time later, wanting him out of office? Much like Rhoads points out, it is due to the fact that Americans no longer have the desire to make the decisions for themselves. They would rather regurgitate information back then actually formulate an opinion.
A conflicting point to this would lie in the article, "The Influence of Media in Presidential Politics." In the article, Vive Griffith explores the basics of media, rather than the effects. In presenting the information, he advises that the media has actually put a more human face onto politics, and due to the influence that the media gained, primarily during the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt; politicians now are judged on their stances as well as their personality and character. President Roosevelt, faced with some of the largest problems that the nation ever had to deal with, knew how to communicate with the citizens. He started his "fire-side chats" in an effort to soothe many Americans and their tension during the time of war and economic stagnation. He knew that by keeping citizens in the "loop" that it would quell some of the fears that they had. He originally started giving the chats in an effort to garner support for his New Deal, but also to keep his popularity up during the Great Depression. After the Depression started to wind down, Roosevelt continued to use this weekly radio address to discuss various aspects of war-time policy as well as to keep America updated on the country's involvement in the conflict. Due to this, many politicians realized the importance of using mass media in order to gain support for themselves and the legislation that they were trying to pass. The reason that the media gained such power, Griffith explains, is mainly due to the opportunity that the media provides the voter. "For the voter, personality may be easier to grasp than voting records and positions. And it's an easy quality for television—which revels in stereotypes and thrives on drama—to communicate. But there's nothing to suggest a correlation between personality and leadership skills. There have been ineffective presidents who were considered great people, effective presidents with prickly personalities." (Griffith) With this in mind, Griffith goes on to say, "Therein lies one of the dangers of politics in an age of media: the media can give importance to things that in reality have little significance. And sometimes the stories that become big stories become so out of convenience rather than out of impact," and "Outside of the political arena, this tendency pushes stories like the charges against Michael Jackson and the murder of Lacy Peterson to the forefront. This election year, it drives the media focus on the respective military careers of Bush and Kerry. It may be the first in a number of stories that will grab the headlines and lead the newscasts while not having enduring significance for the nation." (Griffith) For its part, the media knows what kind of power it has in the country. As Griffith puts it, "In this one way, politics may be little changed. In February one of the stories that got a lot of attention was how Democratic frontrunner Howard Dean lost his footing and made poor showings in Iowa and other early primaries. According to the media, the media's own focus on Dean's reputation as a hothead and man who does not suffer fools gladly was responsible for his fall." This shows that not only does the media influence the public, but it is wholly aware of the power that it has, which can be a dangerous thing. While overall, the author does not feel that the media has the pull that other experts think it has, it is obvious that through the reports and the mindset of the media, they have much more pull than many want to accept. One of the major points that the media has forgotten, it seems, is the fact that the politicians gave them their power in the first place. If it had not been for individuals like Roosevelt, the media would never had the opportunity to get so close to those in government, and therefore, be able to shape American thought and perception on so many issues.
With all of this information and statistical proof, it is obvious that the media has created a much more partisan public in America. With the statistical proof, and the media's own admission to their influence, it has become quite obvious that they pull a lot more weight in the country than many believe. The one main point that they tend to forget, however, is that they have their power due to two main sources; the politicians and the public. If Americans decided to started formulating and researching for themselves, media would loose quite a bit of influence on society. On the converse side, if politicians started to cut off reporters from such detailed information, they would have the same knowledge as the average person on the side of the road, and loose quite a bit of credibility. The power of the media is undeniable, and is a double-edged sword. The question is broached, however, will America finally start to stand on its own two feet and decipher things for themselves, or will the media continue its "strangle-hold" on public opinion. Only time will tell.