Media plays a vital role in our lives because it links us to the government and news. But wait, does it really do this? What exactly is the media of today all about? Where does the truth of what's happening around us lie? What are the motives of those who provide us with information? There are six models Jan E. Leighley, author of Mass Media and Politics: A Social Science Perspective, discuses and attempts to portray the media.
The Neutral Adversary model explains the media as playing a role in monitoring government officials. Reporters act as a "check" on the government. People are motivated by self-interest and we need to limit them.
The Public Advocate Model says that journalists have a social responsibility to engage government officials and the public in debates on political issues. They are there to provide entertainment along with the facts. They see citizens as their main source and subject of news coverage.
The Profit-Seeker model is all about business and making money for the shareholders. Mostly every source from which we get our news is owned by one of a few corporations.
The Propaganda model describes the media as working as advocates for corporate and governmental interests. "Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play." Joseph Goebbles, Hitler's spokesperson once said. For example, the White House and the press have a symbiotic relationship. They love and hate each other at the same time. The press core needs information from the White House and the White House needs the press to send a certain message out. Therefore, they must compromise with one another and agree on the information that is shared.
The Objective Fact model explains that reporters are there to provide us with information. They have no agenda, but only to give us objective facts.
The final example is the de Toqueville Model. This model is one in which the media must serve the public with useful information that can be readily digested and applied. They can then apply it to their own self-governance.
These models make up today's media. The one that should be held as a standard by which we evaluate the performance of media in a pluralist, democratic polity is the Objective Fact Model. The beauty of objectivity is that it presents just the facts without anyone's personal and political beliefs or interpretations, just the content of the story. In this model, the news actually mirrors reality. Leighley provides a great explanation,
"For decades, CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite ended the evening newscast with the pronouncement 'and that's the world tonight.' Cronkite was suggesting that the thirty-minute show (consisting of approximately twenty-two minutes of news and eight minutes of advertising) provided its viewers with a window on the world. The more precise metaphor for this model is that the mass media act as a mirror of events beyond viewers' direct observations. The idea is that the image in that mirror is a perfect reflection of the world, with no distortions ('the facts') and no exclusions.
A major assumption of the reporters of objective fact model is that the mass media play a limited role in political communication between government and citizen. That is, the mass media are merely a conduit for information, tools used by citizens and government officials to expand their scope of vision or communication, not active participants in the communication process. Beyond providing an accurate and true portrayal of the factual world of politics and society, according to this model, the media have no particular role of function to perform."
Yet, the majority of media, especially MSM, play a greater role in our time. The very act of deciding what's news, the way that a story is described, the words used, how much time a story gets and the reputation of reporters already show different forms of bias.
Firstly, reporters have taken on their own personal role. They are not just a channel there to provide information. They have an image, reputation and you can sometimes have a good idea of their personal perspectives. As Professor Pimpare put on his blog, on September 7th, 2006, the musical tribute to Katie Couric on her first night as anchor on CBS News is pretty comical. This doesn't seem to show that MSM is seriously following the Objective Model.
When Mainstream Media first began, Newspapers made no pretense of objectivity, profit seekers or any of those models. They were propagandists. The Jefferson Republicans had theirs, as did Alexander Hamilton’s Federal Party. Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay compiled The Federalist Papers, a series of 85 articles published without their names on them in daily newspapers serving as an interpretation of the Constitution. They argued for changes to the constitution and used these papers as a means to reach that end. Then as we move to the late 1800s, muckrakers such as Jacob Riis and Lincoln Stevens revealed the corruption taking place in their time and the awful condition of workers. At the beginning of the 20th Century and the age of industrialization, media started to move from being partisan to more objective.
Hamilton argues that the 1970s marked a shift in the nature of news. Since then, the obligation of news went from providing people with information that they need to know to what they want to know. There are three areas that caused this shift; enhancements in technology, ownership and differentiation along with product definition. News has shifted from being hard to soft, the tone has become more negative and there has been a general decline in the coverage of important matters. This is what makes the Objective Fact model so hard to maintain, but necessary for our society.
Mainstream Media (MSM) is doing an appalling job providing citizens with the objective information they need in a proper format. The way a story is framed effects how it is perceived. For example the way that MSM discusses Iraq as a "War on Terror" is a frame. They have told people how to think about these events. There is also a very big difference between reports from Al Jazeera and The New York Times. Most Americans won't bother to look for another source outside of TV news, let alone read the Times and will most likely believe the first information they hear or read. I like to believe that the Times is one of the more reliable sources, but it still is far from being an ideal model and people must look at other news as well. We can not expect to escape from agenda setting, priming or framing. Yet, if MSM chose to focus on the vital issues we are facing, in an objective manner, we would be in much better shape.
Global Warming is a very important issue that will deeply effect future generations. In a recent article in The New York Times, the uphill trend of temperatures continues. As Professor Pimpare sourced in a blog on September 21, 2006, from World Public Opinion.org, a strong majority of Americans are aware of the danger of Global Warming and would endorse action to prevent it. Yet, what is being done about this issue? While MSM should be focusing on these types of matters, they have found other stories, for their own reasons, to be more newsworthy.
I guess some peoples' lives really revolve around celebrities, but just because they are pathetic, should not mean the news has to go along with it. One instance is the crazy media coverage that John Karr got in the Jon Benet case. The guy turned out to be lying and millions of viewers were forced to sit through endless coverage of him. The baby boom and divorces in Hollywood also took precious time away from real news. The saddest part of it all is that the media is more objective in their reporting of celebrities than they are when it comes to the real issues.
When Steven Aftergood came to speak to our class earlier in the semester, he gave excellent insight on Government secrecy. In a blog that I wrote after the lecture, I noted the large costs of this secrecy and vast amount of information the government leaves unexposed. After a semester of studying the media and taking a good look at objectivity in MSM, I realize that by them leaving information unspoken or taking a story out of context, we are being limited on two accounts. The media and government have made it impossible for us to see the big picture, because we do not know what aspects they have hidden from us. Most of what they conceal is probably insignificant and facts we are entitled to know. If media was to attempt to be more objective then they should at least make us aware that certain information is being concealed from a story. Then people would not spend countless hours on debates and theories to something that might be completely irrelevant.
New Media has opened the doors for a new and credible alternative to mainstream media. As Leighley explains,
"The internet developed in the early 1980s as an extension of computer networking capabilities originally developed for the Department of Defense. The first extension of these technological advances beyond military research facilities was their use in a high-speed electronic communications network of large research universities. Transmitting brief electronic mail (e-mail) messages and databases, the network gradually encompassed a wide range of research universities and teaching colleges. Additional linkages to major federal labs and agencies quickly established the Internet as a basic mode of communication in the academic and scientific communities.The internet, especially blogs, gives each citizen the opportunity to act as an objective journalist. These new forms of technology allow anything to become a public event. Real time bloggers rexamine information they receive, often before MSM does. They can spot errors and bias in the media and make their voices heard. They might even end up reaching MSM if their call is strong enough.
With the public availability of personal computers and the development of graphics-based programming packages, the commercial potential of the Internet became evident, and the private sector responded dramatically."
With all that we were learning about New Media, it was fascinating to see its influence and effect on Politics. In the last Presidential election, the coverage of Howard Dean speaking to supporters in Iowa shows him screaming and acting out of control. It quickly passed around the Internet and framed him as a crazy man and took away any small chance he had at getting the Democratic nomination.
The Midterm Elections this past November provide an instance of a candidate who would not have stood a chance if not for the features of New Media. The news was all over the Senatorial Election in Connecticut from the Democratic Primary over the summer up until Election Day. Aside from his popular anti-war stance, Ned Lamont owes a great deal of his victory in the Primary over Lieberman to devout bloggers. Lamont and his bloggers weren't strong enough to win the general election, but the fact that the bloggers helped bring him as far as they had was remarkable. Personally, I stuck with Joe all along (as my shirt that can not be seen says).
There are some forms of New Media that have a way of completely altering information to being very far from the objective truth. As Dan Gillmor explores in, We The Media: Grassroots Journalism By The People, For The People, there are ways that new media can mislead viewers. He explains,
"In early 2004, John Kerry's presidential campaign drew fire when conservative web critics- and several gullible newspapers-published a composite photograph of him and Jane Fonda, one of the right wing's favorite targets. Kerry and Fonda, in a photo that turned out to have been doctored, were shown 'together' at a 1970s rally protesting the Vietnam War. It was unclear who created the fake picture, but the willingness of many people to trust this picture spoke volumes about how easy it is to manipulate public opinion.
Moreover, the incident was only the latest demonstration of a truly pernicious trend of modern fakery. Photos are evidence of nothing imparticular."