Does the News Media Affect U.S. Public Perspective?
The news media is recognized as the fourth estate apart from the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of the government. It has a special role to the public such that it has earned this title. However, such a title also comes with a responsibility—a responsibility to report only the truth and in a balanced manner. Responsible journalists must always strive to maintain balanced reporting free of biases or personal interests. News media bias has actually become a common thing because of special interests. Large media organizations often have financial interests; aside from its social responsibility of balanced reporting, it also has business interests that it needs to maintain. This has led to the public having a distorted perspective when it comes to certain issues. Sensationalism or media bias is another factor that identifies an irresponsible media organization. It is otherwise known as yellow journalism and it negatively affects public perspective. In some cases, it may even be considered as a form of negative propaganda. The media remains to be a strong tool in determining how American citizens develop a perspective on numerous issues and a good number of studies has proven this.
The news media is the people’s primary source of information about government and politics. This is the reason why a lot of attention has been devoted to measuring how the media affects public perspective. The media can affect public perception by taking a side when reporting or merely by choosing what to report and what not to report (Gerber, Karlan & Bergan 2). Numerous studies have pointed that the news media is an effective tool to control how the public views a certain issue.
Media Bias and Framing
Media bias is a major issue in journalism which greatly affects the public view. A study at the UCLA indicated that media biases do exist. The study also indicated that newspapers tend to be liberal while television news broadcasts and radio news broadcasts tend to be less liberal. The UCLA study may be considered as the first study that provided objectively quantified results from a number of media outlets while also ranking them (Sullivan).
Framing is another important aspect of journalism. Depending on how the journalist frames the news article affects the reader’s perception of the issue. A frame is also known as the central theme of a news story. It is identified by researchers as the “organizing idea or story line that provides meaning to an unfold strip of events, weaving a concoction among them” (Detenber, Gotlieb, McLeod & Malinkina 441).
Numerous studies presented how framing effects affect public perception. Iyengar (1990, 1991) indicated that framing a story on social problems greatly affects the reader’s perception as to what caused the problems and what can be done to fix it. Different frames also influence political campaigns. Rhee (1997) has led the study on “strategic” versus “issue”; Shen (2004) on “issue” versus “character”; Shah, Domke and Wakman (1996, 2001) on “ethical” versus “material”; Keum (2005) on “individual” versus “group”. Price, Tewksbury, and Powers (1997) differentiated between “human interest”, “conflict”, and “personal consequences” frames in newspaper stories relating to university funding. On the other hand, Shoemaker (1982) delved on how the qualities of a news story affect the perception on the legitimacy of political groups (Detenber, et al. 441-442).
Frames may also affect a person’s perception and judgment by making some aspects of a news article more salient such that it will become the focus of the article. These parts are critical in the reader’s understanding of the news and the news being framed so that a part may appear more salient will affect their perception and evaluation of the news (Detenber, Gotlieb, McLeod & Malinkina 442).
News that are meant to sway the minds of people may do just so but it is also possible that the audience will not lean towards what is depicted in the news media because of certain factors such that the audience may have an updated belief or they identify that the sources used by the media institution lack merit. The readers may also have a tendency to contest the biased content in the news. This overcompensates for the bias depicted in the news media (Gerber, et al. 2).
Effects of Media on Perception of Police Brutality
One study looked into the social perception of newspaper content on police brutality. The study answered two questions; whether the reports gave them a perception that they are susceptible to such actions by violent law enforcers and whether newspapers depictions of law enforcement affect public construction of a more general and even a negative law enforcement reality. The media has always devoted a more than ample amount of attention on such cases wherein authorities abuse their powers. This is the watchdog role portrayed by journalists in a government under democratic rule. The results of the study indicated that newspaper content that expose police brutality has increased the perception of readers of the likelihood that they will be exposed to such acts of abuse. It was proven that exposure to such articles caused people to expect that they will become victims of police brutality in the future. The results were also in line with the exemplification theory which states that “environmental phenomena, in this case, newspaper articles, serves as exemplars referenced through a representativeness heuristic in making judgements about future events” (Payne & Dozier).
It has been clearly drawn that faith in responsible law enforcement is negatively affected by extra-legal measures used by law enforcers. The reputation of the entire police force is harmed in the process and the negative image will have an effect on public policy and perception of public safety (Payne & Dozier). Instead of feeling a sense of security in the presence of law enforcers, the public may feel a bit unsafe knowing that the law enforcers themselves are the ones who could cause them harm. The entirety of the police force, even the responsible and the diligent, maybe identified as abusive.
Effects of Media on Politics
In another aspect, the news media has also been identified as having direct effects on voting behaviour and political opinions in the United States. A study indicated that newspapers greatly affect political attitudes, behaviour, and subject knowledge and that even a minimal exposure to a daily newspaper affects public opinion and voting behaviour. The study compared individuals exposed to two newspapers, the Washington Times and the Washington Post. People who read the Washington Post tend to lean to the left. The study also noted that those who read the Washington Times did not necessarily have a tendency to lean people towards the right even as previous research has indicated that the Post is inclined to the left while the Times is inclined to the right. The study also pointed out that it the news media affects voting behaviour but the effect is not substantial (Gerber, et al. 9, 18-19).
Depending on what newspaper the people read affected which candidate they supported in the elections as the Post supported the Democrats and the Times supported the Republicans. Those who read the Post had a higher tendency to support the Democrats. However, those who read the Times also had a higher tendency to vote for Democrats but this may be because the democrat candidate received balanced treatment from the Times (Gerber, et al. 14).
Additionally, another study indicated that “newspaper exposure does not increase political knowledge but increases political discussion” (Mondak). A person may already have a vast political knowledge before being exposed to a news report but acquiring knowledge through the news media paves way for political discourse.
Effects of Media on Foreign Affairs
The news media was also found to have a substantial effect on foreign relations. Soroka acknowledged the media “plays a significant role in determining public attention to foreign affairs”. It is through media coverage that people get to know about foreign relations and not through personal experiences. However, in studying the effects of media on foreign affairs, confusion between media content and reality may exist (Soroka 42-43).
A central issue in the study of media effects is being able to distinguish between the effects that are truly media driven and effects that are simply the product of real world indicators. If the media are only reflecting real-world circumstances, what may appear as a media effect is more appropriately viewed as a real-world effect. In short “media effects” lie somewhere in the gap that exist between media content and reality. (Soroka 31)
According to McNelly and Izcaray, it is the media that shapes the understanding or misunderstanding of other countries. How the media portrays a nation affects how it is perceived by the people. The media is the main tool for shaping the national mind. Consequently, the image held by a country will affect its relation with that country (Saleem 130). For example, we can say that the United States does not have a very good image of Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries, thus, resulting in a not so good relationship between the two countries. They may be trading with each other, considering that the Middle East is a top producer of oil while the U.S. is the top user of oil other, but hate crimes targeted towards Middle Eastern people is not new especially when the twin towers of the World Trade Center were bombed simultaneously with the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. The media has put so much attention on the attacks and how it is linked to Al Qaeda that hate has been targeted towards people from the Middle East.
Framing also plays an important role in determining how a country develops an image with the U.S. media. Numerous studies have tried to pinpoint the factors that affect the shaping of a country’s image. The following factors have been identified as responsible for shaping an image of other countries in the U.S. media: (1) “influence of U.S. government policy on media’s organizational policy”, (2) “context of national interest”, (3) “the U.S. government influence on U.S. media’s contents”, (4) “economic interest”, (5) “U.S. media framed foreign country’s image as negative where U.S. interest are insignificant”, (6) “influence of media’s personnel bias and stereotypes and its impact on framing of Muslims countries image”, (7) “U.S. media framed country image as negative where U.S involved in war”, (8) “U.S. media reliance on official sources and its impact on framing of foreign countries image,” and (9) “media ideology as a determinant in framing foreign counties image”. From these, we can indicate that the U.S. gives a substantial favourable media coverage for the countries where it holds special interests (Saleem 137-153).
The number of studies pointing the news media as having an effect on public perspective of U.S. citizens is far too many to ignore. The news media affects different aspects of public perspective, a study has pointed that reporting on police brutality affects the people’s perception of law enforcers. It has also been proven to affect the political behaviour and tendencies of the people as well as their perception of foreign affairs. Media bias done through framing has become a common journalistic that negatively affect public perspective. It is as if the media is manipulating how the public will view a certain issue. However, not all media bias is accepted by the people. Some challenge the statements of the media because their sources may be unreliable or they clearly abide by a negative journalistic practice.
Detenber, Benjamin; Gotlieb, Melissa; McLeod, Douglas & Malinkina, Olga. “Frame Intensity Effects of Television News Stories About a High-Visibility Protest Issue.” Mass Communication and Society (2007):441-442.
Gerber, Alan; Karlan, Dean & Bergan, Daniel. “Does the Media Matter? A Field Experiment Measuring the Effects of Newspapers on Voting Behavior and Political Opinions.” (2007):2, 14, 18-19.
Mondak, Jeffrey. “Media Exposure and Political Discussions in U.S. Elections.” The Journal of Politics 57(1).
Payne, Gregg & Dozier, David. “Brutal Cops, News Coverage and Public Perception of Law Enforcement: An Experimental Investigation of Reality Construction. Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences 1(2) (2007).
Saleem, Noshina. “U.S. Media Framing of Foreign Countries Image: An Analytical Perspective.” Canadian Journal of Medical Studies 2(1):130, 137-153.
Soroka, Stuart N. “Media, Public Opinion, and Foreign Policy.” Press/Politics 8(1) (2003):31, 42-43.
Sullivan, Meg. “Media Bias Is Real, Finds UCLA Political Scientist.” UCLA Newsroom. 14 December 2005. Accessed October 15, 2008, from http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/Media-Bias-Is-Real-Finds-UCLA-6664.aspx