Thursday, May 26, 2011

Media and Politics: An Epilogue

Well, it's over. Another semester gone, finals and papers to look forward to. We definitely had an interesting semester in Media & Politics. From media bias to presidential campaign ads and the polarization/politicization of the media, we've learned a lot about the media. Its been an educational and fun experience. I think that there are a few things that we can take from the experience: media bias does exist (though to different degrees depending on the topic and one reporting it), the media can be an effective tool or enemy, over the last century the media has become somewhat commercialized (with infotainment type news and cable tv), and the media has become polarized (perhaps reflecting the political environment). I think that from now on we will all be wiser when dealing with media matters and will be more objective and open minded than we were before, and might even try to use more than one source for our news in order to diversify and increase our knowledge (of both sides).

Osama and the Media

By now the whole world is aware of the death of Osama bin Laden. Ignoring for a second all the political ramifications of his death, I'd like to bring up the numerous media references to his execution. From Saturday Night Live to Facebook, there have been many mentions of it.

I don't know about anyone else, but I first heard about his death while on facebook. I was working on some assignment, and was up later than usual with facebook on in a separate window. I occassionally glanced at my facebook news feed to see what my friends were doing in order to distract myself from the assignment every 10 or 15 minutes. I don't remember the exact time, but I started to see posts saying things like "We got him!" and stuff like that. Eventually, people began posting more details, and I realized what had happened.

The next episode of Saturday Night Live, with Tina Fey as the host, featured several references to the event, including a skit called "Mermaid" which was a parody of The Little Mermaid movie in which Osama's body floated down to the characters, who didn't want that kind of sea trash around. Bin Laden was also a main component of the following weeks' cold open, where Fred Armisen played a triumphant Obama who couldn't stop talking about how he killed Osama during a speech that was supposed to be about an entirely different topic. While amusing, this does bring up the real possibility of this event being a factor in Obama's favor during the next election.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Media Bias: An Epilogue

We have recently been listening to (and giving) presentations about media bias when certain media sources discuss specific issues. A wide variety of issues have been brought up, from the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as other Middle-East issues to health care reform and the global warming issue. Many of us actually used the same sources, perhaps even the same articles and videos. It is therefore surprising that a few people who worked on the same issue had different or at least slightly different conclusions.

Despite the discrepancies, it seems (to me at least) that most of us found at least a slight leaning if not bias toward one side or another. As one would expect, certain sources tended to have more of this bias or leaning than others. Surprisingly enough though, those same, customarily biased or at least non-objective, sources seemed to be more objective about certain topics, such as global warming. Perhaps this shows us something about the nature of bias: it definitely exists, though its extent depends on the topic at hand and can therefore vary from minimal to fully prevalent in media coverage.

This observation is somewhat understandable, if we think about it for a minute we would realize that all of us feel strongly (in positive or negative ways) about at least a couple of issues and would likely discuss them in a way that supports our own views. Based on this observation, I believe most of us can agree that media bias, however prevalent it is, tends to be found more often when reporters, journalists, and anchors are writing or discussing issues that that they feel emotionally attached to. Not only should we try to read or view as many sources as are reasonable in order to get the whole picture, but we should keep in mind the possibility that the author or anchor's reporting may be influenced by his or her personal opinions, particularly in regard to controversial or debated topics.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Entertainment Journalism: Good or Bad?

We recently learned about the effect that media personalities such as Jon Stewart can potentially have on legislation. The nature of such influence is understandably indirect. Stewart is hardly a politician, and his audience is primarily composed of people who already have a tendency to agree with his views. His influence is felt through such mediums as the internet and main stream media, which in turn have an effect on public awareness and politicians. Putting aside the debate over whether or not professionals in the "entertainment journalism" industry have such an effect, one might wonder whether such an effect is a good or bad thing.

Granted, in the case we discussed Stewart's efforts seem noble and he did get positive results. However, that may not always be. What if Stewart or another "journalist" like him supports an issue or legislation that is to the detriment of the American government or people? After all, the industry is most likely not based on objectivity and non-partisanship. One day, such "journalists" might let their partisanship get the better of them, or perhaps they might be misguided and cause the people and politicians to make a mistake.

Entertainment journalism is indeed entertainment. It is entertaining. But, when members of the field use their position to influence the people and government, it probably won't end well. Then again, if their influence is as intangible and irrelevent as some suggest, this isn't an issue at all. I would suggest that viewers observe the industry and keep tabs on the extent and variety of such influence.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


We have recently discussed in class the phenomenon of polarization. The perceived polarization of American politics and media is not only an important topic for our class, but for anyone who is even slightly interested in recent political events. The recent possibility of a government shutdown is particularly illustrative of the type of politics that would seem to suggest that American politics are increasingly polarized. However, most studies and research has shown that polarization, despite what almost all of us might think, does not exist.

I personally believe at times that there is significant polarization in this country. However, there is no evidence to support such a belief. Despite what some, such as Abramovitz, might say, the majority opinion is that polarization does not exist, and that even if it does it is confined to a minority segment of the population. As Fiorina put it in conjunction with the "median voter theorem", the majority of the population is in the middle and only a few extremists are polarized. This accounts for the tendency of politicians (particularly presidential candidates) to be more to the right or left during primaries and to move toward the center during general elections. Also supporting this theory are studies which suggest that most people's ideologies are influenced by people whose opinion they trust and absorb, called cue givers, who may be influenced by (if not members of) the elite or extremist segments of the population, and they are the kinds of people who are becoming more polarized.

Whether you believe that polarization exists or not, or if it is a significant problem or not, you may have observed the rising trend among politicians and the media in recent years to be increasingly contemptuous toward their opponents, particularly after certain events that they believe support the truth of their own ideology. Whether politicians and the American people are polarized or not, there definitely seems to be more animosity between the two major political parties, and less enthusiasm for bipartisan endeavors. This goes to show that extremism is not limited to our enemies abroad. However, while I do not like such fanaticism, from what we have learned it seems that such elements are necessary in order to maintain a balance and to ensure decisive action by whomever is in charge. As with many topics discussed this semester, polarization (if it exists) seems to be a necessary evil (much like Facebook, the media, and the internet in general).

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A New Age (Again)?

Our recent readings have been primarily about the revolutionary innovations in information technology and how they have affected presidential campaigns. This "revolution" was evident during the in-class group project about candidate strategies and overall campaigns. Every group had numerous ideas about how their candidate could most effectively utilize recent technological developments such as online social networking, blogging, and video posting/chatting sites. There were far fewer options proposed on how to best incorporate older campaign methods such as mass-mailings, door-to-door campaigning, along with radio and tv (even newspaper) commercials. Some of these older methods were not even mentioned. It's probably safe to say that we are indeed entering a new age, as Samuel Greengard's article mentioned, though I don't believe that this is such a surprising, or even original, transformation.

The creation of the radio and then its' widespread distribution during the early 20th century among the American populace produced a similar impact on American politics. Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "Fireside Chats" during his years as president can be seen as just as revolutionary as Barack Obama's effective use of the internet during his 2008 campaign. Roosevelt's radio addresses to the nation during the 1930s and 1940s were an unprecedented political tactic. Never before had a politician been able to interact with the American people on such a personal and far-reaching level. His inspired use of what was then the latest technological innovation to be available on a national and multi-class level contributed to his popularity and support among the people. So too, Barack Obama's creative use of the internet contributed to his widespread popularity (particularly among younger generations).

Greengard's article mentions that a previous candidate during the 2004 election had also used the internet as part of his campaign strategy. Greengard implies that Barack Obama took what this previous candidate had done through the internet and took it to the next level for the first time in the political arena. I am in no way attempting to downplay Greengard's (probably true) description of Obama's innovative use of the internet by mentioning Roosevelt and his fireside chats. What I am proposing is that such "revolutions" are a natural by-product of technological innovations, that savvy politicians who keep track of such developments are more likely to win elections, and that such information revolutions will likely occur in ever increasing intervals in the future.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Political Advertising: The Pros And Cons

This past week we spent a considerable amount of time discussing political advertising campaigns, and even had the pleasure of watching a considerable number of presidential campaign ads in class. We learned about negative ads and content free ads, among others. Since then I've been wondering, why do we bother to watch them? Before anyone who reads this starts criticizing me (perhaps as a result of the reflexive emotional response such a strong statement is capable of eliciting, the type of reaction political ads tend seek), I will admit that campaign ads do have legitimate purposes. However, after our recent lectures and readings on the subject I don't believe that those purposes are beneficial to the viewer (theoretically the average American).

Political ads are usually intended to spread publicity about a specific candidate, policy, issue, or party and/or to swing public opinion in favor of said candidate, policy, issue, or party. This objective is usually of no help to the viewer. For example, what do ads showing candidates kissing babies, standing with the American flag, shaking hands, and so forth truly reveal about that candidate? Since the first campaign ads were introduced they have informed the viewer about very few facts, instead publicizing the candidate's name and describing (what some would say are) irrelevant moral and familial values. Negative ads do tend to provide more information, though they are equally as harmful.

Negative ads have the potential to spread not only harmful, but false information as well, leaving the viewer misinformed and voting for the wrong reasons. On the other hand, content free ads are next to useless in their lack of relevant information. I suppose what I'm asking is: What's the point? Personally, I don't pay too much attention to political advertisements. When I do, I often review what the ad said or was about and question its' honesty. Maybe I'm over thinking this, but I believe that we should try to analyze what ads don't say and question what they do.