Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Media

In response to Steve’s comment below: As far as I know, Braestrup’s account is entirely accurate. Press reporting on Tet was inaccurate, wildly so in some instances. Again, as far as I can tell, press reporting on Iraq has been more accurate than it was during Tet. It is also the case that the media has biases. My favorite example of this is the story that ran in the New York Times in the early 1980s at the height of the controversy over the role of the Russians and Warsaw pact countries in supporting international terrorism. A PLO member connected to terrorism was assassinated in Warsaw and the Times reported that Poland was known to be a favorite vacation spot for Palestinians.

But the key point is not the accuracy of press reporting or media bias. The key point is that the media does not lead public opinion. The media actually follow what key opinion leaders say. If there is unanimity among these leaders, then there is no controversy and no press feeding frenzy, no destruction of the administration’s policies.

Some post-9/11 examples: A Pentagon agency was going to fund something called Total Information Awareness that was going to collect and analyze lots of information on Americans. Various public policy organizations and Senators and Congressman objected. The escalating controversy and media frenzy forced the Bush administration to give up on the project.

The press reported (from leaked information?) that the military was increasing its role in the collection of human intelligence and was beginning to do some things that had been traditionally reserved for the CIA. The press smelled a scandal involving unauthorized activities, rogue agencies, violations of law, etc. Following the first reports in the Washington Post, the Post and other media followed up. They interviewed Democratic Senators on the intelligence committee. The Senators all agreed that they had voted for the change and that it was a good one. The media frenzy died.

Following hurricane Katrina, President Bush mentioned the possibility that the military should take over domestic disaster relief. When the media checked with various authorities, most importantly elected officials at the Federal, state and local levels, they found out that this idea was controversial. The story didn’t die, although the proposal did.

These examples are mine but the explanation for how the media works (which I have greatly simplified) is from a variety of different academic studies on the media, public opinion and politics. As far as I can tell, it is accurate. It means that the media and their prejudices do have influence but are much less powerful in forming public opinion and affecting public policies than is often assumed. What the academic work shows is that Presidents have significant advantages and more power than the media with regard to shaping public opinion. That’s why I don’t think the media or media bias is the problem.

Discussions - 11 Comments

David, do you know where I can get a new pair of eyeballs, and a spare brain? Mine apparently haven't been working...

The key point is that the media does not lead public opinion. The media actually follow what key opinion leaders say.

No, the media actually follow what liberal and Democratic "opinion leaders" say. And you even provided an example of that happening. The problem is that Ted Kennedy is an"opinion leader" while Jeff Sessions is not and never can be. And the reason for that is that the media picks and choses which "opinion leaders" to follow. In other words - media bias.

John, he did not say there was not media bias. He said presidents have more power in relation to public opinion than the media. Others here have complained that Bush squandered a valuable chance to influence public opinion in many areas. I think he did, too. Perhaps this will be one of our continuing debates about the Bush "legacy", whether he and his people blew it or if he was somehow "done in" by political enemies. If conservative politicians can never overcome their political enemies, we will never have another chance at influencing the politics of America. Do you think that is true?

John -- your comment shows why the media has such limited influence. I mentioned three examples. You picked the one that conformed to your views. That's how people treat the media. For the most part, they hear what conforms to their views. A guy complains for years about the liberal bias on CNN, then turns on Fox news and says, "ah, finally, I'm getting the truth."

John -- also, another important point about the limit of media influence. Jeff Sessions is one of your opinion leader, isn't he? You listen to him and trust what he says more than you listen to and trust the mainstream media, right?


You listen to him and trust what he says more than you listen to and trust the mainstream media, right?

Come off it. Who I listen to is hardly the point. Who the media presents to the public as being "opinion leaders" is.

A guy complains for years about the liberal bias on CNN, then turns on Fox news and says, "ah, finally, I'm getting the truth."

your comment shows why the media has such limited influence.

Tell me you are not this stupid. It's enough to make me yearn for John Moser. We have a Democraric WH and Congress due to this "limited influence".

He said presidents have more power in relation to public opinion than the media.

That's clearly untrue. People hear from the President rather infrequently. When they do hear from him it is often in the context of answering gotcha questions at press conferences.

By contrast, they hear from the media several times a day every day of their lives.

The media set the topic for debate and decide what are and are not issues. In the context of the current discussion, they were able to convince the majority of Americans that our trivial losses in Iraq were a veritable Stalingrad. They even seem to have conned this Tucker person. Amusingly enough, he parrots their line while insisting that they have no power shape opinions.

Who controls the media......The holding corporations of our once great companies? Are they not leveraged to the gills to banks? So logicly, the bankers control the media? Who gives Ted his opinions? To actually suggest that Ted Kennedy is an opionion maker is pretty funny. the same guy who had two brothers executed by the CIA, i mean by odd loaners who wanted attention. Ted Kennedy who should have spent 20 years in jail for the death of the girl he drove into the lake. I think someone who could be so easily leveraged would not be the first example you come up with when talking about the real movers and shakers. The media bias that you all complain about exists, but it is far less troublesome than the real media bias. They let the media types talk about right and left stuff and get angry and red faced and they really think they are doing something. It is the sub level of this that matters. The things they report, and don't report. They way they plant ideas and reinforce the establishment thinking is what is troubling. The media is nothing more than the propoganda wing of the corporate looters behind the pathetic politicians we waste time waxing over. They are compartmentalized, so many think they are leftists or something out of the dialectic that is always trying to divide people. But they are servants of the system one and all. Their checks are signed by these people; how can anyone think they are not a wing of the globalist corporate movement. I love when they run their little psy ops though. Things like: recent studdies show mercury in vaccines might be good for early child development or polar bears drowning because the ice caps are gone.

In the end, I don't think the prole cares. He wants weather and sports. However, as things get tight he will look for something to blame and i am sure that the media will then be their to give him a ready made Oswald or alCIAda to hate. How can we watch the news when they would show the terrorists we can't understand talking in arabic with the captions anything but two minutes hate. Lets not stop here, I for one would like a full Orwellian dystopia by 2012. We are now at war with Eurasia, we have always been at war with Eurasia. Can't you imagine all the love.

John -- If the media sets the agenda and tells us what to think, how did you escape their influence? I can tell from your comments that you are unusually intelligent but are you claiming that everyone but you (and maybe "Brutus")has fallen under the power of the media?

I can tell from your comments that you're not.

I mentioned three examples. You picked the one that conformed to your views.

All three examples show the exact same dynamic at play. In none of them do the media assist the Republican President. In each of them the "controlling legal authority" consists of the opinions of people on the left. I defy you to cite examples of the supposedly passive and inert media serving to advance ANY conservative cause. When you come up blank, ask yourself why that is. After all, the media is merely an instrument which can by played by any politician, according to you.

John -- Here's an example of what you asked for: review the media from 9/11 through the Iraq War and through the period in which Bush delcared mission accommplished. Remember when Rumsfeld was a media star? When you review it, you will understand why the media (consider the case of the NYT and Judith Miller) was so upset with itself for having assisted the Bush administration.

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