The Media’s Influence on American Government Performance
In today’s world, with the development of information technology and the advent of a new era, the information society, the role of the media is increasing dramatically. In particular, the media’s influence on political processes in individual countries and the world is growing. Performing such functions as socialization, articulation, and aggregation of interests, as well as criticism, control, and mobilization of the masses, the media can influence the formation of public opinion. Thus, in modern society, the mass media are mediators in the transmission of information and its creators (Owen 4). It seems that at this stage of the development of the media, they are not a free and reliable source of information but still have a strong influence on the decisions made by the U.S. government.
The United States does not always use democratic methods to achieve its goals. The example of coverage of the events in Iraq and the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict, when American journalists deliberately, under pressure from politicians, assessed events in a biased manner, is illustrative. At the same time, attempts to cover the situation from an opposition point of view were suppressed. Indeed, the media situation in the U.S. is not the same as in many other countries, where exploitive authorities use high-level digital restrictions to silence sovereign media (“10 Most Censored Countries”). However, it is still clear that the enormous power of influence is concentrated in the hands of the owners of the news channels and those who sponsor them.
The peculiarity of the legal system in the United States is that it is based on the rules of English common law. Therefore, judges interpret all legislative acts on a case-by-case basis. Courts, guided by the fact that the media have a controlling function in society, believe that the mass media should be exempt from prior censorship or registration. If the government or a public figure wants to restrict or prohibit any publication, they must prove the necessity of such action. In the U.S., however, the media often take a certain political stance. They can support a particular party for many years and include financial donations.
The role of the media in the process of selecting candidates for one position or another is invaluable. First of all, the press and television influence the process of so-called name recognition of the candidates. The names of individual senators, government officials, and political figures are repeated on newspapers, magazines, and television screens long before the election – it helps voters make their own choice.
The names of those who are not heard often remain obscure. Since campaign contributions at this stage are low, and candidates cannot afford extensive advertising, they turn to the media (Zhuravskaya et al. 427). They do so to get the attention of voters by participating in various events and resolving difficult situations (Zhuravskaya et al. 430). At this early stage, the press assigns candidates a status that may be favorable or unfavorable.
But perhaps the most striking and effective way to influence the electorate’s choice is through televised debates. They are traditionally organized not at the initial stage but closer to the end of the election campaign. A demonstrative example is the recent presidential elections in the United States. They attract multimillion audiences by demonstrating not only competing party programs but also personal characteristics.
For example, the first debate between Trump and Biden on September 29 in Cleveland was watched by an estimated 73 million people (“Media Advisory”). This is understandable because responsible political choice by citizens in a democracy is impossible without their awareness of political life and all actors in the political process. Viewers and readers need to check various sources to assess how objective a particular media outlet is about a specific candidate, but not all voters do so.
In 1976, after an investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee, some details of Operation Mockingbird were revealed. However, the new CIA director, George H.W. Bush, promised that his agency would no longer bribe journalists. Ten years later, the leading American linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky wrote a short paper in which he proved exhaustively that the American mass media are purely propaganda organs. Chomsky identified five filters through which independent information cannot reach the reader.
The first is the media owners, usually super-rich corporations whose business interests are forced to be served by less powerful media. The second filter is the diktat of advertisers; the third is the interests of news suppliers, which are usually government agencies like the Pentagon or the State Department. The fourth is flak, which is the process of being kicked out of the profession (Chomsky). Examples would be the slandering of independent journalists by an enraged public, colleagues, employers, or aggrieved readers. The fifth filter is the image of the enemy, which are the Russians and the Chinese at the present stage in the American media. This structure of American propaganda is remarkably stable and has not changed much over the years.
The problem is compounded by the fact that the American press has lost all connection with its readers in recent years. It used to be necessary to publish interesting investigations and fascinating reports to attract an audience. In recent years, however, print media circulation has fallen inexorably; with the transition to digital, many publications managed to attract paid subscribers at first, but now their numbers are not increasing.
Back in the fall of 2019, 59 percent of Americans said in a survey that they did not trust domestic media – that is a record in the country’s history (Brenan). The pandemic and growing political tensions between Trump and Biden supporters have caused people to question the credibility of the government. According to the survey, the overabundance of contrasting data on the Internet makes it difficult for people to distinguish between truth and fiction, especially on politics or the COVID-19 vaccine.
Not surprisingly, many Americans prefer to spend their time on Internet forums, where they are fascinated by various conspiracy theories like the Qanon movement. This tendency only means that people have finally lost confidence in all official sources of information (Owen 13). They do not see an ounce of truth in the flood of fake news. The latter contributes significantly to fomenting public anger and rage that has been building up over the years.
The media in the U.S. plays a crucial role in government decision-making because it is ubiquitous, present in every home and office, constantly informing and shaping public behavior. That explains why the media are presented as the fourth power in the state, along with the traditional branches of government. For the government, the only way to regain the public’s trust is to ensure the proper quality of information. Internet companies and digital platforms have made attempts to solve this problem for many years. But so far, it has not been possible to regain the previous trust of readers, as evidenced, among other things, by the results of surveys.
“10 Most Censored Countries.” Committee to Protect Journalists, 2019. Web.
Brenan, Megan. “Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Edges Down to 41%.” Gallup, 2019. Web.
Chomsky, Noah. “Noam Chomsky: The Five Filters of the Mass Media.” Public Reading Rooms, 2017. Web.
“Media Advisory: First Presidential Debate of 2020 Draws 73.1 Million Viewers.” Nielsen, 2020. Web.
Owen, Diana. “The New Media’s Role in Politics” OpenMind, 2017. Web.
Zhuravskaya, Ekaterina, et al. “Political Effects of the Internet and Social Media.” Annual Review of Economics, vol. 12, 2020, pp. 415-438.