Sunday, September 23, 2012

Does Mass Media Control What We Think About?

"The Agenda-Setting Function of Mass Media" discusses the role of mass media in controlling what information the reader receives and what issues the reader should focus on. The authors conducted a study that focused on examining political campaign coverage in television, newspapers, news magazines, and editorial page coverages of newspapers and magazines. Among their findings, I found one particularly interesting: "a considerable amount of campaign news was not devoted to discussion of the major political issues but rather to analysis of the campaign itself" (McCombs 129). How does this affect what the reader thinks is important when watching campaign news? According to McCombs and Shaw's argument, the agenda-setting function of mass media will lead the reader to focus more on the elements of the campaign itself rather than on the issues being discussed in a political campaign. This goes to show how powerful the mass media can be in controlling what the audience has in their mind when evaluating a political candidate.

Recently, I have been browsing over headlines in Google News, and I couldn't but notice the disproportionate negativity in the news titles concerning presidential candidate Mitt Romney. As a person who is more or less apathetic towards politics in general, and very rarely follows information on the presidential candidates during election season, I find these headlines always have some influence over my perceptions of the presidential candidates. Moreover, as I read more deeply into the articles and find that they are largely about the candidates' actions and the characteristics of their campaigns, I realize how little I know about their perspectives on certain political issues. Is this healthy for the mass public? But then again, how much information a person consumes about these political candidates can vary, and is completely up to the person. I believe the mass media has a big role in agenda-setting for the audience; however, if one were truly concerned about the qualifications of these two candidates for president, s/he always has the option of looking more into the candidates' personal websites and more objective reports on their discussion of the issues.


  1. I am in the same boat as you in that I am uninterested in following politics through mass media sources. But, I believe that this indifferent feeling is a result from already noticing what McCombs and Shaw described. You summed up their finding that “the agenda-setting function of mass media will lead the reader to focus more on the elements of the campaign itself rather than on the issues being discussed in a political campaign,” and I think that goes to show what the general population in America will tune into: entertainment. When the news focuses on the analysis of the campaign and actions of the candidate as an individual, rather than the major political issues, it allows them to create a show for the viewer to follow over the span of time.
    The article headlines you brought up were very interesting. They are great examples of how the media is largely focused on the politician’s actions and their campaign strategy rather than the important issues. I do agree with you that the reader has the ability and option to do their own outside research to obtain unbiased reports on the political issues, but I am still a firm believer that newspapers and all mediums have a responsibility to the public to give accurate and intellectual descriptions and analysis of the issues at hand. The campaign strategy and actions of the candidate can of course be entertaining and informational to read about, yet there should be a balance between that and analysis of candidate’s policies. Because the media make such an immense impression of what information should be important to the reader, they need to enforce that balance.

  2. Vivian and Stina, I urge you not to let media saturation prevent you from exercising your basic right to vote and help shape the course that the country takes in the next four years. I actually think it's quite healthy that the media spend a good amount of time on analyzing the rhetoric of each campaign/candidate, particularly when that analysis is linked to an elucidation of "the issues." In an ideal media world, what Obama says politically gets matched with what he does politically, the same for Romney, etc. I'm not sure their stance on various issues can be separated from our judgment of their character.

  3. I know I am late to respond, but Romney's latest blundering has been buzzing around the news. It does seem everyone is talking about it, especially since he targets such a large amount of the population. Would it get the same amount of publicity if it wasn't run by every news source even though it is such a controversial issue? I do agree news will focus around entertainment, especially conflict, when instead it should be focusing more on analysis and how policies will be affecting the wide range of economic and social classes in our nation. Maybe that requires too much interpretation or money on the part of news stations, or maybe they assume this is what we want to see. In a sense media could be controlling what we think about and also shape our decision process based on what we see, when in reality there is so much more. Sometimes we have to go straight to the news source and sometimes that means watching CSPAN or other networks that give us the facts and let us make the decisions on our own.