Media is an important part of our daily lives. One aspect of our lives that media has a major impact on is politics, especially the presidency. The media affects the president from his campaign all the way through his term. The media is vital to helping the president shape his image communicates with the public, and set the agenda. The media is an essential tool in becoming a successful President. When a President interacts with the media he will soon benefit from this interaction.
The effects the media has on the President begin when the President is campaigning. The President has a staff that helps the President form an image that is appealing to the voting public.
The staff works with the media to communicate the image of the Presidential hopeful to the public. The staff attempts to “ (1) control news coverage by controlling media access, setting the media’s agenda, creating pseudo events; (2) blur the distinction between news and commercials in order to increase the credibility of the commercial’s message; (3) exploit the linguistic categories reflecting criteria for newsworthiness and conventions of news presentations through which journalists view campaigns; (4) insulate the candidate from attack; and (5) enlist the help of journalists in responding to attacks” (Jamieson 229) If the staff uses the media wisely then it can help ensure that the Presidential candidate will have a good image with the public. It is difficult for candidates to travel to every city in the country so the media is the only opportunity the public has to become familiar with the candidates. The media also sees the campaign for president as an important news event drawing in an audience of people interested in the elections. In other words, the media and the candidates “need” each other. (Barber 51)
During the campaign process it is vital that candidates have an attitude that is appealing to the public. The campaign period is very short and causes a major obstacle for candidates. It becomes difficult to change the attitudes the public may already have on the candidates. This has caused many candidates to announce they are running earlier than in prior years. (Jamieson 218) The form of media that most people use early in campaigns is newspaper. The candidates must make sure that they are coming off as a credible candidate early in the campaign.(Graber 49) An important tool in conducting a good campaign is capitalizing on past experiences. Candidates often mention their prior successes to ensure the public that they are qualified to be president. (Jamieson 218) Candidates try to convey their “message” to many different medias. Most candidates try to use one idea or achievement and focus their campaign on that single message. This single message is often condensed into a slogan.(Jamieson 217) By creating a slogan the candidates have made it easier for voters to remember one important fact about the candidate. When voters see that slogan in the media then they will be reminded of what particular candidates stand for and can help them decide who to vote for. The media is an excellent way for candidates to campaign and convey ideas to the public. By using media the candidates can make sure all concerned citizens can become familiar with the candidate. The campaign staff works with the media to help the public decide who the best candidate is.
Another important goal of campaigning is to create an image that is appealing to the public. As Jamieson wrote, “Indeed, major campaign goals are creating a positive, electable image of the candidate, ensuring that the image is communicated consistently through out the campaign, and that it is underscored by news coverage.”(229) The President is the easiest branch of government for the media to create an image for. Congress is difficult to personalize due to its number of members, the Supreme Court is “aloof” and the bureaucracy is boring. (Dye 302) The presidency gives the media an opportunity to “dramatize and personalize government.”(Dye 302) The president uses this opportunity to show the media that he is a good candidate for President. The first President to use the media to exhibit his personality to the public was Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt was notorious for his fire-side chats. Roosevelt used these chats to gain support for his program ideas.(Dye 300) Today it is common for the President to look to the media as a way to gain support for his ideas and to create an image that is voter friendly. The President soon relies on media to help gain support for any of his ideas.(Dye 308)
Candidates must have the right image to be President, and the media helps the candidates create their image. Once a candidate has a certain image it is hard to change that image, making it more important to create a proper image initially. “In an age of media technology, visibility, and symbolic skills are essential to presidential power. To govern effectively, a president not only must have power resources but must be perceived as powerful.”(Dye 300) The President is a figure of authority and strength. Candidates must show the public that they are strong and powerful people. Candidates are able to use the media to create this image. One example of the media creating a negative image is in the case of Jimmy Carter. Carter was portrayed as “weak, indecisive, and unable to control people or situation.” (Dye 310) The media was responsible for creating this image for Carter, who was unsuccessful in winning a second term of office. Dye suggests that this image was one reason why Carter was unable to be reelected. The President can use the media to create a positive image. It is important for the President and any candidates to symbolize the idea the public has of the President. The President must not only symbolize power but also “unity and social stability.”(Dye 308) The writers of the Constitution did not expect the President to become a symbolic figure head of government. However, this is what the President has become to the American public.(Dye 300) The media has become the way the President and any candidates can create the image the voters expect of the President. If the President realizes this opportunity he can use the media to create an image that will help him be elected for a second term. Jamieson wrote, “voter’s decisions are based more on what they hear on the news than what they see on commercials.”(237) However, commercials can be useful tools in campaigns for the presidency. Candidates usually begin airing commercials about three months before an election and as election day approaches, the commercials are more frequent.(Jamieson 218) Commercials sometimes take in account that newspapers have more credibility. They do this by “reprinting and distributing favorable media coverage of the candidate or by reproducing newspaper editorials endorsing the candidate.”(Jamieson 237) Jamieson gives an example of how effective newspaper endorsements. In 1978 the “Baltimore Sun endorsed Maryland gubernational candidate, Harry Hughes, and salvaged his foundering campaign. Candidates typically translate endorsements by newspapers into paid advertisements by multicopying the endorsement and distributing it as a flier, paying to have it reprinted as a newspaper ad, reading it in a radio ad, or crawling it across the television screen in a commercial.”(226) The candidates can use two forms of media to benefit their campaigns. Commercials can also help manipulate public opinion of a candidate. They can do this through slice-of-life commercials. These commercials resemble news clips. This way the candidates are again capitalizing on the notion that newspapers hold more credibility than commercials. “These commercials walk the viewer through part of the candidate’s day, permitting voters to eavesdrop on exchanges with important people, overhear warm human exchanges with
constituents or would-be supporters, and see the candidate with family.” (Jamieson 237) These commercials help form an image of the candidate as a “people person” and a caring individual. Commercials are another form of media that can help shape a candidate’s campaign and form a positive image for the presidential hopeful.
Media attention tends to focus on challengers. According to Shaw this is because “our governing day-to-day rule is the watchdog theory, which means reporters are most likely to watch those who might be challenging that power.”(907) Even though the incumbent has more power with agenda setting and framing the challenger can have an edge in advertising. The challenger can use events during the current President’s term against him. This is because the challenger wants to ”indict the status quo and pin the blame for the ills of the system on the incumbent, these indictments are most effective when they are visually underscored, consequently, the candidate will tape ads in slum ousing to establish that the incumbent’s promises of change have been unfulfilled. Political ads will also feature testimony from the disenchanted- those who are unhappy at the way in which government is being run.”( Jamieson 219) Commercials can help give presidential challengers the same chance at office as the incumbent. As Jamieson wrote “Political ads must affirm that we can be agents of change, that voting causes change, that politicians in office can make a difference, that problems are solvable. In the process of affirming these premises, political ads reinforce our belief in our political system.”(219) From the start of the campaign commercials and media switch the spotlight between the incumbent and the challenger. Commercials are helpful to both types of candidates.
The effect of the media on the President continues after the campaign and elections through the entire term. Even after the media has helped create an image for a President it can continue to help the President through ensuring him public support. As previously stated Franklin D. Roosevelt used the radio to gain suppport for economic programs through his fire-side chats. Another popular way that the President can manipulate public opinion using the media is through pseudo- events. Pseudo events are “staged events designed for media coverage.”(Jamieson 233) Pseudo- events are evidence that the President realizes the influence of media. By creating pseudo- events the President is able to show the public ways he is benefitting the country. These staged events are good examples that the President and media work together to influence the public’s opinions of the President and government.
The media also affects the President through honeymoon periods. The honeymoon period is the period at the beginning of a President’s term including “high popularity in public opinion polls and positive reports by the mass media.”(Dye 309) Honeymoon periods are very beneficial to the President. It gives newly elected people time to adjust to being in office and gives them room for initial mistakes. This is a perfect example of the media working to benefit the President. The media does not have to give the President this brief honeymoon period but they choose to help the newly elected Presidents. This also emphasizes the idea that the President and the media work together to help each other.
The media also set and frame the political agenda of society. By using the media the President can set the opinions and agenda of society. “Newspapers are the prime movers in organizing the public agenda. They largely set the stage of public concern, But television news is not wholly without influence. It has some short-term impact on the composition of the public agenda. Perhaps the way to decide and contrast these influences is to label the role of the newspaper as agenda-setting and the role of television as spotlighting.”(Graber 48) The media chooses the stories they feel the public should be interested in. This is an effective way for the President to interact with the public and shape their opinions. The President can use the media to focus on issues he feels are important. The newspapers only set the agenda for certain types of issues.(Graber 46) However, the President cannot totally shape public opinion through the media. The media tells the audiences “what to think about, although not what to think.”(Shaw 903) The public is able to form their own opinions about the issues that are on the top of the agenda. Shaw also believes that the press provides a “limited and rotating set of public issues, around which the political and social system can engage in dialogue.”(903) Jamieson agrees with Shaw’s view on media and setting the agenda. Jamieson writes, “the news media does not tell us what to think as much as what to think about.”(232) However, Jamieson does add that the incumbent has more control with agenda setting than a challenger.(232) Agenda setting by the media is very helpful to the President. The President can control what the media discusses by holding press conferences about certain events they feel are of public interest. Whatever events the President has been successful in handling the President can interact with the media to make on the top of the public’s political agendas.
Framing is also important function of the media’s agenda setting. Gamson and Modigilani agreed that framing was “a centralized idea or story line that provides meaning to an unfolding strip of events. The frame suggests what the controversy is about, the essence of the issue”(Scheufele 106) When the media sets the agenda they are picking what events to discuss with the public. With framing the media goes a step further by setting what was important about a certain event. Like agenda setting framing can also be useful for a president. With framing the President is given the opportunity to pick and choose what aspects of events should be stressed as most important. For example, if there is a school shooting an anti-gun President can help the media frame the issue to focus on gun control instead of school security. This benefits the President by forcing the public to look for a solution to gun violence. This gives the President the opportunity to gather support for his new gun control bill. With framing the media works with the President to benefit the President while shaping public opinion on certain issues.
Dye wrote the media can bring the president directly “in contact with the masses.”(302) The media and the president work together to influence eachother. (Barber 26) This ability to influence one another begins early in the presidential campaigns. It continues until the end of the term. The media is very beneficial to the President, it can help the President shape his image, set and frame the agenda, and gain support during his term.