In an era when perceptions can change policy quickly, corporations and government officials must be ever vigilant. They must ensure that their positions are favorably represented in the media.
They must also be able to respond rapidly when attacks, accusations, or misstatements are made. News on Politics reveals how these dynamics influence the press and the public’s perceptions.
Pulitzer’s Dramatic Journalism
The journalistic style that Pulitzer ushered in midwifed American journalism into the modern era. He used sensationalism to draw readers to his New York World and engaged in fierce, no-holds-barred competition with rival publisher William Randolph Hearst. The two men competed to be the first, loudest, and most sensational in order to drive up local circulations. In a time when 1,028 newspapers vied for readership, content was the currency of competition.
At the time, local political machines exercised a stranglehold over city politics. These oligarchies manipulated voters and took advantage of city residents for their own gain. Hearst and Pulitzer began publishing exposes of this corruption in the New York World. These stories were not only popular but helped give their newspapers a high-profile status in the community.
Hearst and Pulitzer also stoked interest in the Spanish colony of Cuba by running sensational news stories about the revolutionaries there. Hearst pushed for war between the United States and Spain, even publishing a story about a supposed plot to sink the USS Maine. This “yellow journalism” helped push the United States into the Spanish-American War in 1898.
As he grew in fame, Pulitzer developed a higher-minded vision for journalism. He viewed it as a sacred pillar of democracy, and he strove to use his power to advance reformist goals. He also recognized that his paper was a business, and he sought to maximize profits by attracting large numbers of readers. His approach was not unlike the one taken by Ted Turner a century later when he built CNN to cater to-and stimulate-readers’ insatiable appetite for news. But as he grew older, Pulitzer began to see that the way he exploited the news media could hurt society in the long run.
Having the right response during a crisis can have a significant impact on the outcome. That’s why Acadia Insurance, a Berkley Company, has launched Crisis Event Communication Expense Reimbursement coverage for EPLI policies effective November 1.
The new policy provides a reimbursement for expenses incurred by a business in the aftermath of a media-driven crisis. It is designed to help companies manage unforeseen expenses associated with defending their reputations following a major media event – including hiring communications professionals and other consultants.
Weaver’s thesis is that journalists and government officials are locked in a “symbiotic circle of mythmaking, fantasy, and self-interest.” Journalists need crises to dramatize news, and they oblige government officials by fabricating them. The result is a charade that serves both parties’ interests but misleads the public. The fictitious crises obscure the more mundane, but equally serious, policy mistakes and failures that underlie them. The savings-and-loan crisis, for example, was a genuine tragedy, but its coverage masked the real causes—political and institutional failures that were too complex to understand and too boring to report.
Dueling Cover Stories
In an era when newspaper front pages were filled with advertisements for butter, lamp oil, and tooth repair, dueling wasn’t exactly breaking news. When a deadly argument between public men turned into a fight to the death, though, a story might make it to page two.
Drawing on a wide range of sources—newspaper reports of duels and challenges, parliamentary debates, legal records, and private papers—David Parker explores the role pistols and swords played in a raucous public sphere. He takes care to acknowledge that honor was a complex category that often excluded women and lower-class men, but he focuses on the way in which this normative framework enabled free speech while moderating public discourse.
Parker also considers the relationship between dueling and the development of democracy in Uruguay. He argues that the law that allowed for the duel helped create a new system of “self-enforced political transactions” that favored democratic and market principles. This helped weaken the partisan duopoly of Blancos and Colorados and paved the way for democracy in the country.
This week’s cover was drawn by TIME artist Peter Seiler, who used a Wacom Cintiq—a pressure sensitive LCD screen that allows him to draw and paint on it directly—to create this striking caricature. The artist spent more than 50 hours on the piece. Get the best of JSTOR Daily in your inbox each Thursday. You may unsubscribe any time.
In a political landscape where personality matters more than institutions, where facts are uncertain, and attention spans (and television sound bites) short, the media often focus on facades rather than substantive issues. This tendency reflects several aspects of American culture: a focus on personalities, the ubiquity of gossip and sensational scandals, and the fact that a significant segment of the public perceives journalists as removed elites disconnected from their values. It also reflects the reality that many media outlets operate in a politically homogenous, metropolitan, and liberal-leaning bubble.
In a political environment where perceptions can shift fast, politicians and interest groups are adept at using news to shape the public’s view of them. They can amplify real or exaggerated scandals that are only tangentially related to their governing agenda and promote messages of trust or distrust.
In the age of social media, fabricated stories can spread at lightning speed to audiences that feel trapped in echo chambers. Some fake news is simply outright fabrication; others contain elements of truth and sway people by playing to their preexisting beliefs. They may also elicit an emotional response from viewers, as the Denver Gardian’s story did by falsely reporting that F.B.I agents investigating Hillary Clinton had murdered a family member (Oremus, 2016).
Research in the field of media and political polarization reveals that the source of one’s news can dramatically influence corruption perceptions. When traditional, professional sources control the delivery of news, their agenda setters will tend to tone down reports that criticize the political class; this is referred to as “editorial filtering” (Hermida et al 2014). Information coming from newer media, less under the purview of these gatekeepers, can present corruptive practices in a more critical manner, even though they still make errors in their reporting (Feezell, 2018).
The results of Gallup and Knight Foundation studies show that people who do not believe that news organizations balance civic purpose with business needs are less likely to pay for news in the future, and are more likely to say they do not know whether they can trust news organizations to tell the truth. Similarly, Americans who feel low emotional trust in national news report feeling unable to sort out the facts from their views about who runs the government.