The News Media, Democracy and the Future
Dr. Anthony R. Fellow, Dr Gail Love.
The odd couple of American political consultants, Mary Matalin and James Carville, are on the stump these days, bashing the press at each of their one-night gigs. The dynamic duo of politics are taking up where James Fallows left off. It was Fallows, former editor of U.S. News & World Report, who laid it on the line. The American press is undermining democracy by creating an electorate that is cynical toward politicians, Fallows writes in his bestseller, Breaking the News.
Carville goes even further in his indictment of the American press. If you read the nation’s press, he told a Pasadena, Calif., audience, the electorate should not only have a cynical attitude toward politicians, but they ought to look at them as axe murderers. “The nation’s press is destabilizing democracy,” Carville said. Why? “Because the press so disallows us to be responsible citizens.”
Have we become a nation of doubters, turning cynical? Has the American press created a nation so skeptical that the ideals of democracy are being threatened? This paper will propsoe the following question: Have the news media become so arrogant, cynical and scandal-minded that they have undermined the principles of democracy?
Prior to the Sept. 11 attack on America, a poll by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center found that only eleven percent of those surveyed felt “a great deal” of confidence in the press. An earlier Pew Research poll showed that the public appeared to be far more cynical than the news media about government officials. About seventy-seven percent of the 1,819 Americans surveyed said they distrusted public officials in Washington. By contrast, the survey showed that journalists, in their private beliefs, were not very cynical at all. Many of them said they respected individual politicians.
A generational element exists to this cynicism, according to Kohut. The poll found that the most cynical members of the public are 30 to 39 years old, followed by those 40 to 55. “These are people who came of age when Watergate and Vietnam dominated the news. They would have a pretty jaundiced view of their national leaders,” Kohut told Times reporter Stanley Meisler.
Is a cynical press undermining democracy? We first must look at how the present view evolved in America. Finally, we’ll attempt to answer the question: Is there any hope for the future?
Dr. Anthony R. Fellow (United States)
Department of Communications
California State University, Fullerton
Professor of Communications and Director of Journalism, California State University, Fullerton; Director, California State University Study Center, Florence, Italy
Dr Gail Love (United States)
Assistant Professor of Communications
Department of Communications
California State University Fullerton
Gail D. Love, Ph.D. is presently an Assistant Professor in the advertising sequence of the Department of Communictions at California State University-Fullerton. She brings a unique background of over 20 years in the marketing/advertising field combined with nearly ten years of teaching part-time, culminating with becoming a full-time professor two years ago. Dr. Love's research interests are in social marketing, specifically in the area of public health communication campaigns. She holds a Ph.D. from the Annenbergh School at the University of Southern California and currently resides in Pasadena, CA.
(30 min. Conference Paper, English)