Podium: Whitewash at the White House

Grace Norton From an address on American government and the media given by the politics lecturer at West Virginia College

The invention of the printing press in Europe in the mid-1400s set the stage for the first really widespread dissemination of information to the general population. By 1539, there was a printing press in Mexico City. By 1639, there was a press in Boston, Massachusetts, a town established in 1630. The printing press made a fairly early appearance in other towns and cities of New England. By 1700, the printers of Boston were printing more material than those anywhere in the British empire except London; the printers of Philadelphia were running a close third.

For most of American history, the newspaper was the only medium other than books for communicating over time and space. By the 1920s, newspaper chains - groups of newspapers owned by the same person or company - made their appearance. The national news and editorial perspective of the papers within a chain were generally pretty much the same. As the trend of forming newspaper chains continued, the viewpoints reflected were those of fewer and fewer people. After World War II, television and its news coverage did even more to homogenise and nationalise news coverage and political perspectives.

Media content and news coverage are inevitably affected by the views, ideals, interests, and biases of the journalists who get and write the stories, and the editors and producers who decide what stories are published or broadcast, and how much space or coverage each story gets.

During some periods, journalists, editors and producers have worked diligently to present high-quality and objective coverage of news. Editors and producers such as William S Paley and Fred Friendly, and reporters such as Edward R Murrow set an incredibly high standard for fair and accurate reporting and fair and objective presentation of broadcast news in the 1940s and 1950s that journalists and political analysts today see as a sort of "golden age" of broadcast journalism.

The very fact that some period is looked to as a "golden age" is an indication that people perceive some reduction in the quality of some phenomenon. That is certainly true of the media. There are several reasons why.

The team who ran the Reagan White House were probably the most media- savvy group of White House operatives in presidential history. The chief of staff was an advertising executive before he joined Reagan's White House. Commentator David Gergen, also a part of the Reagan White House team, has said that he had the following rule: before any event could be placed on the President's calendar, the person proposing that Reagan participate in the event had to be able to tell what the headline would be, what the first sentence of the news story would be, and what picture would accompany the story. Unless all of these were coherent, and portrayed Reagan and his policies in a positive light, the event would not be put on Reagan's calendar.

Thus, they conveyed to the public a sort of storybook presidency via manipulated and managed news, rather than an accurate picture of the real Reagan presidency.

As important as manipulation of the media is, the nature of the mass media themselves is probably a more important source of its qualitative decline from its "golden era."

In order to try to increase audience, broadcast media not only use sex, sensationalism, and hyperbole, they also try to package news more like entertainment. Many television news operations are now, in fact, part of the corporation's entertainment division.

ABC moved earlier than most to merge news and entertainment. When its morning show, Good Morning America, a competitor with NBC and CBS morning news shows, first aired, it was a product of the entertainment division and its host, David Hartman, was an actor, not a journalist. Within a very short period of time, NBC and CBS dramatically increased "soft" news content and added a variety of entertainment segments.

To give another example, from the standpoint of actually operating the government and getting things done, the Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky matters were not important. However, between them, they dominated news coverage for over a year.

Because these stories were getting covered, others were not. So Jones/Lewinsky was on the agenda while social security and Medicare restructuring were not. Both houses of Congress spent enormous amounts of time - far more than usually gets devoted to a major bill - on Jones/ Lewinsky.

Whatever else, we are not living through a media "golden age".

Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
artVoted for by the public, artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried