How the Managers of the State and News Media Influence the Public Agenda.

Dr. Scott Bonn,Doc Bonn,Mass Deception
It has been argued that the media may not be successful in telling people what to think, but they are stunningly successful in telling people what to think about. This premise is central to a theory developed by communications researchers McCombs and Shaw that the press has a significant agenda-setting function. By studying news media content during the 1968 presidential campaign and comparing it to voters’ perceptions of the key political issues, McCombs and Shaw identified a strong, positive correlation between the emphasis placed on campaign issues by the media and the perceived importance of those topics to voters. The core mechanism operating in the agenda-setting process involves the transfer of salience (i.e., issue importance) from the press to the public. Thus, agenda-setting theory postulates that the news media set the agenda for public discourse (or the public agenda) by specifying which issues are important to consider or think about based on their coverage of particular issues and neglect of others.

Closely related to agenda-setting are the concepts of framing and priming. Framing refers to the way an issue is presented to the public (or “angle” it is given) by the news media. More specifically, framing involves calling attention to certain aspects of an issue while ignoring or obscuring other elements. Significantly, an audience may react very differently to an issue or topic depending on how it is framed by the news media. In contrast, priming is a psychological process whereby the news media emphasis on a particular issue not only increases the salience of the issue on the public agenda, but also activates in people’s memories previously acquired information about that issue. Priming is thus an individual-level factor that can have great variability within a society given past events and news coverage. An example of priming would be the triggering of individual responses such as fear, anger or outrage by Americans to televised images of the 2005 subway terrorist attacks in London, based on the U.S. news media’s prior framing of the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

It should come as no surprise that politicians and law enforcement officials (collectively referred to here as state managers) also participate in the agenda-setting process in society. A key way that they do so is through political rhetoric. Webster’s College Dictionary (1997, p. 1114) defines rhetoric as “the art of effectively using language to communicate, including the use of figures of speech.” Political rhetoric involves the effective use of language, including figures of speech, by state managers for mass dissemination. In contemporary communication studies on political rhetoric, researchers often explore the processes through which state managers attempt to influence public opinion to their advantage. In order to explain the public’s attitude change on a policy issue under discussion by state managers, communication researchers frequently analyze how the issue is framed by them and how the frame then interacts with an individual’s memory to prime certain considerations and preferences.
Significantly, state managers attempt to mobilize public opinion to their advantage by framing issues in terms that prime considerations that will move public opinion in the direction they desire. By defining and overly simplifying a complex issue through framing, state managers can manipulate the set of considerations that citizens will use in formulating their preferences and attitudes regarding that issue. The set of considerations established by the frame are usually those that will move public opinion in the direction desired by the framers. At the individual level, the frame then interacts with an individual’s memory so as to prime or make some considerations more accessible than others and, therefore, more likely to be used in formulating a policy preference. By successfully framing a policy issue according to their interests, state managers participate in the social construction of reality by restricting the perspectives available for public understanding of an issue. This, in turn, primes the particular aspects of an issue in an individual’s memory that are most likely to guide opinion formation in the direction desired by political elites.

The consequences of elite framing of issues are powerful because the framing of issues by politicians, law enforcement and the media set the national agenda. Collectively, state managers and the media define social problems such as crime and terrorism, and also label the individuals or groups who are allegedly responsible for those problems. Moreover, state managers and the media establish the definitions of good and evil in society and, as a result, determine who should either be rewarded or punished. How does such power in the hands of state managers and the media to set the national agenda make you feel? I’d like to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please submit your comments below or email me directly at docbonn1@gmail.com. Follow me @DocBonn on Twitter.

Dr. Scott Bonn is Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Drew University and a media expert. He is the author of the critically acclaimed book “Mass Deception: Moral Panic and the U.S. War on Iraq” and is currently writing a book about the public’s fascination with serial killers.

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Posted on April 4, 2012, in Mass Deception and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. Derek McMullen

    This article discusses the term framing. Framing is a sociological term which “refers to the way an issue is presented to the public (or “angle” it is given) by the news media. More specifically, framing involves calling attention to certain aspects of an issue while ignoring or obscuring other elements”. This reminds me of chapter two where we discussed the effects of the media on people in society. Mass media “reduces complex issues to sound bites”, so that the only information people receive is what the media wants them to receive, leaving out CERTAIN DETAILS. This could be seen as a means of manipulation by the media in the attempt to influence its viewers to think in only one manner. This leaves no element of interpretation up to the viewers to take a side on an issue, rather they are manipulated to all take the same side.

    -Derek McMullen

  2. Jared des Drew Druidses.

    There remains a significant difference between framing and spin; unfortunately both are present in today’s media. Framing requires the commentary not be false and that the original picture is in someway intact. This is at least what I recall from my Political Communication class with Dr. Caliendo.

    I find that Jon Stewart engages almost entirely in framing rather than doing stories of his own; fortunately for him, most of what I see on today’s television news is terrible enough to find spin within every newscast.

    Am I manipulated? You betcha. Is Jon Stewart a populist and (not necessarily dependent) does he push the issues of his parent company Viacom? I’m inclined to think so. He spent barely any time covering coverage of SOPA or PIPA, and that was only after wikipedia and google came together against it. Why? Because Viacom is about movies.

    Whoever said Big Brother is malevolent? There are things which cannot be communicated effectively to everyone, so not everyone can be informed of all things. Does that mean they don’t have valid points? Certainly not. Does it mean their points might be mislead by say, the desire to continue watching Howard Stern-esque shock jocks with prosthetic foreheads, when prosthetic foreheads are made from LSD, mercury, and baby blood?

    http://www.acceleratingfuture.com/michael/blog/images/Amusing-Ourselves-To-Death.jpg

    As long as there has been knowledge, there has been ignorance. As long as there has been ignorance, knowledge, and communication, there have been those that would use information to serve their aims. Are their aims necessarily malevolent? No. They just might not be your aims.

    My Momma always told me thinking is dangerous. How right she was.

  3. This article is explains the various ways that the media influences society. The media constantly use different frames in order to promote a certain perspective about a topic. Sometimes using these frames can promote some form of prejudice or discrimination against particular ethnic groups. Take a look at how the media described middle eastern people during the Iraq war. Whenever they were showing a clip, they always showed a terrorist or some crazy arab person performing some action of violence. This reminds me of stereotypes that we discussed in chapter 10. Stereotypes are oversimplified set of beliefs about members of a social group which can reinforce prejudice. The media basically promoted the stereotype that all middle eastern people are terrorists by only providing one perspective about this group.

  4. The Trayvon Martin case is a perfect example of framing and priming. Very recently Fox news conducted an interview with Zimmerman’s father who told proclaimed his son is innocent. Is this Fox’s attempt to trigger some sort of emotional response for their political agenda? After reading an article on MSNBC about the case, Betsi Grabe, a professor at Indiana University-Bloomington who studies how news images effects public opinion, offers an interesting perspective, “At the center of most stories we tell in our society, cross-culturally and across the centuries, is the struggle between good and evil,” she said. “If the ingredients are there, that is what journalists will grab onto and present.” The media latched onto the two photos we often see of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. Granted there is beyond enough evidence to convict Zimmerman of second-degree murder, I wonder… What if we were never shown these photos? Would there be as much of a frenzy surrounding this case? On a different topic, George W. Bush was a master at framing and priming. We heard over and over the words, “axis of evil”, “evil-doers”, and it sparked a hatred throughout the United States. There is no doubt the media has their own political agenda, whether we realize it or not.

    MSNBC Article:
    http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/03/31/10952926-are-old-photos-of-trayvon-martin-george-zimmerman-deceptive

  5. Neena Robertson

    The power that state managers hold along with the influence of the media, only adds to the power, power being having the ability to exert your will on others even if they resist, making this “power” true and very real. Because everyone watches the news, reads the news online, or even just glancing at a headline, they are only getting what the newscasters wanted to portray and the view of however they wanted to portray it. As the process of priming states, our minds are easily tilted to what we already have learned which then leads easily to things such as stereotyping, discrimination, and other, usually less positive thoughts and outcomes. I feel that at times the view points of people such as politicians and law enforcement also take part in this ideal of priming and framing within their own groups. These views that again are portrayed in whatever form they want to be according to who is “behind the scenes,” I believe adds to the known belief that society is socially constructed and we are able to take sides either through feelings, ideals, and more importantly opinions based off of what we see or hear.

    Thus, to me, this form of power in the hands of state managers is dangerous. Because our minds can easily be swayed whether we want to admit it or not, can cause problems with people and other citizens not thinking for themselves but rather going off of what someone, usually of a higher status has said versus someone say, of a lower status or someone that is different than that of the person listening to these state managers. State managers are able to give people who have common interests with those certain state managers more “fuel”, while those that are less like the state manager are quick to disagree thus adding to the understanding that in society, people, regardless of what their own beliefs and ideals may be, can easily change their beliefs and ideals to match with that they are being told, either correctly or falsely from state managers and the media.

  6. Zoe Braiterman

    Indeed, the public is influenced by the media. It influences society as a whole, and by creating social norms, it affects individuals. When the public is targeted through framing, a specific perspective that addresses the current state of society is created. This could create strong feelings about anything from war or international relations to buying certain products in the market. On the individual level, people’s fears and other emotions are played up upon through priming.

    It is no surprise that political elites have a say in all this, because the media works with them to instill fear through moral panic, which maximizes their profits and “success.” It is no coincidence that the media has an oligopoly. This would not be possible without the government’s assistance. It was with the help of sectors of the News media that the Iraq War was justified to many people.

    People deny the power and influence of the political elite on the media and vice versa for the same reason as people deny that race is still and issue or that gender roles have been completely eliminated. This reason is that people do not want to talk about issues that make them feel uncomfortable. Furthermore, people do not want to admit that they have been institutionalized into the society in which they live.

    Of course, the power of the political elite is a problem. Although many people accept whatever the media and politicians have to say, from a sociological standpoint, one cannot ignore that this acceptance of the way in which our society often works is based on internalized ideas and people’s desire to think positively about the society in which they live. This attitude within itself is wrong and not a progressive way to think, but it is something that simply will never change.

  7. Carmine Biancamano

    This is completely true. The media and state managers have complete control over what we think about and how we think about things. I think this idea also covers a lot of the sociological theories as well. From a social conflict point of view, the media and state mangers control what we think about, especially the lower class. The lower class is more likely to be less educated, therefore the will more likely to believe the college educated state mangers say.

    I also believe that this also addresses the idea of Social Action proposed by Weber, especially the part where nothing is value-free. Regardless of how the media or state managers portray certain events are issues, there will always be some form of bias. In a way, if there is an inevitable bias, wouldn’t it make sense to talk about the issues that benefit the state mangers or media?

    Regardless of all of that, I do believe that the power of the media and state mangers is very influential and powerful, but the amount of influence they have is also inevitable. It is a terrible and most people would like to think that they are not influenced by the media or state managers, but in reality most people are. This is upsetting, but this is the way things are. The state managers and media have such a huge impact in the United States. This is how the things are, and in a sense, this is how things always will be.

  8. Jennifer Melgar

    I completely agree with this blog. A quote that stood out to me was, “It has been argued that the media may not be successful in telling people what to think, but they are stunningly successful in telling people what to think about.” Yes, the media does not tell people exactly what to think, but by deciding to leave certain things out and focusing on other things it is as if the media is telling society what to think about. The media focuses on certain issues while neglecting other issues.
    I believe that the media is a bit responsible for perpetuating the stereotypes that are present in the United States. This occurs when framing occurs. In the recent issue of Trayvon Martin, society is framing Trayvon as being the “bad one”. Zimmerman was only trying to do his job and protecting his area. Those who are racists agree with this and believe that Trayvon is the one at fault here. They fail to see any of the other evidence that is presented, evidence that is going against Zimmerman.
    Racism can often be seen in the media. This occurs because the media chooses to focus only on one side of the news that really occurs. Minorities are often looked at as being the “bad race”. This is because there is always some negative news which makes the minorities the protagonist. There are other races in the United States who are going out killing, stealing and committing other crimes, but because society does not view this on the media they are only racist towards the minorities in the United States.
    Yes, it is true that there are minorities who commit crimes but other races commit crimes too. This topic has always caused me a great deal of disgust, because I never understood why the media did this. Because the media shows images of negativity which are often if not always based on the minorities or a certain type of person, society than believes what they see.
    I can say that it is safe to conclude that the media has been successful in brain washing the minds of individuals in society and has served as a form of social influences which most of the time negatively influences society.

  9. I would like to think that we do not have minds of clay or silly putty for the media to manipulate…. We do have free will and those of us who can get past the pop culture…whatever it is at the moment… have legitimate interests and intellectual curiosities to rise above the crap and superficiality of the day. I couldn’t even tell you who the “movie stars” of today are… I have no interest. The media is mind numbing. So..try some PBS and your local public affairs channel if you must.

    Those of us who are advocates of every sort and variety are too busy trying to change the evils of the world one person at a time…if that’s what it takes! Sometimes I wish we could go back to the 60’s and 70’s. Yes, it was a Woodstock-Soul train, Motown, Beatles, Vietnam, Watergate, marijuana haze, “look at my new automatic dishwasher” time… but so what!!
    Respectfully,

    Donna R. Gore, M. A.
    “Ladyjustice”
    http://www.donnagore.com
    ladyjusticedonna@gmail.com

  10. I agree with the fact that the state managers and media control what society and individuals pause to think about. Also, game theory applies here as well, considering the fact that if game theory did not apply, everyone would be committing crimes and not caring about the ramifications that come with committing a crime. Moreover, most people in society almost always only do things for a reward, which is another aspect of game theory.

    Karl Marx’s conflict theory is also applicable. The fact that the dominant group has power and can exert their will over the other groups is present in this case. Since the media and state managers can compel the individuals of society to think about certain topics and not think about other things is a prime example of limiting society’s thoughts. For example, the fact that nudity or swear words can not be seen or used on television demonstrates a society controlled by a dominant group.

    If it weren’t for the managers of the state and the news media, then game theory and Karl Marx’s conflict theory would not apply to this specific case. Without game theory everybody would be acting on ambition, but, to the extent that there would be utter chaos because their would be no one to maintain order. Without conflict theory to explain why a dominant group can exert their will on others, then everyone in society would be equal in every sense of the word.

  11. Jason Rainier

    One Important aspect to keep in mind is exposure. This linked with framing, as mentioned above, creates an atmosphere for the viewer that both consciously and subconsciously labels these issues as important. For instance, if I was to hold a taste test between two sodas that were exactly the same, but one was marked with a brand like Coke. Which do you think would get higher ratings? The one labeled with the well marketed brand, that’s which. This is because all of this positive marketing and public exposure puts an idea that ‘Coke is the best’ into the public’s mind and thus makes it (subconsciously) stand out over an equal or better drink.

    Now, lets take this idea and turn it too the media. If an issue was to be displayed by the media as ‘important’, ‘controversial’, etc. and was streamed or displayed much more then other issues, would that not be the same as Coke’s marketing ploys? Especially with the act of ‘framing’, where the news station may leave certain elements in the dark or present it in a way that gives positive or negative attributes, this would be a very easy way to get viewers to think certain ways. By doing this, the media can get the public to pay interest to less important topics even when there is a crucial issue at hand. If the people are not exposed to an issue, how will they know it exists and how would they get information on it? This just shows how powerful the media really is.

  12. Alexandra Scarborough

    State managers defining and determining what goes out in the media and is portrayed to the public is a huge source of power. They are able to define what it right and wrong, what should and should not happen, and who is a good person or bad person. The state managers are agents of socialization. They create what is supposed to be normal and not and how people are ideally supposed to behave. The media socializes people to conform, through the state managers. the media is an extremely powerful source of information and influence. It influences people everyday, to change our ideas of normalcy. The state managers are usually a dominant group in society pushing their ideas and morals upon people and making them take them as their own. As stated in conflict theory by Karl Marx, the dominant group is pushing its power and making the less powerful group take those ideas as their own. This shows how powerful the media can be in shaping people and shaping what the norms should be and what is right and wrong in society.

  13. Lindsey B. Pere

    When discussing the use of framing in terms of the state managers defining social issues I am reminded of “white collar crime” and how the only time it is truly a huge problem is when those with a great deal of power and influence are negatively affected by it. Most white collar crime barely makes the news, unless those affected are mega welathy and/or powerful. “Middle class” individuals are often rippped off and conned and while the person responsible for conning them may be found and punished in some way, typically they slip away and are rarely caught. Those who commit such crimes that affect the elite in this country, for example Bernie Madoff’s case made national headlines, not only due to the sheer amount of money he essentially stole from investors but also due to the individuals who were affected (as well as the amount of time he was able to keep his operation running). These also contributed to his unusually sevre sentence (150 years in prison). Perpetrators of white collar crime also typically serve sentences in prison facilities that look more like day spas or under house arrest where they have thousands upon thousands of square footage all too themselves (I’m talking about YOU Martha Stewart) while individuals convicted of grand theft may have stolen only $1,000 dollars (money or materials) and face more jailtime in facilities much less cushy and cozy. All of this is stems from the way our media and state managers have chosen to frame the societal beliefs about these crimes.

  14. I believe the media plays an influential role when it comes to news being broadcasted to the people of the world. When it comes to framing certain things, they put out the headlines they think will draw attention and get the most views. For instance, the media likes to focus on negative aspects in society that affect everyone and think will get a rise out of people. For instance, in the news recently has been the Trayvon Martin case and most people are getting a rise out of it because George Zimmerman hasn’t been arrested. I will say that they media has every right to put this issue out in the world because it not only affects people of different races but it also shows how corrupt the judicial system is in other states. However i do feel that the media fails to glorify the good things in society and don’t necessarily “frame” it into what they post and send out in the world. The media tends to glorify everything in the world that has gone wrong such as the War on Terror, September 11th and things that involve celebrities such as when Lindsay Lohan goes to jail again for another DUI or when Martin Sheen was “winning”. For once, I would like to see media frame accomplishments that are just important, if not more. Not once have I seen an article touching on the fact that the all African-American all male charter school Urban Prep Academy in Chicago that has a 100 percent graduating rate for the third year. Where’s the press promoting this great accomplishment therefore breaking the stigma put out in the world. For once, frame, promote and get the word out about something that is not controversial but its uplifting and inspiring to our youth instead of the constant violence and destruction that they see on the news everyday.

  15. Lorenzo Trindade

    The article addresses the understanding of framing and the significance of it. When it comes to framing, it involves on bringing the media it’s attention to certain aspects of an issue or problem while ignoring other important factors. The term framing is a sociological term that an issue is presented to the public by the media. Framing interacts with an individual’s memory more accessible than others and it is likely to be used in formulating a policy preference according to the article. Being able to successfully frame a policy issue to their interests in the social construction of reality, it is restricting the perspectives availability for public understanding of an issue. Something I can relate to this is what we discussed in class about the effects of the media on people in society. How mass media can reduce the complex issues to sound bites. Which means that whatever the media receives information, the people will also receive the information from the media as well.

  16. The framing of any issue or story can differ depending on who and where the story is presented to. Unfortunately for most of the population they view media representations as a reliable source of information not knowing that media is to individual’s thinking as Wikipedia is to a research paper; it is manipulated and unreliable. Some points can be verified as true while others are exaggerated and provided to express a certain point of view. The same way one would not be allowed to reference Wikipedia in any academic paper one should not hold on to what the media provides as completely reliable either.

    The media is also used as a form of social control of the masses by the elite or as they are labeled in this article the state managers. They decided what products we should buy, what behaviors are accepted and to whom. State managers drill ideas into the mind of the masses until the repetition of their messages becomes so embedded into one’s mind that it turns into a belief. Although this may seem like a stretch to some media also has a power way of maintaining inequality and prejudices. The cycle of inequality in the media begins with the people who are given the positions as state mangers which then trickle down to how they perceive the world and how they want you to perceive the world. For many people this argument seems far stretched but if you pay close attention everything in the media is carefully calculated and it does promote some sort of prejudice, the problem with this is that people are not being exposed to the truth and the programs that are not supporting prejudices but debunking them are not being exposed to the people who truly need this knowledge.

  17. I feel as though this article provides a good insight to how the media tends to portray certain topics and groups of people. Media tends to negatively portray most criminal acts as well as the people who commit them. As we see a black man is accused of shooting someone, or a muslim/arab is accused of planning a terroristic attack. This is all the affect of the media portraying these stereotypes. Now anytime we see a muslim or black we have fear for our lives just because of the mediA. The article just shows us the main difference from framing and exact, giving us the ability to see how overboard media can go to put fear in people and make them go against their true beliefs.

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