Lesson 1: The Media and Democracy: Theory and History
This introductory lesson has two components: a brief discussion of the critical role the media play in a democracy such as that we have in the United States and a history of the development of the news media in the United States, including a discussion of why the government has regulated the print media differently from the broadcast media.
After completing this lesson, you should be able to:
- explain why the press has always enjoyed special status in the United States.
- list the reasons television is the dominant medium today.
- describe the love-hate relationship between the press and U.S. politicians and explain why it exists.
- describe the evolution of the print media in the United States from a partisan press to an objective press.
- explain why the broadcast media have been much more heavily regulated than the print media in the United States.
- Mass Media and American Politics: Chapter 1 (pages 1–26)
See the Web Sites section at the end of the Commentary for links to Web sites where you can find additional information on this lesson's topics.
You should be able to define the following terms and identify these names and legislative acts, all of which are discussed in the commentary and readings for this lesson:
- antiauthority bias
- Communications Act of 1934
- dominant medium
- Dwight D. Eisenhower
- equal-time provision
- Fairness Doctrine
- Federal Communications Commission
- fireside chats
- Alexander Hamilton
- William Randolph Hearst
- interpretative reporting
- Thomas Jefferson
- Estes Kefauver
- John F. Kennedy
- Joseph McCarthy
- Edward R. Murrow
- national medium
- 1960 presidential debates
- Richard Nixon
- objective journalism
- Adolph Ochs
- partisan press
- profit-oriented press
- Joseph Pulitzer
- Radio Act of 1927
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Franklin Roosevelt
- yellow journalism
These following questions are designed to reinforce the concepts discussed in this lesson. They are for your practice only and will not count toward your course grade. Do not send your responses to your instructor.
- Why did the framers of our government feel that a free press was critical in a democracy?
The framers felt that a free press was essential because it allowed the exchange of ideas. Remember that the foundation for the Revolution was laid by people writing opinion pieces in newspapers.
- How has the role of the press changed over the course of our country's history, and what is the medium to which most people now turn for information?
The press used to be very partisan, with parties and political officials sponsoring their own newspapers. At around the turn of the twentieth century, the press began to strive for a new, objective standard. While there will always be debate about how objective reporters are, that is the standard. The other big change is that television has replaced newspapers as the dominant medium.
- What has happened to objectiveness in journalism over the past twenty years or so, and what problems has this caused?
Objective reporting has given way to interpretive reporting, or news analysis. Because the print media can't compete with the broadcast media in the reporting of breaking news, they no longer simply explain what happened but also why it happened. There are two problems with this: (1) this model invites reporters to express opinions, which means news stories are no longer as objective; (2) explaining the reasons behind complicated events isn't the strength of reporters, who are trained to report. This doesn't stop them from doing so, however, and they sometimes give explanations that are wrong or misleading to an unsuspecting public.
- At what point did image become more important than substance in American politics? At what point did Americans become more dependent on television than newspapers for information?
Most scholars point to the 1960 presidential debates between Kennedy and Nixon as the event that made people focus more on how candidates look than on what they say. The event that made people switch to television as their main source of information was Kennedy's assassination.
- Why are the broadcast media more heavily regulated than the print media in this country, and in what ways are they regulated?
The broadcast media are more heavily regulated because of the sense that the airwaves are a public resource and that broadcasters have an obligation to serve the public. The government therefore created agencies to regulate the broadcast media on technical matters, to make sure that stations don't broadcast over each other, and to regulate content. The government requires that candidates have equal opportunity to advertise on broadcast outlets. Regulation has decreased, however, as the rising number of media outlets has lessened the sense of the broadcast media as a limited resource.
Progress Evaluation to Submit
When you can accomplish the learning objectives for this lesson, you should download the Lesson 1 Progress Evaluation sheet and answer each short-answer question on the form. You may use any assigned readings, your notes, and other course-related materials to complete this assignment. When you have answered all the questions, save the completed form to your computer as either a Microsoft Word document or a Rich Text document. Then, upload the file according to the directions in the box below.
Be sure to review the general requirements for progress evaluations and the instructions for creating and uploading documents before completing and submitting your work.
Please remember, this is a writing intensive course. In order to receive credit for this writing intensive course, you must do the writing assignments. If you do not complete the writing assignments, you will receive a failing grade for this course.
You are about to turn in your first written assignment for this course. Make sure you can answer "yes" to the following questions before you upload your work:
- Is the work my own? Learning is up to you, and the MU community takes academic integrity seriously. Collaborating on assignments for this course is not permitted and is considered academic dishonesty.
- Did I credit words or ideas to the people who published or shared them on the Web? Plagiarism is using someone else's words or ideas without crediting or "citing" their work. Students who plagiarize will be penalized depending on their instructor and the situation. Don't be afraid to use sources when you write, just make sure you "give credit where credit is due."
Need help figuring out when you should cite other people's words or ideas? Read about "Avoiding Plagiarism"
from Purdue University or contact Mizzou Online
with questions for your instructor.
Uploads to prepare: 1 (.doc or .rtf format)