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Role of the Mass Media in the U.S. Election

Our Speakers are Dr. Richard E. Shafer and Mr. David An. Dr. Richard E. Shafer, Professor, School of Communication, University of North Dakota - Grand Forks. Fulbrighter Scholar in Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Mr. David An, Fulbrighter Scholar in Taiwan, research on the Democratization of Taiwanese Electoral System.

Role of the Mass Media in the U.S. Election
Monday, November 21 2005 (2:00 PM - 3:00 PM)

Please note: Portions of this transcript have been edited for clarity

Host: (Mr. David An)

Hi, I'm David An, an elections research Fulbrighter in Taiwan, from UC Berkeley and UC San Diego.

 

Host: (Dr. Richard Shafer)

Hello, I am Richard Shafer a journalism Fulbrighter in Singapore from the University of North Dakota

 


Start of Chat


 

Host: (David An)
Q
Would the candidates of the elections use controversial issues to attack other candidates? If it's false information, how the media treated those kind of information?
A
Falsifying information is a serious crime int he US, punishable by US courts in accordance to libel regulations. I find that elections are marred with exaggerated and biased information rather than completely false accusations. Reporters are tasked with verifying what they report. When this is not possible, they should seek alternatvie sources. Since media have deadlines they are not able to verify everything immediately. The audience should understand this. (2005-11-21 13:59)
 
Host: (David An)
Q
If a media is pro one political party, will it affect that media's reporting during the elections?
A
Definitely! The media obviously has their biases, and you can usually tell by the source of their funding. Media companies are generally loyal to organizations that support them financially, since those organizations ensure the welfare of the company and employees. However, the largest source of income for a media group will come from the size of their client base, who are the readers / viewers / listeners. Media sources will want to frame issues to cater to their loyal clientele by reflecting client values (whether moral or political), and therefore maintain their target market. (2005-11-21 14:02)
 
Host: (Richard Shafer)
Q
Taiwan will have mayor election on early December. A media likes to publish a slanderous video disc to against some candidates. The government think the media has the right to publish it be causing of the freedom of speech. During the US election, will US government allow any media to publish slanderous video disc or something similarity?
A
The US Supreme Court Decision, New York Times vs. Sullivan helped to establish that politicians have much more difficulty winning lible suits. The media is generally free to attrack them. About chasing negative stories during campaigns - it probably depends on how much other news there is to report. If things are slow, then there may be a tendency to report negative news. If the negative news is true, then I guess it is good that it is reported. (2005-11-21 14:06)
 
Host: (David An)
Q
My question is the mass media in Taiwan usually like to chas the negative campaign. How about in the state?
A
There are definitely negative ads in the US, as well. Campaigns classically have three steps - intro self (candidate), intro platform, then attack opponent. Each step is spaced several weeks apart. Like in Taiwan, negative ads appear very close to the day of the election. (2005-11-21 14:07)
 
Host: (Richard Shafer)
Q
Will the mass media affect the campaign results? If yes, any examples?
A
Yes. I think the media is the major factor in American campaigns. The media set the agenda and control the news. They also sell the advertising. (2005-11-21 14:08)
 
Host: (David An)
Q
therefore, should we treat mass media also as sort of lobby group for particular interest or political group?
A
I feel that mass media is a conduit of information, which frames (interprets) issues for a constituency. I don't see media as a constituency (voting public) in itself. (2005-11-21 14:10)
 
Host: (David An)
Q
if the issue voting is possible in the State, how did candidates focus on issues to cause media's attention?
A
Zaller, a renowned political scientist who researches elections, talks about the role of each candidate (as well as the media) in issue framing. In the case of media, issue framing is the act of interpreting the issue for the TV viewer, newspaper reader, or talk radio listener. This usually refers to some type of political bias that the media will use in order to achieve partisan goals. In the larger picture, daily life on capital hill is a battle over the issue of the day. Democrats and Republicans fight over which issues are important enough to make media headlines, and how those issues will benefit or hurt their image. (2005-11-21 14:12)
 
Host: (Richard Shafer)
Q
my question is about the mass media is controlled by the politican or businessmen in US?
A
I know that the local newspaper in my town is owned by a chain (corporation). The major stockholders are teachers and government workers of the State of Alabama. They don't give a dam n about what is in the newspaper, as long as they see a return on their investment. I think this is fairly typical of other newspapers and broadcast media. (2005-11-21 14:17)
 
Host: (Richard Shafer)
Q
In Taiwan, we've many elections from central to local. what's your view on this?
A
I don't think most journalists exercise a strong political bias. They are generally professional and know that exercising such a bias does not produce good newspapers. (2005-11-21 14:19)
 
Host: (David An)
Q
Generally speaking what issues the candidate will address in their TV advertisement in the US? Will those TV advertisement affect the election result?
A
Traditionally, TV ads will first introduce the candidate generally in the beginning of the election cycle. In the midpoint, they will focus more on issues and the candidate platform. Finally, right before the election, negative ads will appear that attack the opponent. This will definitely affect the election result because negative ads can greatly decrease voter turnout because voters are sick and tired of the negativity. Zogby, a famous pollster who spoke at the State Department in Oct 2004, believes that negative ads smearing Kerry made voters question his fitness as president, therefore losing narrowly to Bush. (2005-11-21 14:19)
 
Host: (Richard Shafer)
Q
Is there any mass media controlled by politican or bisineemen in US? whether there is any association of journalists to arue & firht for the right of speech ?
A
As I said, most mass media are owned by public corporations and have stockholders. Even corporate executives know that it is more profitable to have news professionals running their news operations. (2005-11-21 14:20)
 
Host: (Richard Shafer)
Q
Who can regulate US media's activities in the US? Could government shut down a media for a particular reason?
A
In 1798 during one world crisis and in 1917 during World War I the U.S. government censored the press and helped to jail editors. These were unusual circumstances. The Constitution generally protects the press from extreme forms of censorship. (2005-11-21 14:21)
 
Host: (Richard Shafer)
Q
Dr. Shafer, do you think the policing authority should be granted the right to review the slanderous video disc even before it is officially published? If it does, doesn't mass media lose its right of freedom of speech?
A
I guess I would have to know what is on the video disk that is "slanderous". Prior restraint on the media is very unusual in the US. Usually you can print or publish what you wish - then someone can sue you. Again, for public officials it is very difficult and expensive to win libel suits. (2005-11-21 14:23)
 
Host: (David An)
Q
How the candidates use internet to raise funds? What kind of activities candidates will do thru internet?
A
Regarding online fundraising: Howard Dean was extremely successful at using the internet to gain youth support and amass campaign funds. He jumpstarted a trend for politicians to use internet at a medium. Dean (Democratic hopeful who lost in the primaries against Kerry for the Democratic pres bid in 2004) raised over US $11 million dollars over the internet, of which Convio was $7.4 M US. (2005-11-21 14:25)
 
Host: (Richard Shafer)
Q
If a media have favor in one party by making citizens disunderstanding another candidates, parties, what cure that make the media healthier?
A
In American politcs, especially at the national level there is a great deal of money being spent. If one political part is getting a bad deal in a newspaper or on television they are bound to have professionals to spin the news or to purchase advertising to counter the effects of negative reports. Again, most newspapers will not blatantly support one political party. It is not profitable. (2005-11-21 14:27)
 
Host: (David An)
Q
My question is did survey made by mass media in the u.s. election powerful?
A
I'm happy you asked that question, since much of my research today is on public surveys in the US and also the upcoming December elections here in Taiwan. Candidates will alter their platform and public image based on voter perceptions, depending on if they're positive or negative, all because of the power of media in elections. Since several candidates competing for the same district may all have media as a tool to gain a comparative advantage, which is why we are finding electoral races to be much closer than the days of Gallup and the Literary Digest. Back then, as election surveying was just becoming a science, candidates competed almost blindly with much larger margins of victory than we see today. Through the media, today's political parties are able to run the most likeable candidates and are also able to fine tune their public image midcourse during an electoral race. (2005-11-21 14:28)
 
Host: (Richard Shafer)
Q
In State, they have mid-term election to exam the efficiency of executive. Do you have any idea about the factors affect election result?
A
Economics is probably the biggest factor effecting political results. There are hundreds of other variables but some strong issues in America now are the war in Iraq, abortion, gun control, and religion. There is a cultural war that continues based on some of these issues. (2005-11-21 14:29)
 
Host: (David An)
Q
Many media conduct exit poll for the presidential election. Do they do the exit poll for governor or other kind of elections?
A
Yes, like in Taiwan, polling is virtually constant in the US - with pre-election polling, midterm polling, and exit polling for elected officials at the higher levels. Additional polling includes value surveys, which officials use to gauge the public interest and better act while in office. Also like in Taiwan, many different news services will compete against one another by producing timely and quality polls at several phases of the election and administration cycle. (2005-11-21 14:32)
 
Host: (Richard Shafer)
Q
The media's roll in Taiwan always have there party situation. How about the State's media?
A
In America the party system is much older than it is in Taiwan. After more than 200 years of party politics reported in the US media, the party divisions might not be so strong or obvious as they are in your country. Our low voter turn-out might be an indicator of this. (2005-11-21 14:33)
 
Host: (Richard Shafer)
Q
ok.....I saw the answer but there is still another one about the association of journalists existing or not in US? & do they argue or fight for the right of speech-freedom?
A
Probably 98% of American journalists spend 40 or 50 hours a week reporting on local government, festivals, fires, births, divorces, and routine events. Very few are actively engaged in “fighting” for press freedom. It is very rare (although it occurs) for a journalist to get arrested or blatantly censored for doing his or her job. If someone is arrested or censored in some way there are powerful media advocacy organizations to fight these battles. Usually newspapers have libel insurance to pick up the cost for attorneys and court battles - but again the great majority of journalists don't have problems with direct censorship. (2005-11-21 14:37)
 
Host: (David An)
Q
We have so call "piract radio station" in Taiwan, and discuss political events all day long. Thus the voters seem like the view there broadcasted. Is there any possible to prohibit the pirot station?
A
In America, there are several different types of legal radio talk shows, such as National Public Radio (NPR, democratic). However, broadcasting in the US is controlled by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and all broadcasting sources must be registered to be legal. Illegal broadcasters are immediately shut down. However, freedom of speech is a major constitutional right in the US, so shutting down a radio station is about regulation and not about content. For instance, pirate stations may be broadcasting at a frequency that imposes on other stations or equipment may not be regulated. In short, there is less restriction on freedom of speech in the US, and more restriction based on legality. (2005-11-21 14:39)
 
Host: (Richard Shafer)
Q
DO you think that mass media controlled by political parties good?
A
In our media history classes we usually are taught that the evolution from the “Party Press” to the commercial press in the 1830s was good because newspaper supported by advertising could be more fair and balanced. There is another view that party-sponsored media might be of better quality - but the great majority of newspapers read by Americans are supported by advertising and don't clearly align with one party. (2005-11-21 14:40)
 
Host: (David An)
Q
Would the US political parties buy TV programs and try to use it to influence the result of the election -- to make the candidate at the same party win the election?
A
Yes, it is common for US political candidates to buy TV commercial time on public television during an election cycle. All sides will use TV, as well as other media to promote their electoral success. Limitations on buying TV programs may be on content, for instance there are certain FCC restrictions on content such as nudity or violence. But generally, candidate TV commercials are short and "feel good," except for the brief time before an election when negative ads will appear. (2005-11-21 14:42)
 
Host: (David An)
Q
What are your suggestions for the media regarding to the freedom of speech during the election?
A
Regarding freedom of speech: It sounds like you're asking me for my personal opinion, since you asked about "your suggestions." My personal answer will be somewhat philosophical. I would encourage the US media to broadcast "constructive" and not "destructive" freedom of speech. I believe that freedom of speech can build up a county in strength and honor, but also destroy a country through bitter arguments. But that would be my personal suggestion for the media, to make Americans and foreign observers proud of our democracy and to fully represent the meaning of a government elected by the people. (2005-11-21 14:46)
 
Host: (Richard Shafer)
Q
Is there a gov. regulation in the US to prohibit any mass media run in the US be owned by foreigner?
A
I would guess there is no such regulation for print media, but need to check US law and regulation. (2005-11-21 14:48)
 
Host: (Richard Shafer)
Q
Do u think about the public relations of political company keep going commercialization in the U.S? Do u agree the three conceptions of message, media and money are dominant positions in America's mass media?
A
There are obviously powerful economic forces attempting to control messages in the mass media. The alternative is state ownership and control. The best protection is to develop high quality professional journalists and pay them enough to maintain their integrity. At the same time we should educate the audience to be critical consumers of media content. We should help them (in our schools) to filter media messages and to not accept obviously biased and slanted news and information. (2005-11-21 14:49)
 
Host: (David An)
Q
In Taiwan the mass media usually uses agenda-setting to get attention, and people must follow them. Do you think the problem also happened in US? And how to effect election?
A
Yes, agenda setting is a big issue in the US electoral system, as it is in the Taiwanese system. In the larger picture, daily life on capital hill is a battle over the issue of the day. Democrats and Republicans fight over which issues are important enough to make media headlines, and how those issues will benefit or hurt their image. (2005-11-21 14:51)
 
Host: (Richard Shafer)
Q
If some mass media controlled by political parties, do you think the news they reported unbiased?
A
If you have multiple political parties putting out news and information, then you would hope you have competent news editors and reporters (gatekeepers) checking it for accuracy and attempting to provide a balance. Most American newspapers receiving blatant public relations press releases from political parties would tell representatives from those parties (public relations “flaks”) to buy an ad. In other words, why should they run political content for free when they can get paid to run it? (2005-11-21 14:52)
 
Host: (Richard Shafer)
Q
Do you agree the media shouldn't report any poll result before last ten day's campaign?
A
Maybe 5 days. I would like to hear all sides to that argument. It assumes that the public is stupid and needs protections from such poll results- and that the poll results can really affect the election. You have to be careful with such assumptions. (2005-11-21 14:54)
 
Host: (Richard Shafer)
Q
I am wondering whether the citizens in US are affected by the TV talk show than the people in Taiwan? Or maybe that's because the TV's program in Taiwan involved in the arguments between parties too much?
A
If you are taking media theory courses, then you know the difficulty with measuring media effects. I think it would be very hard to prove that talk TV in Taiwan directly affects voter decisions. I would guess that in the US that the more a person watches talk shows the less likely they are to vote. (2005-11-21 14:56)
 
Host: (David An)
Q
Thanks for your answer, and we all know the result last time is very close, did mass media help people to release the anger from the loser's supporter?
A
I feel that the democrats ("losing party") still hold on to bitterness against Bush (Republican victor) because many of their misgivings are based on rational opposition to his policies and person. If voters were less rational (or irrational), which I would say “emotional,” then maybe some media criticisms might make them feel better. But I feel that US voters are less irrational and more rational because they are more used to the three classical electoral factors of - party loyalty, candidate evaluation, platform (issues) - because the US democratic and electoral system is more mature relative to that of many other foreign governments. (2005-11-21 14:58)
 
Host: (Richard Shafer)
Q
Is it normal in the US that the political parties giving media pressure for seeking positive reporting?
A
Political parties in the US have enormous sums of money to spend and they have professional public relations teams spinning good about their candidates and bad about their opponents. It is a very old game. Good journalists try to play down the middle and fully understand that the rival political parties will try to manipulate them. It really isn't “pressure” everyone knows the game. (2005-11-21 15:01)
 
Host: (David An)
Q
Depending on the result of researches in US, do you think people in US as a voter care the economic issues the president candidates offered or not? Is that the key factor for voting?
A
I feel that economic issues will greatly impact the chances of the incumbent during an election, unless both candidates are fresh (and not incumbents). In a briefing by well known pollster John Zogby at the US State Dept Foreign Press in October 2004, 4 days before the 2004 US presidential election said that the US 2004 Presidential election was about a referendum on the incumbent. In the US, a presidential or senatorial election with an incumbent is basically a referendum because if the incumbent is doing well, as reflected in achieving their platform goals or exceeding popular demand, they will stand a major chance at reelection. In short, a strong economy will improve the incument (Bush, 2004) image, but a weak or faltering economy will fuel negative sentiment against the incumbent. (2005-11-21 15:03)
 
Host: (Richard Shafer)
Q
How to dispose times and hours of Ad. fairly in U.S. Election?
A
With regard to control on advertising with regard to elections, this is a great opportunity for the media to make money in order to be of better quality after the elections are over. I don't support controls on political advertising, although there may be some exceptions I am not aware of right now. (2005-11-21 15:08)
 
Host: (David An)
Q
Interesting.....why one should expect the times and hours of ad be fairly distributed during US election? Advertisement is indeed a product and is purchased by whoever wish to advertise oneself. Money talks, who pays the most will get the longest advertisement time.
A
Regarding the question about campaign ad times: I agree with your own question and answer. Advertising in the US is subject to market forces, what Adam Smith refers to as “the invisible hand.” Therefore TV peak hours will be more costly than 2AM broadcasting. The type of advertising a candidate can afford really depends on the size of his campaign fund, generated through fundraising banquets, donations, and the internet. However, I suggest that you research further into new “campaign financing laws” that limit the amount of spending for each candidate in order to even out the playing field for everyone. (2005-11-21 15:12)
 
Host: (Richard Shafer)
Q
Can you compare the paper & TV, which one to be regarded more objective in the election activity for the people in US?
A
As a former newspaper journalist I naturally advocate that newspapers do a better job of covering elections, although I am not sure they are more objective. Television formats allow only very cursory election coverage, although this coverage increases greatly as the election day nears. Usually television gives the bare basics of the issues. Those who want substance and balance will turn to newspapers and news magazines. Having said that, I would add that with the exception of our Fox network, most television journalists attempt to be fair and balanced. (2005-11-21 15:15)


End of Chat


 

 

Host: (Dr. Richard E. Shafer )

Thank you for allowing me to answer your very good questions. Please visit our country and make your own observations.

 

Host: (Mr. David An)

I thank everyone - AIT (de facto US Embassy), my girlfriend beside me, and all of the online chatters - for this enjoyable afternoon of enlightening discussions. I am currently based in Taipei and would love to discuss more issues with you all personally if you are interested. Feel free to contact me at daan@ucsd.edu. Thank you again for this enjoyable afternoon. : )