REVIEW OF NEWS
IYENGAR AND DONALD
Iyengar and Donald R. Kinder wrote News That Matters to address
questions regarding how the media affects the political views of the
public. The role and strength of media in politics had been debated
for decades. Through a long series of experiments, the authors found
that media can have a tremendous influence on peoples' political perceptions.
authors begin by dividing potential influences into two categories:
agenda-setting and priming. Agenda setting is the ability of the media
to lead people to think about certain issues. Priming is the ability
to influence the viewpoint through which people judge an issue.
some of the agenda-setting experiments, participants were shown, over
a period of time, what they believed were regular newscasts recently
recorded from television. The authors had edited the newscasts, though,
to include specific stories. The effect of the editing was the have
a particular issue repeatedly chronicled in the news. For example, each
day the participant might see newscasts which all had been edited to
include stories on lack of military funding. What the authors found
was that this agenda-setting did in fact change the issues participants
had considered important. Viewers who were not concerned about lack
of military funding prior to seeing several news stories on the topic
were more likely to consider the issue important after the experiment.
evidence of the success of agenda-setting, the authors wanted to know
what types of stories were more effective. The authors devised two categories:
how vivid' the story was and whether the story was a lead'
story. A vivid story is one which portrays an issue as it relates to
specific people. By contrast, pallid stories approach an issue from
a statistical or less personal side. The authors hypothesized that stories
that were vivid would be more effective. Similarly, the authors thought
that lead stories would seem more important to viewers. The vividness
hypothesis was not generally supported. In most cases, whether a story
was vivid or pallid had little impact on the viewers. The exceptions
were when the viewer seeing the vivid story found some personal connection
to the character in the story. The lead story hypothesis was supported.
Stories that were used to start a newscast were influential to viewers,
presumably because viewers think of lead stories as being the big
news' for the day.
authors successfully demonstrated the potential affects of agenda-setting.
Of course, their research did not show that agenda-setting actually
takes place, but rather that the media has the potential power to affect
national agendas. Also, it is important to note how agenda-setting related
to individual groups of people. Those who were most likely to succumb
to agenda-setting are those who are less educated. The authors write
on page 54: "Education is everywhere the universal solvent, and
the relationship is always in the same direction. The educated citizen
is attentive, knowledgeable, and participatory, and the uneducated citizen
their research on priming, the authors sought to discover the degree
to which media can change the measures that people use to evaluate issues.
If the economy is a concern for people, can the news affect whether
people view it as the responsibility of Congress or the President? Iyengar
and Kinder's research indicates the answer is yes.
can be used to affect the results of national polling. For example,
the authors point out on pages 64 and 65 that people are much more likely
to express support for the current tax structure if they are first asked
about their support for tax funded programs. In other words, after saying
they support a variety of programs, it becomes less likely that people
will then claim they want taxes decreased. The initial questions about
support for programs primed' respondents to later say they support
a series of experiments, the authors demonstrated that television news
was able to affect the standards people used to evaluate presidential
performance and character. They write: "The more television coverage
interprets events as though they were the result of the president's
actions, the more influential such coverage will be in priming the public's
assessment of the president's performance" (p. 82). If the news
consistently suggests that an economic downturn is the result of a presidential
policy, then the public will overwhelmingly believe that the president
has caused the downturn. On the other hand, "When television coverage
discounts the president's role, so, too, do viewers" (p.86).
while political sophistication made people more resistant to agenda-setting,
it did not help people resist priming. Presumably, those who are involved
in the political realm cannot be convinced merely by news that a minor
issue has become importantas agenda-setting can with the uninvolved.
Priming, though, is accomplished more easily with the sophisticated,
possibly because they already are concerned with the issues that they
are being primed to consider.
and Kinder do believe there are limits to the ability of news to make
people think certain issues are important, though. On page 118, the
do not] think that television news could long sustain a story that was
at odds with other credible sources of information.... Though, again,
little direct evidence. We believe that the networks can neither create
problems where there are none nor conceal problems that actually exist."
am not sure, though, that the news is as limited as the authors suggest.
Consider the public's concern over the epidemic' of school violence
following several highly publicized school shootings. Numerous researchers
showed that Americans believed school violence was increasing, even
though the actual numbers of violent crimes on school grounds had been
declining for years. Similarly, there was the "Summer of the Shark"
where the nation was convinced the shores of Florida had become a feeding-frenzy
for sharks, despite the fact that the number of attacks was normal.
The summer of 2002 saw several high-profile kidnapings, and again, many
in the public became scared over the increasing' number of kidnapings.
Again, there was no actual increase. And of course, the infamous radio
broadcast of War of the Worlds demonstrates that the news has such credibility
that many viewers will trust just about anything it says (though the
broadcast was not actually news, many people thought it was).
and Kinder worked hard to create valid experiments. However, it is difficult
to know whether their results are generalizable outside of their experiments.
Viewers were exposed to news in a controlled and somewhat contrived
setting. The authors did try to make the experimental setting as realistic
as possible. Participants were encouraged to bring their family and
watch television the same way they would had home. The situation was
still unnatural, though. Additionally, when research forges into new
territory, generalization is always risky. News That Matters
is an excellent contribution to our knowledge of political behavior.
However, it still leaves many questions to be answered, such as does
the news actually use its power, and if so, how does the media come
to decide what agendas to push or what issues to prime?
READ SOMEONE ELSE'S REVIEW:
Gonzales and Bo Hatch