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Government and the Media

Page history last edited by Sarah Tillery 13 years, 8 months ago

Government and the Media

Previous Page: Media in Elections and Campaigns                                                                                                                                      Next Page: Media Chapter Summary



                                             ACTIVITY: Do you think the Media should be able to keep tabs on the government? Do you think the Government                                              should keep tabs on the Media? What is the ideal relationship between these two entities?


A Brief History


The history of print media in the United States is a relatively recent one. Its origins can arguably be traced back to the ratification of the First Amendment in 1791. This amendment, as you know, guaranteed freedom of speech. The amendment paved the way for print media and allowed early newspapers to write about pretty much anything. By the late 1800s two prominent newspaper magnates had emerged, William Randolph Hearst, and Joseph Pulitzer (Yes, the guy that established the Pulitzer Prize). Hearst owned the “New York Journal,” and Pulitzer owned the “New York World”. Both of these highly competitive publishers started filling their newspapers with outrageous headlines to overplay the usually minor news. They also added a large amount of pictures and added comics regularly (something not regular at the time). However, most importantly they had an unbelievable tendency to side with the “underdog." In 1897 the “New York Press” coined the term yellow journalism to explain what had been going on. These newspapers had a direct effect on the United States government. Hearst ran a story on his newspaper with the header of “The War Ship Maine was Split in two by an Enemy’s Secret Infernal Machine” and stated that the Spanish had planted torpedoes on the bottom of the USS Maine, a ship that was stationed in Cuba. Without yellow journalism the people of the United States would have probably not backed the invasion of Cuba.


USS Maine1

In the 1930s radios were virtually in every household in America. This led to the emergence of the Fireside Chats. The Fireside chats were a set of thirty radio speeches addressing the American public; the first fireside chat took place in 1933. These chats were hosted by the then President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This was the first time in American history that a president had harnessed the Media’s power with such efficiency. These fireside chats helped FDR pass various bills through a republican congress by appealing to the general public. The public then sent a huge amount of letters to their congresspersons in order to pass the bill. Now even though the government used the media as an advantage, it also decided it had to regulate it. So in 1934 the FCC was made to regulate TV. This independent regulatory body now regulates communications via radio, television, telephone, cable and satellite. The FCC has three focuses. First it tries to prevent monopolies over broadcast media, so no single owner can control more than 35% of broadcasts. In second place it tries to only keep broadcasting stations that serve the public interest. Third, it makes sure that every station that sells advertising to one candidate is willing to sell it to the other candidate running for the same office.

The power of television came evident in 1960s with the Nixon-Kennedy debate and Edward R. Murrow’s criticism of Joseph McCarthy. During the presidential debate Nixon was sweating heavily and looked nervous, Kennedy on the other hand looked clean and cool. People who listened to the debate on the radio thought Nixon had the edge, but people who saw the debate on TV thought Kennedy had done the better job. Kennedy ultimately won the election.




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Nixon vs. Kennedy Debate

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Tomatoes: Fruit or Vegetable?




Joseph McCarthy3


Investigative Journalism


Investigative Journalism has and will continue to be a medium for journalists and brave people to expose or bring to light controversial stories. Most of the topics that are investigated by this method often involve political corruption, crime, or scandal. The journalists who carry out these investigations are sometimes called Muckrakers. Most of these stories make use of Whistleblowers, people who report certain misconduct to an external person, most likely a journalist. Various laws have been enacted to protect whistleblowers, these laws range from protecting nuclear whistleblowers, to protecting corporate fraud whistleblowers.



Whistleblower Laws




Protection to

Water Pollution Control Act (1972)

Water Pollution Whistleblowers

Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (1976)

Hazardous Waste Whistleblowers

Toxic Substances Control Act (1976)

Chemical Whistleblowers

Clean Air Act (1990)

Air Pollution Whistleblowers

Sarbanes-Oxley Act (2002)

Corporate Fraud Whistleblowers

Lloyd-La Follette Act (1912)

Civil Servants





There have been great examples of investigative journalism over the years but the greatest example of them all has to be Watergate. On June 17, 1972 five men were arrested for breaking and entering into the Democratic National Committee. Bob Woodard and Carl Bernstein from The Washington Post did a great job investigating this and linked the burglar’s to the Justice System, the CIA, and the FBI. The duo had a lead informant, essentially a whistleblower, named Deep Throat. After getting more and more information some subpoenas got issued to White House staff. The President at the time, Richard Nixon, resigned because it was certain that he would be impeached. A great movie about Watergate is All the President’s Men.



Public Polling

Public polling involves the use of Opinion polls; these polls are surveys that try to accurately represent the opinion on a particular topic. A very popular Opinion Poll is the Presidential Job Approval. The history of Opinion polls can be traced back to the first straw poll. This poll was conducted by The Harrisburg Pennsylvania in 1824. These local polls became very popular, even though they were unscientific. One great example of a scientific poll was the one conducted by George Gallup for the Landon-Roosevelt presidency race. This poll was much smaller but polled people from various demographics. The poll ended up being successful in predicting Roosevelt’s landslide win.


Currently there are various companies that poll the public’s opinion, some of these companies include:










 Previous Page: Media in Elections and Campaigns                                                                                                                            Next Page: Media Chapter Summary


Comments (3)

mberry said

at 10:18 am on Nov 18, 2009

Please do not link Wikipedia. ESPECIALLY a Wiki entry that has no sources or references (such as the one on Gallup). Gallup is an actual functioning organization. Google it, go to its site, learn about it, and then link the ORGANIZATION not Wikipedia! THe same is true for the others!

mberry said

at 10:20 am on Nov 18, 2009

Can you find the Nixon-Kennedy debate and the radio broadcast? You could have your readers compare the tv debate to the radio debate. Most listeners thought Nixon had performed better, but most TV viewers chose Kennedy...might be interesting to discuss and help your reader understand IMAGE in campaigning!

mberry said

at 8:57 pm on Dec 15, 2009

Why is McCarthy here? I like that he is...it was an important moment in govt and media, but you need to explain it!

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