President and the News Media

Media networks are important players in the political arena, with people relying on evening news programs as their main source of information about the government and the president. In the United States, television and the Internet have a great impact on the presidency. Media coverage could strengthen the presidency but it can also damage the president's image. Modern presidents hold press conferences, keep the press at a close distance and use various techniques to portray a positive image and behave appropriately in the news. This courtship of the media targets favorable coverage of their policies.

Networks like ABC, NBC and CBS have a strong impact on public opinion in the United States. The image of the president can be affected by a variety of factors, including economic crises, foreign policy troubles, the changing balance of power and increased expectations by voters. Television news has brought major events into millions of American homes, including the Vietnam War, Watergate, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Gulf War and the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Every day, correspondents and producers decide on the content of the news coverage, determine the specific topics and the running order of stories. There are many areas that concern the president and his policies. However, the most intriguing question is how well the president is doing. News journalists have followed every step of President Barack Obama and those who have served before him in an attempt to gauge the opinion of the American public on his administration.

In the first months of a new administration, the news media try to outline a profile of the new president and usually work towards building him a positive image. At a later stage of the president's term in office, the news coverage changes its focus to more practical issues such as the president's legislative program and his policy. The third stage is when the media start giving evaluations to the president's work. Usually these evaluations are premature but networks need fresh and original topics every day. At the final stage of his term, the president himself is re-evaluated and often the revaluation is far from positive. The president often receives negative coverage after the first few months in office when the ‘honeymoon' period is over and the excitement that greeted a new president subsides.

A study presented in The Six O'Clock Presidency by Fredric T. Smoller, examines 5,292 presidential news stories aired on the CBS Evening News between January 20, 1969, to January 20, 1985. These stories cover the administrations of Nixon, Ford, Carter and the first term of Reagan. The study came to four main conclusions. First, television news is full of presidency stories. Second, the unfavorable content of the directional coverage predominates. Third, each president has received a heftier measure of poor coverage than his predecessor. Fourth, the tone of the coverage appears to be correlated with the respective president's support rating.

The administration of the president in turn also attempts to exert an influence on the media content and the image of the president that news media present to the public. Left without control, press coverage of the president may start damaging his image. The administration has staff that takes care of preparing the president for the topical issues reporters are likely to raise. A whole industry works on building the presidential image and maintains contact with the media on a daily basis through press briefings.

The administration realizes that the loss of public support will affect the president's policies as well as the entire term in office. Public support is a key issue when it comes to credibility and the president's ability to influence important members of the bureaucracy in charge. It is also important when the president has to carry out his domestic policy or communicate with relevant international politicians. The president would be unable to pass his proposals through the Congress if he does not have the public opinion on his side. There is also a direct relation between public support and the presidential vote, especially when an incumbent president is aiming at a second term of office. In many aspects, the news media are used as a mirror to reflect and explain the president's performance.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Press and the Modern Presidency: Myths and Mindsets from Kennedy to Clinton
Louis W. Liebovich.
Praeger Publishers, 1998
The Six O'Clock Presidency: A Theory of Presidential Press Relations in the Age of Television
Fredric T. Smoller.
Praeger, 1990
Presidential Crisis Rhetoric and the Press in the Post-Cold War World
Jim A. Kuypers.
Praeger Publishers, 1997
Presidential Polls and the News Media
Paul J. Lavrakas; Michael W. Traugott; Peter V. Miller.
Westview Press, 1995
Foreign Policy and the Press: An Analysis of the New York Times' Coverage of U.S. Foreign Policy
Nicholas O. Berry.
Greenwood, 1990
The Making of Theodore H. White's "The Making of the President 1960."
Miller, John E.
Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 2, June 1999
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Critical Press and the New Deal: The Press Versus Presidential Power, 1933-1938
Gary Dean Best.
Praeger Publishers, 1993
Bylines in Despair: Herbert Hoover, the Great Depression, and the U.S. News Media
Louis W. Liebovich.
Praeger, 1994
The Talkative President: The Off-The-Record Press Conferences of Calvin Coolidge
Howard H. Quint; Robert H. Ferrell; Calvin Coolidge.
University of Massachusetts Press, 1964
On Behalf of the President: Four Factors Affecting the Success of the Presidential Press Secretary
Towle, Michael J.
Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 2, Spring 1997
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The President, the Press, and the War-Making Power: An Analysis of Media Coverage Prior to the Persian Gulf War
Lewis, David A.; Rose, Roger P.
Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 3, September 2002
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Media Feeding Frenzies: Press Behavior during Two Clinton Scandals
Maurer, Paul J.
Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 1, March 1999
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Downsizing the News: Network Cutbacks in the Nation's Capital
Penn Kimball; American Philosophical Society.
Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1994
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Covering the White House And Congress"
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