U.S. Presidential Primaries and the Caucus-Convention System: A Sourcebook

By James W. Davis | Go to book overview
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policy. The media, on the other hand, "are governed mainly by news values: the issue for the press is not which candidates would be good for a majority of the country but which are material for good news stories." 24 The media have no desire to reconcile partisan differences or structure public policy. Indeed, the media thrive on partisan differences and candidate clashes, not the reconciliation of divergent viewpoints. Nor were the media ever designed to perform these political tasks.

In short, the media are by nature a business motivated by profit; the media are not in the business of governing. Instead, the network correspondents and the national press decide which presidential candidates are serious contenders, deserving coverage, and which contenders do not warrant serious attention.

This hardheaded approach, which denies some presidential candidates extensive coverage, seems unfair, but the mass media never entered the business of covering presidential candidates with the assurance that all would be treated equally. Indeed, presidential candidates enter the race with wide disparities in their public visibility. Still, most presidential candidates understand that the mass media are the "gatekeepers" who will largely decide which candidates stand a serious chance at entering the charmed circle at the party's national convention.

Significantly, the United States is the only Western democracy that is willing to turn over the task of structuring the nominating process to a private agency: the media. Elsewhere in the free world, political parties perform this essential task. 25 But there is scant evidence on the horizon indicating that the media-based selection process in the United States will be replaced by the only agency capable of evaluating and selecting presidential candidates on their ability to govern--the political party.


NOTES
1.
Thomas E. Patterson, Out of Order ( New York: Random House, 1994), p. 33.
2.
Thomas E. Patterson, The Mass Media Election: How Americans Choose Their President ( New York: Praeger, 1980), p. 3.
3.
Richard Rubin, Press Party and President ( New York: Norton, 1980), chap. 7.
4.
See James W. Ceaser and Andrew Busch, Upside Down and Inside Out: The 1992 Elections and American Politics ( Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1993), pp. 79-82.
5.
Table 12-2, "Use and Trustworthiness of Media, 1959-1994," in Harold W. Stanley and Richard G. Niemi, eds., Vital Statistics on American Politics, 5th ed. ( Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1995), p. 68.
6.
Ceaser and Busch, pp. 114-117.
7.
Philip Stern, "The Media Reformation," in T he Election of 1992, ed. Michael Nelson ( Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Press, 1993), p. 91.

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