Historical Trends in Questioning Presidents, 1953-2000

By Clayman, Steven E.; Elliott, Marc N. et al. | Presidential Studies Quarterly, December 2006 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Historical Trends in Questioning Presidents, 1953-2000


Clayman, Steven E., Elliott, Marc N., Heritage, John, McDonald, Laurie L., Presidential Studies Quarterly


The White House press corps has long had a significant bearing on presidential governance. Ever since opinion leadership became important for the chief executive in the early decades of the twentieth century (Kernell 1986), presidents have been dependent on the media and in particular the press corps as a conduit to the public. In recent years, the press corps has had to contend with the diversification of news outlets and news formats made possible by the rise of cable television and more recently the Internet (Baum and Kernell 1999; Cohen 2005; Wattenberg 2004). It would be a mistake to conclude, however, that traditional journalism represented by the White House press corps is no longer relevant. The audience for such journalism, while on the decline, remains substantial and includes a disproportionate share of opinion leaders. Correspondingly, although recent administrations have utilized other media outlets and communicative forms with growing frequency (e.g., television talk shows, talk radio, town hall meetings) they rarely avoid the press corps altogether, and they often make themselves more accessible when facing declining public support. The White House press corps thus remains a force to be reckoned with.

Moreover, the culture of the press corps--in particular, its tendency toward either a deferential or adversarial posture--is a central structural contingency shaping the institution of the presidency and presidential conduct (cf. Hager and Sullivan 1994). Thus, when the partisan press of the early nineteenth century was superceded by a more independent and unwieldy commercial press, it led to the institutionalization of the presidential press conference, the press secretary, and other vehicles of presidential news management (Ponder 1998). More recently, when the news media of the 1960s was perceived as magnifying societal unrest and dissent surrounding the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, administration officials responded with more strategic and comprehensive public relations planning, creating a new agency--the Office of Communications--devoted to this task (Maltese 1994). Accordingly, the presidency cannot be fully understood without taking account of the media landscape through which presidents must navigate in pursuit of popular support.

How hazardous is this landscape? Numerous scholars have argued that journalists since the 1950s have become increasingly independent, vigorous, and at times adversarial in their treatment of presidents, presidential candidates, and government officials generally. This idea was advanced most forcefully by Michael Robinson (1976) and has since received empirical support (Entman 2003; Hallin 1992; Hart, Smith-Howell, and Llewellyn 1990; Patterson 1993, 2000; Ragsdale 1997; Robinson 1981; Rozell 1994; Sabato 1991; Smoller 1990; see also Cohen 2004). However, much remains unknown about the magnitude and scope of this change. American journalists remain heavily dependent on government officials as sources of both information and opinion, such that negative and critical coverage tends to be contingent on the emergence of policy critics among officials themselves (Bennett 1990; Epstein 1975; Hallin 1984). Indeed, when critical content is documented in news coverage, it is often difficult to determine how much should be attributed to journalists per se as opposed to the authorities on which they are dependent, as well as the extrajournalistic reality in which both are embedded.

This complex picture has emerged from studies using traditional news stories, whether print or broadcast, as data. Overlooked are other modes of journalistic practice such as broadcast news interviews and news conferences, where journalists directly encounter public figures rather than merely writing or talking about them. Does the impetus toward greater vigorousness extend to these direct exchanges between journalists and officials? The answer is by no means obvious.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Historical Trends in Questioning Presidents, 1953-2000
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?