CHAPTER 6
The Opinion Making Process

The power of the press in America is a primordial one. It sets the agenda of public discussion; and this sweeping political power is unrestrained by any law. It determines what people will talk about and think about--an authority that in other nations is reserved for tyrants, priests, parties, and mandarins.

-- THEODORE WHITE

THE NATION'S MEDIA elite occupy a unique position in the top-down policymaking process. The leadership of the nation's most influential media institutions--the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Washington Post-Newsweek, Time, U.S.A. Today, Capital Cities-ABC, Disney-CBS, General Electric-NBC, Fox Broadcasting, Turner Communications-CNN--are themselves an important component of the national elite. Indeed, today leadership of the mass media has established itself as equal in power to the nation's corporate and governmental leadership.

But the media also play another role in the policymaking process--that of communicating elite views to government decision makers and the masses of Americans. The media carry elite messages directly to government officials, most of whom begin their day by scanning the Washington Post, or the New York Times, or the Wall Street Journal, or browsing the Internet news sites, and watching television network morning news. For most of Washington, the news stories and opinion columns that appear each morning set the agenda for conversation for the rest of the day. And the media also determine what the masses of Americans will know about, think about, and talk about. Most Americans report that they get most of their news from television and that television news is more believable than any other source of information.

In short, the media in America are both an important component of the nation's top elite and an instrument in the policymaking process for communicating elite views to both government officials and the general public.

-103-

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