The Press Effect: Politicians, Journalists, and the Stories That Shape the Political World

The Press Effect: Politicians, Journalists, and the Stories That Shape the Political World

The Press Effect: Politicians, Journalists, and the Stories That Shape the Political World

The Press Effect: Politicians, Journalists, and the Stories That Shape the Political World

Synopsis

Was the 2000 presidential campaign merely a contest between Pinocchio and Dumbo? And did Dumbo miraculously turn into Abraham Lincoln after the events of September 11? In fact, Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Paul Waldman argue in The Press Effect, these stereotypes, while containing some elements of the truth, represent the failure of the press and the citizenry to engage the most important part of our political process in a critical fashion. Jamieson and Waldman analyze both press coverage and public opinion, using the Annenberg 2000 survey, which interviewed more than 100,000 people, to examine one of the most interesting periods of modern presidential history, from the summer of 2000 through the aftermath of September 11th. How does the press fail us during presidential elections? Jamieson and Waldman show that when political campaigns side-step or refuse to engage the facts of the opposing side, the press often fails to step into the void with the information citizens require to make sense of the political give-and-take. They look at the stories through which we understand political events-examining a number of fabrications that deceived the public about consequential governmental activities-and explore the ways in which political leaders and reporters select the language through which we talk and think about politics, and the relationship between the rhetoric of campaigns and the reality of governance. The Press Effect is, ultimately, a wide-ranging critique of the press's role in mediating between politicians and the citizens they are supposed to serve.

Excerpt

In early December 2001, journalists were told by Bush administration officials that an about-to-be-released videotape of Osama Bin Laden not only provided evidence that Bin Laden planned the September 11 attacks, but included a detail worthy of a James Bond villain: Even some of those about to die in service to his cause were unaware that the plan called for their deaths. As CNN's John King reported, administration officials said the video showed Bin Laden “talking about how, and one official says laughing when he does so, that many of those hijackers did not know, when they were planning those attacks, that they indeed would die in what ultimately became suicide hijackings.”

From the tape itself, however, reporters learned that what they had been told was incorrect. On the tape, Bin Laden actually said that the hijackers hadn't known the details of the operation until just before it occurred but did know that they were participating in a “martyrdom operation,” a subtle but important nuance. Yet the news reports did not charge that administration officials had misled them about the details of the tape.

Why did reporters not call the officials to account? Because the “main story” of the tape—that Bin Laden admitted planning the attacks—was so significant, the press may have decided that the incidental falsehood was not noteworthy. We suspect that it was dismissed as well because the larger story of the time, a story embraced by Republicans, Democrats, citizens of small towns and large cities, and reporters alike, focused on the terrible crime that Bin Laden had engineered and his identity, in the . . .

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