Oil Company Divestiture and the Press: Economic vs. Journalistic Perceptions

Oil Company Divestiture and the Press: Economic vs. Journalistic Perceptions

Oil Company Divestiture and the Press: Economic vs. Journalistic Perceptions

Oil Company Divestiture and the Press: Economic vs. Journalistic Perceptions

Excerpt

Any academic who seriously wishes to aid in the design and enforcement of public policy soon recognizes the importance of the press in defining how influential a role he is likely to play. The press's importance derives in large part from the practical (and perhaps psychological) need of elected public officials—those who possess ultimate responsibility for the design of any public policy—to have their accomplishments brought to the attention of the electorate frequently and, on balance, favorably. Since the decline of the electorate's party loyalty and of effective political machines, a politician's success has become even more dependent on the evidence of concern, accomplishment, and credibility that he is able to project. Even a wealthy politician's reelection prospects will be damaged if his public activities fail to attract press attention.

The relationship between politician and press is one of the few truly symbiotic phenomena. The politician needs the press to feed his ego and to confirm and publicize his many talents to the electorate he represents; but the press needs the politician to help legitimize its pronouncements as to what are the true dimensions of the important public issues of the day. One undesirable progeny of this near incestuous coupling of politician and press is the creation of two types of problems for independent experts (that is, those who have relatively detailed knowledge of an issue but lack a vested interest in its outcome) who feel they have a duty to offer their informed advice to aid in defining and then remedying public problems.

The initial problem is one of access. Politicians tend to seek independent advice from those authorities whose opinions can generate favorable publicity. Thus, three sorts of advisers tend to be preferred: the relatively few experts who are already established media celebrities in their own right; those who are experts because they have somehow either been wronged or have witnessed and/or participated in abuses and thus can testify to “facts” that will provoke public attention, sympathy, and/or outrage; and those experts whose advice will confirm their politician-patron's wisdom in soliciting their counsel by supporting—perhaps unwittingly—his preconceptions.

Suppose the independent expert somehow overcomes the first hurdle and attracts political and/or media recognition and attention. A second problem remains-the rather high risk that both politicians and press will either misquote or deliberately distort whatever he has said in order to advance their “higher” ends.

Barbara Robbie's book uses both content analysis of press articles and statistical analysis of a questionnaire sent to a carefully selected sample of aca-demic economists and newspaper or magazine editors and writers to examine

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