Reporting on the Public Mind
In the last edition of his public opinion textbook, political scientist Bernard Hennessy made a rather offhanded and wry comment about mass media's linking role between policymakers and the public. "Political actors," he wrote, "tend to believe that the mass media have insight into the 'public mind' (an illusion carefully nurtured by the press)" ( 1985, p. 249).
Other political scientists have made similar comments that would substantiate at least the first part of that statement. For instance, policymakers' belief in media's effect on public concerns formed the basis for Bernard Cohen's original formulation of what came to be the media agenda-setting hypothesis. Cohen ( 1963) had noted that policymakers often were forced to divert their attention from pressing policy problems to respond to issues being covered by media, because they perceived that media issues were those that constituents would soon be posing as concerns to their elected representatives. Wolfgang Donsback, then president of the International Association for Public Opinion Research, argued the point this way: "Pollsters have taken away the several hundred years old monopoly of journalists to assess what the public thinks." ( 1989, p. 14).
There is, however, little hard evidence to substantiate Hennessy's parenthetical comment about journalism's carefully nurturing such an