With Malice toward All? The Media and Public Confidence in Democratic Institutions

By Patricia Moy; Michael Pfau | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
The Effects of Traditional Television News

Is Americans' involvement with television a dangerous one?

Communications scholar Jib Fowles ( 1992, p. 32)

The appearance of television on the American media landscape brought to a crescendo the cry that media are to blame for society's problems. In the political arena, the rapid adoption of television coincided with a steady decline in voter turnout (see Rosenstone & Hansen, 1993 for a review). According to data from the Center for Political Studies, nearly three-quarters of the most politically apathetic citizens reported television to be the medium they used most often; for the most politically involved respondents, that figure was under 60 percent ( Bennett, 1986). Supporting data come from Stephen Shaffer ( 1981) who found that between 1960 and 1976, voter turnout declined only 1.5 percent for those most reliant on newspapers, compared to over 10 percent for those least reliant on newspapers.

Television has been charged also with ills outside the voting booth. Robert Putnam ( 1995) asserts that television is the only medium to contribute to America's decline in social capital by privatizing citizens' leisure time. Putnam observes that the time citizens used to spend with their neighbors, bowling leagues, and civic associations is now spent in front of the television set. In contrast, newspaper reading is positively related to such civic engagement.

In addition, conventional wisdom maintains that newspapers are superior to television in imparting political information (e.g., Robinson & Levy, 1986, 1996). For some, this is not surprising given how television

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