The Mass Media in Liberal Democratic Societies

By Stanley Rothman | Go to book overview

FOUR
THE ACCESSIBILITY BIAS IN POLITICS: TELEVISION NEWS AND PUBLIC OPINION

Shanto Iyengar

The latter half of the twentieth century may well go down as the age of television. Television takes up more of the typical American's waking hours than interpersonal interaction. Scholars from all of the behavioral sciences have been fascinated with the medium and have attributed a kaleidoscope of effects -- ranging from the stimulation of violence to the learning of altruism -- to television viewing. A recent compilation of the social science literature identified no fewer than 1,043 effects (both antisocial and prosocial) of television on social behavior.1

In the area of public affairs, the impact of television has been widely condemned. As the dominant form of mass communication, television is said to have contributed to a variety of maladies including reduced voter turnout, discounting of substantive issues in political campaigns, decline of the political parties, automatic reelection of incumbents, increased use of rhetorical and symbolic rather than problem-solving strategies of leadership and governance, and other fundamental changes in the political system. The unprecedented public popularity and significant policy successes of former President Ronald Reagan, for instance, have been widely attributed to his mastery of television.

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