Archive for the ‘media influence’ Tag

Media Slinky Effect   Leave a comment

My copy of my Masters thesis has been trapped on a hard drive of a long defunct computer for a long time, but a good friend recovered it for me so I could mine it for this series. After recognizing that it is the sort of geeky research you do when a committee requires you to, I have decided to use it only as a guide.


Media influence on society has been extensively researched and for me, revisiting this topic after the rise of social media, it has been overwhelming to sift through all the material. When I was writing my thesis in the 1980s, there were still only a handful of channels to choose from and most people got their news and analysis either from CNN and/or the network channels and/or the newspapers and news magazines. Today, you can literally find thousands of media outlets across the Internet to choose from and you can self-select your very own opinion bubble.

Some studies suggestt that audiences choose their media content, channel and genres because of factors that already exist in their lives – age, experience, social identity, but there are also studies that indicate that media influences those choices, supplementing the personal preferences of the audience.

A prime example would be the studies that focused on media effects on adolescent aggression. Some of those studies showed an apparently correlative relationship between violent media content and aggression in teen audiences. Other studies found independent variables such as gender, age, substance use and prior victimization were contributing factors. In other words, teens who are drug users and/or come from an abusive household and also watch violence in media are more likely to be violent, while teens without these exascerbating factors appear much less affected by violence in the media. A child psychiatrist I once worked with in the social work agency suggested that substance-using teens with violent upbringings self-select violent media more than straight-edge kids. The studies are inconclusive, but I trust his 40 years of boots-on-the-ground experience more.

Similarly, there is apparently correlation between sexual content in media and sexualization of pre-adolescents within the audience, but there is also strong counter evidence to suggest that parental attitudes toward sexualization influences whether children watch sexual content in media and, therefore, is at least a contributing factor. In other words, if parents who think it’s okay for junior high kids to have sex tend to allow their children to watch sexual content on television and their kids are more likely not only to watch sexual content in media, but also to engage in sexualized behavior at a younger age. Is this the result of media influence or parental attitude? Well, parents who object to their kids having sex in junior high tend to restrict their children’s access to sexual content in media and their children appear to be sexualized at an older age. Again, what is the correlation? Which came first?

My 1980s self, pre-kiddos, thought it was a reciprocal relationshp, that media selectivity and media effects are mutually influencing process. It can be argued that media content serves to reinforce existing beliefs, but it can also be asserted that increased exposure to certain contenet through media can lead to additional informationg-seeking  behavior.  Exposure to online pornography, for example, seems to lead to seeking more online pornography, which is perhaps an indication that this media reciprocity moves forward with time, each cycle reinforcing the previous cycle.


What I watch influences me, so I watch more of it, until I believe what I watch, so I watch even more of it and because I believe it, I reject alternative channels of media that might disabuse me of my beliefs.


Media influence reciprocity may be described as a spiral in which the role of prior beliefs and media influence moves foreward, changing and/or reinforcing beliefs, leading to more selectivity, which leads to more influence and more changing or reinforcement of beliefs. It is not a static relationship. Sometimes media has the greater influence and sometimes pre-existing beliefs do, but generally, these spirals of influence reinforce one another over time.

So, for example, let me introduce you to a liberal friend. She is an aggregate of several coworkers from my former place of employment in touchy-feely, wishy-washing social work land. I’m going to call her “Ashley” because in all the years I worked there, there was never an Ashley employed there. Ashley is a Democrat who went to a liberal liberal arts college and holds a masters degree in Social Work. She took consumer economics in high school and the History of Women in college. She believes President Obama is perhaps the greastest president since FDR and maybe the greatest one since George Washington … if George Washington had not been a racist homophobe slave-owner. She can’t name even one article of the Constitution and has never read the Federalist Papers let alone the Anti-Federalist Papers. She watches PBS, listens to NRP and is a regular reader of the Huffington Post. When you suggest she might find a greater depth of knowledge by broadening her media intake, she insists that you’re a right-wing idiot who only watches Fox News network and probably has nothing more than an 8th grade education. When you point out that you have a Masters degree and have read the Constitution, the Wealth of Nations, the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers, Frederick Bastiat, Lysander Spooner and Das Capital and  and also ocassionally watch PBS and listen to NPR while also turning into Fox News and other media, she insists that it’s all because you watch Fox News that you believe such “lies” as there is “no such thing as a free lunch” and the US Constitution restrains the government from abusing the people and not the other way around.

Reinforcing spirals strengthened by self-selection of media.

Of course, we do not live in a closed system … unless we want to. I can and do tune into many media channels that do not necessarily support my presuppositions. Sometimes what I learn there influences me at least to the point of causing me to examine some beliefs. There are beliefs that warrant examination from  time to time and divergent media content can be an influence in that reevaluation, but ultimately our most closely held beliefs are unlikely to be dislodged by mere influence by media.

The question is — should they be?

Entertainment as Advertising   Leave a comment

Film is a medium that we think of as entertainment, but often this is not entirely the case. Take military movies, for example. Films such as Top Gun included heavy involvement of the Pentegon and other military boosters to provide an awe-inspiring film. When Hollywood comes to the Pentegon with a request for production assistance, the military sees this as an important opportunity to tell the American public something about the US military that will help them recruit and retain personnel. It is a relationship of mutual exploitation. Movie makers get to use military props — where else are you going to find an aircraft carrier? — and the Pentegon gets to influence how it is portrayed on the silver screen.

That works the opposite way as well. Movies like Platoon, Dr. Strangelove and The Hurt Locker portray war in certain ways to influence the audience to reject war in any and all circumstances. These movies may not get the Department of Defense seal of approval, but they do no less an effective job at presenting anti-war propaganda for a particular political agenda — using entertainment to influence political viewpoints.

Promised Land (Matt Damon’s anti-fracking movie) is a clear example of this. Despite the Environmental Protection Agency saying there is no scientific evidence to support concerns over ground-water contamination from fracking, the movie has several scary scenes showing burning water coming out of the tap. For the record, the EPA has found no burning tap water that it is admitting to … and it’s the EPA, so chances are good, if burning tap water existed anywhere on the planet, they’d find it and put a stop to whatever was causing it. I’m expecting them to outlaw oxygen as a flammable gas sometime in the future — perhaps in my life time.

Ever wonder why there is now a gay character on almost every show on American television? Supposedly homosexuals makes up about 5% of the population, but they are represented on almost every television series. Why? It’s been on ongoing campaign in Hollywood since the mid-1980s to normalize homosexuality in the American mind, but it is hard to normalize 5% of the population. It’s too small a slice of the population to be viewed as normative. By presenting homosexual characters that are entertaining and likable on almost every show, Hollywood promotes a particular view of American society that doesn’t really exist. There is not a gay person in every office and not every family in America has at least one gay member. Having worked with a number of lesbians and gay men over the years that I worked in social work, I can tell you from personal experience that some of them are very nice people who live fairly ordinary lives, but none of the men I know are monogamous and the women are not lifelong partners with one another and, yes, some of them sexually abuse their stepchildren and sexual harass their heterosexual coworkers. Until that side of reality is shown on television, the portrayal of homosexuality on American television can be called propaganda in the same way that the unrealistic portrayal of heterosexual family life on 1950s television was also false, misleading and manipulative.

Again, while it is tempting to call for regulation to demand that entertainment and advertising/propaganda be kept separate and well identified, it never works out well to do it that way. Regulation is a slippery slope that starts out for the good of the nation and then turns into a tyrannical nightmare. A better solution would be for Americans to recognize the manipulation for themselves and use the power of the wallet to make it stop … or switch channels and read a book, which will amount to the same thing — and leave those who like to watch certain sorts of fairy tales to do what they like.

Who is Influencing Whom?   Leave a comment

We live in an age that demands timeliness and instant access to information and the media play a crucial role in informing the public about politics, campaigns and elections. While the media fulfills this role, American culture is cynical about the media and politicians, perceiving a media bias. What is often overlooked is that government has a tremendous influence on the media at least equal to the influence the media exerts on government

Does the media report politics or does it shape political events?

The media helps influence what issues voters should care about in elections and what criteria they should use to evaluate candidates. There’s a belief that the media influences the voting behavior of people. It’s unlikely that someone who takes an active interest in politics is going to be redirected by the media. However, the media can sway people who are uncommitted to a clear position. Since these voters often decide election results, the power of the media can be substantial.

Because I read Barack Obama’s books and saw stances there that I could not support, it wouldn’t have mattered what the media reported in the run-up to the 2008 election. I was going to vote against him. But if you never read the books or you hadn’t met Sarah Palin personally or you thought John McCain was a little old, the media promoting Barack Obama at every turn probably had some influence in convincing you to vote for him.

Successful politicians learn that the media are the key to getting elected. FDR massaged American sentiments with his Fireside Chats. Ronald Reagan used his film skills to communicate very effectively with American voters. Government officials stage media events with the precision of wedding planners. Critics believe too much attention is focused on how politicians look and on the occasional soundbite than on how they have performed in office or the experience they bring to their first crack as a public servant. Media exerts a profound influence on the behavior of candidates and officials.

Most Americans learn about social issues from print or electronic media. Media focused on some issues and ignores others and that can help set what gets done in government. Media sources are often accused of emphasizing scandal and high-interest issues at the expense of duller, but more important political programs. The government’s priorities can be rearranged as a result.

On the other hand, a 2013 Pew report on the state of the media exposes one of the worst-kept secrets in politics: reporters are losing their power to frame presidential contests for the average citizen.

Technology has enables candidates/campaigns to more effectively end-run the mainstream media. President Obama’s campaign team has used everything from Twitter to images on Flickr to sell their preferred image of the nation’s chief executive.

This is exaserbated by their being fewer news reports than there were a decade or so ago. Magazines and newspapers are shrinking and these were the investigative reporters of the past. With fewer reporters and more to cover due to the 24-hour news cycle, there is a tendency to resort to paint-by-numbers reporting for those who are still in the business.

What does this mean for political coverage? Well, political media has less ability to play its traditional referee role at the same time that public distrust of the media is rampant among partisans of both parties. Without the negative influence of the media, some people say, the public can focus on the issues and where the two parties stand.

Or not….

Nearly three-quarters of all statements made about the two candidates’ characters in 2012 were negative, which was a significant rise over 2008, which was the most negative campaign I watched on television … and one reason I no longer use television for political news.

With the news organizations pushed out of the information pipeline, voters are alone in sorting through messages that are tested before focus groups and opposition attacks tailored with great specificity. Is that independence a good thing? Well, I like it, but it is a lot easier to campaign successfully if there’s no one checking a candidate’s facts and increasingly, there is no one checking the facts.

Campaigns have more power to frame both their positive narratives and their opponent’s negative one. If the Pew numbers are right, both sides are spending an inordinate amount of money on the negative side of the ledger.

This is where social media come in. I don’t buy that you can learn anything about a candidate or an issue in a Twitter or Instagram post, but social media does give folks an opportunity to talk about what’s important to them and how a candidate might or might not address those concerns. And, if the current debate on the Keystone Pipeline is any evidence, Facebook is filled with emotional rhetoric lacking the ability to fact-check.

More than that, the Internet has allowed a flood of non-tradition news sources — some with variable trustworthiness. Again it comes back to whether or not we the people should trust any media source on any subject.

Additionally, we should be aware that as much as the media influences government through influencing elections, our government influences us through its manipulation of the media.

A Look at the News   Leave a comment

There are three major news networks these days — CNN, MSN, and Fox News. It depends on who you talk to whether these are liberal-bias, conservative-bias, or middle of the road. And plenty of people will sneer at the Fox News motto of “fair and balanced.”

In the run up to the 2008 election, the highly popular governor of Alaska was the vice-presidential candidate. I’m not going to rehash that campaign. Water under the bridge. But I would note that the news media all reported extensively on Sarah Palin and on Alaska. It was this coverage that ended my long belief that CNN was a middle of the road network that offered the most honest coverage.

Alaska is a subject I can claim some expertise in, so of course, when I heard things that made no sense with what I knew, I researched it. It’s what I do, right? There was the story that Sarah cut the state Department of Education budget by 30%. That seemed unlikely since there wasn’t a huge furor over it in Alaska at the time. Remember, I live in Alaska. It should have been front-page news here. So I fact-checked it. It was easy to do. A lot of Alaska’s public records are on line and most of the newspapers had covered it, but they hadn’t covered it as “Sarah Palin destroys education” but “As Sarah Palin maintains fiscal sanity during record oil revenues” .

In 2007, oil prices were booming and the State of Alaska was benefiting from that. The Legislature, in a organism of ecstasy at $90 a barrel oil, had submitted a budget that increased the Education budget by 30% and Sarah, calculating on a budget set for $65 a barrel had red-lined the increase and held spending at previous levels. Sarah did not cut the budget. She just refused to let them increase it.

NOTE:  This turned out to be incredibly prescient. Parnell allowed the budget to increase with the price of a barrel of oil. Now the price of oil is $50 a barrel and our state budget is set for $110 a barrel. Alaska is running a deficit. Unlike other states, we have savings accounts to cover us while we bring spending under control. We have those savings accounts (in excess of the Permanent Fund) because Sarah held the line on spending when we were rolling in revenue. Had Sarah remained our governor we probably wouldn’t be going through this crisis now.

There were several other claims about Alaska by CNN during that campaign that were easily fact-checked and turned out not to be true. I went so far as to forward two of them with links to the actual information to the CNN reporter (Solidad O”Brien as I recall) and received a canned reply. After about my third fact-finding foray, I decided — for the first time — to give Fox News a chance. I’d always heard that they were entertainment based and fake conservative. I’d seen some interactions between Alan Combs and Tucker Carlson years before that I hadn’t been impressed with. But I knew one thing. I knew that CNN was getting facts that were readily available to anyone with a standard search engine wrong and that meant I needed a new broadcast news network.

I was leery, so I googled anything that sounded fishy to me for quite some time and, for the most part, Fox’s news coverage is fair and balanced. Now, I’m not talking about their editorial policy. I’m talking about their news coverage. You don’t have to believe me. Here’s a study by an international outfit that looked into it.

But here’s the thing — I’m not at all sure we should be getting all of our news from a single cable channel or even several. And I’ll explain why in my next post.

Who Controls the Media?   Leave a comment

The owner of a medium company shapes the values, beliefs and decisions of his/her customers.

Many media are owned by conglomerates, mega-corporations that control vast swaths of mass media.

According to a recent Fortune 500 list, the top media companies by revenue are:

  • Walt Disney Company
  • News Corporation
  • Time Warner
  • CBS Corporation
  • Viacom
  • NBC Universal
  • Sony Corporation of America

Together, these giants control 95% of all the traditional media we receive every day. By traditional media, I mean television and radio broadcast stations, networks and programming, video news, sports entertainment, entertainment theme parks (yes, that’s a medium), movie studies, integrated telecommunications, wireless mobile entertainment and information distribution systems, video games software, electronic and print “news” media”, the music industry, … and a whole lot more.

When I was in college, there were only three broadcast major networks, but companies were not allowed to own many stations in one geographic area, so there was some diversification. The hope of deregulation of the broadcast industry in the 1980s was that it would generate competition in the broad media field. It worked for a while, resulting in the rise of talk radio, but then the larger media corporations gradually began to buy out the smaller companies. Diversity was subsumed by merger until today’s handful of huge companies have the power to shape our opinions and beliefs and influence our decisions in a way only dreamed of by NBC, CBS, and ABC in the the 1970s.

“They” say “knowledge is power” and the knowledge that only a handful of huge corporations control almost all the media in America culture gives us the power to seek different perspectives and be wary of trusting any one medium for all of our news, entertainment and opinion.

But first, let’s look at that influence to determine if it is necessarily a bad thing.

Introduction to Mass Media Influence   1 comment

My friend Joe Attanasio suggested that my next big theme should be how media influences the whole of society (morality, fashion, racism, politics, spending habits, economics, parenting, etc) and how we can learn to think for ourselves and disseminate truth from hpe and lies.”

Wow, what a great topic and one that I am actually qualified to discuss. Often when I go researching a topic, my only expertise comes from reading and researching, but I was a journalism major in college and I wrote my Masters on a similar subject. Not that I think you need a degree to express an opinion or even to become an expert on a subject, but I actually do have a degree in this stuff.

The influence of mass media on society has grown exponentially with the advance of technology over the last half millennia.

It’s really hard for us today to imagine a time when news was the town crier who got it from the traveling minstrel, who got it from a castle bard, who maybe overheard it being discussed by his lord and another over cups of mead. We are so saturated in media that we struggle to conceive of a time when there were few books, no newspapers, magazines, photography, recordings, films, radio, television, the Internet or social media.

Today, our whole lives and the lives of almost everyone in the developed and many of the developing nations depend information and communication to keep us moving through daily activities like work, education, health care, leisure activities, entertainment, traveling, personal relationships, and shopping.

A lot of people I know wake up, check the cellphone for messages and notifications, look at the TV or newspaper for news, commute to work listening to the radio where they read emails, take meetings and makes phone calls, eat meals recommended on websites, and make decisions based on the information that we gather from those mass media and interpersonal media sources.

What does it matter?

We are so saturated in media that we may not even be aware that the values we hold, the beliefs we espouse and the decision we make are based on assumptions and information largely gathered from media sources rather than on our own experiences and what we know for a fact.

Think about it. We rely on mass media for the current news and facts about what is important. We trust the media as an authority for news, information, education and entertainment. Considering that powerful influence, then, we should know how it really works.

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