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Media Influence in Elections

Historical account of Media influence during the Election

United States Congress

In elections, voters are swayed by many types of media. The perceptions of each candidate are the product of how the media portrays them. Often animals are used as a tool to earn the trust of the party or distrust depending on the story created by the media. News reports and other propaganda dictate voters using the power of a good story. For instance, Fox News will lean toward a Republican president; CNN News will lean toward a Democrat. This includes liberal and conservative views as well. The news broadcasted is biased according to the major sponsors and the intended viewers. In a way, the candidate you vote for is chosen by the news you watch. Voters depend on a nonbiased view from the news broadcasts but this is far from honest. Multinational conglomerates own or sponsor your news media and, in turn, decide which candidate you view favorably. Madison, in Federalist Paper No. 49 argues that regular mass appeals would not serve the national interest because they would cause “the passions… not the reason, of the public [to] sit in judgment.”

One of the most famous and widely covered presidential stories is the Lewinsky Case. President Clinton denied sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky in 1998. During this time the Democratic party took a serious blow. The media constantly covered this story to influence the voters for the Republicans in the next term. “The public perceived the media, especially the television, as promoting the removal of the president…and as an invasion of the president’s right to privacy” (Arthur H. Miller, “Sex, Politics, and Public Opinion: What Political Scientists Really Learned from the Clinton-Lewinsky Scandal,” December 1999). The story was constantly covered and President Clinton lost voter approval due to the affair. Several years later he was covered as a positive politician and glorified in the media. He even helped influence voters for Barack Obama. The media completely changed the public view of Former President Clinton. Media put Clinton back in favor of public opinion and that change in agenda helped Obama into office.

Bush had interference with shareholders of the CSN News while he was the governor of Texas and was viewed in a negative light with an advertisement. Bush was ridiculed by the CSN news and the FCC even demanded that the ad should be shown. “The Federal Communications Commission has told the state's largest commercial television station it must run an ad critical of Texas Governor George W Bush, even though the spot contains unproven allegations.” An FCC spokesman said stations must air ads, if they are paid for by another qualified candidate, and, as long as the candidate appears in the spot. "Even if the (television) station knows for a certainty that this information is false, because of the no-censorship provision in the equal-time law, the station has no choice other than to broadcast it, " said Bobby Baker, the head of political programming for the FCC. [CSN News, 2008, New Hampshire]. Even with the knowledge of false information, the FCC demanded that it be shown. The CNN News decided to push voters in the opposite direction. “The Republican National Committee is warning television stations across the country not to run ads from the MoveOn.org Voter Fund that criticize President Bush, charging that the left-leaning political group is paying for them with money raised in violation of the new campaign-finance law” [CNN News, 2008, Washington]. Voters depend on nonbiased opinions in the news but all opinions of our candidates are based on what stories are covered and how in depth the journalism can be. Also, we are at the mercy of the “art of journalism.” Often stories are embellished or fabricated for the entertainment value in our news. When a story is riveting and shocking the viewer is more likely to stay with that news station. This embarrassing type of journalism is called “Yellow Journalism” and is defined by using biased, ill-researched information. We see this all too often in our news and most of us have no idea. The Bush Administration went so far as to use propaganda to influence foreign views of America. “An Arab-language television network and radio station, founded by the Bush administration to promote a positive image of the United States, has aired anti-American and anti-Israeli viewpoints, has showcased pro-Iranian policies and recently gave air time to a militant who called for the death of American soldiers in Iraq. So far, U.S. taxpayers have spent nearly $500 million to fund those broadcasts. The television station, called Alhurra, and the radio network, Sawa, were meant to provide an American perspective on world events and counter the wave of global criticism that had been building against the Bush administration since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.” [Lite-News, 2008] The news has always been used to persuade the public and not just by advertisement.

In 1979 Jimmy Carter was accused of being naïve to communism during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He was quoted and ridiculed on ABC News when he stated, “This action of the Soviets has made a more dramatic change in my own opinion of what the Soviets’ ultimate goals are than anything they’ve done in the previous time I’ve been in office.” A short statement was issued by Reagan’s ambassador to the United States, Jeane Kirkpatrick.

“While Carter was president there occurred a dramatic Soviet military build up, matched by the stagnation of American armed forces, and a dramatic extension of Soviet influence in the Horn Of Africa, Afghanistan, southern Africa, and the Caribbean, matched by a declining American position in all these areas. The United States never tried so hard and failed so utterly to make and keep friends in the Third World. As if this were not bad enough, in one year, 1979, the United States suffered two other major blows in Iran and Nicaragua of large and strategic significance. In each country the Carter administration not only failed to prevent the undesired outcome, but actively collaborated in the replacement of moderate autocrats friendly to American interests with less friendly autocrats of external persuasion.” [Deliver Us From Evil, Sean Hannity, 2004]

After this fiasco, Jimmy Carter avoided the limelight as much as possible reinforcing the opinion of distrust on his office.

After the Iran-Contra incident Reagan’s approval rating plummeted but with the help of the media, he was actually able to leave office with the highest approval rating since Franklin Roosevelt. Reagan’s Iran-Contra Affair began with his approval to sell weapons to Iran with the proceeds going to Colonel Oliver North and the National Security Council for the Contras. Reagan negotiated with terrorists to free seven American hostages being kept in Lebanon, He had strict policies against negotiating with terrorist and during this time he violated the Boland Amendment of 1985 against aiding the Contras. His approval rating fell from 67 percent to 45 percent in a single month. The American people were outraged at his decision. Ronald Reagan addressed the nation on March 4, 1987:

“Let’s start with the part that is the most controversial. A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower board reported, what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages. This runs counter to my own beliefs, to administration policy, and to the original strategy we had in mind. There are reasons why it happened, but no excuses. It was a mistake. I undertook the original Iran initiative in order to develop relations with those who might assume leadership in a post-Khomeini government.” [Address to the Nation, 1987, University of Virginia]

Around this time President Reagan did away with the “Fairness Doctrine” placed by the Federal Communications Commission. The Fairness Doctrine regulated TV stations requiring them to cover contrasting points of view. After this deregulation, Reagan’s approval rating made the steady climb to 67 percent.

During the presidential race, the liberal news media covered a story about the Republican nominee Mitt Romney. This story was about Romney tying his dog in his kennel on the roof of his car and driving his car to a vacation spot. This extensive cover of this story may have cost him the election. Barack Obama went a step further than Reagan using the media to his advantage. He attempted to put in place a plan with the Federal Communication Commission to restrict the public media. President Obama wanted to place an official in news rooms throughout the country to determine if the broadcasts told citizens information he deemed news worthy. Early in his presidency Obama was portrayed as a savior. He made the cover of GQ magazine and was considered the most influential man of his time. Now in more recent years he has been called the least influential by the media and depending on the news you watch he is called “ultra liberal” or a dictator. When judging a politician, predetermined attributes will always be found. His presidential approval rating is slowly slipping and if his plan with the FCC had worked out, that would not be an issue.

Richard Nixon was one of the most talented presidents when it came to dealing with the media. During the war in Vietnam he made the “Silent Majority” speech in an attempt to bring America on board with a slow early withdrawal of troops. In this speech he asked the American people to assist him in “ending the war in a way that brings peace.” He believed the liberal media would tell only one side of his story and his way of being heard without bias interference was to talk directly to the citizens of America. Nixon’s relationship with the media had many ups and downs, the most famous being his well-known “Checkers Speech.” In 1952, Nixon was Eisenhower’s running mate and it was reported in a New York newspaper that he had personal funding from political campaign backers. He accounted for his finances on national television to show transparency and honesty. The emotional appeal set in when he discussed a dog named “Checkers” that was purchased for his children and he said “we’re going to keep him.” This speech was a famous display of his media manipulation and his ability to keep favor with the media. This type of transparency is also what cost Nixon his presidential office. During a time when press leaks were becoming more common he appointed a group of “plumbers” to investigate how the press leaks were happening. The plumbers made their way to Watergate in search of information to discredit Daniel Ellsberg in an attempt to battle the press leaks. Of course Nixon denied all knowledge of the event. John Dean testified to Nixon’s knowledge of the event and he was subpoenaed for conversations that occurred in the Oval Office about the burglary. After some time he decided to use his transparent strategy with the public by releasing edited transcripts of tapes including the Watergate scandal. This gave the media perfect ammunition to end his presidency. Nixon’s credibility was destroyed by the conversations he gave the media to save himself. On August 8, 1974, Nixon resigned his presidency.

The media can decide if a president should be viewed in a favorable light. Also, the media is able to change public opinion at no notice at all. Political points of view are not the only aspect controlled by your nightly news. Media influences your state of mind with every report of goodwill or crime and strategically placed presidential information will arouse your acceptance or disdain of a candidate. If each of the scandals previously mentioned was not covered as a front and center story they would not have had any influence on the presidential office and the outcomes would have been very different. Giving this thought consideration it makes one question exactly how much influence the media holds. The influence of popular opinion has come a long way from the days of old in the gossip of a sewing circle.

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