Any study of linkage institutions would be incomplete without a consideration of the role
that mass media plays in the American political system.
Political parties and interest
groups serve as important links between citizens and government, but an increasingly
important component is mass media that provides information, and also shapes, fosters,
or censures it.
Mass media has become such an integral part of the political system that it
is sometimes called
“the fourth branch”
of government, and it both reflects and
influences public opinion.
The media link public opinion and the government, and the
influence of the mass media on politics is enormous.
THE FUNCTIONS AND STRUCTURE OF THE MEDIA
Mass media may be broken down into three major components: print media, electronic
media, and the internet.
Print media has played a role in American politics almost from
the beginning, when the early political parties published their own, very partisan
Electronic media became a force during the 20
century, first with the
invention of radio, and later the invention and widespread access to television.
internet first came to be used in the early 1970s by the government, and developed into a
major medium of communication by the century’s end.
FUNCTIONS OF THE MEDIA
The mass media perform a number of functions in American society, and all have an
impact on the political system.
Radio and television both emphasize entertainment, with prime-
time ratings for television often making or breaking the overall success of the
networks and individual stations.
Particularly in recent years politics has been a topic
for entertainment, with numerous movies focused on the president as the star of
fictional political sagas.
A popular TV series,
The West Wing
, began as an obvious
take-off on the real White House Office of President Bill Clinton, but it survived the
transition to the very different style and personnel of George W. Bush’s staff.
Popular late-night shows, such as
Saturday Night Live
, also entertain people with
their humorous treatment of political figures and events.
This type of entertainment
may play an important role in political socialization, shaping opinions of political
institutions and practices at the same time they are entertaining us.
News Reports –
Reporting the news has been a major function of print media since
the early 19
century, and newspapers and magazines remain an important source for
people interested in simply finding out what is happening in the country and the
world outside. Today more people rely on television than on newspapers and
magazines to provide news.
In the early days of television, news was generally
reported early every evening in a fifteen-minute segment before the night’s
Today network news has expanded to thirty and sixty minute
segments, but cable television has made round-the-clock news reporting possible,