Walter Lippmann famously wrote that most of the political world with which citizens
must cope is “out of reach, out of sight, out of mind,” leaving most to rely heavily on
mass media reports for their news.
Although there are many news outlets available, an
overwhelming majority of Americans (74 percent) claim to get their information on both
affairs from television. Of those who report relying on
television as their primary source, more people say they get their news from local
broadcasts than from any one of the three national networks.
Indeed, more than half of
Americans (59%) watch local news regularly, substantially more than any other news. It
follows from this logic that local news is a primary source of information for the general
citizenry, not just on local issues, but on global issues as well.
However, while most Americans get their information from local news, they remain
relatively uninformed about political issues, especially those related to international
affairs and foreign policy.
According to a 2000 American Council on Education Survey,
under a third (31%) of individuals could not name either country that borders the United
States, could only name one of the bordering countries, or incorrectly named something
other than Canada or Mexico. Only half (50%) of the public correctly named Britain’s
prime minister as Tony Blair and fewer than one in five (23%) could identify Kofi Annan
as Secretary General of the United Nations.
Lippmann 1922, p. 18.
Pew Center for the People & the Press. June 26, 2005. “Public More Critical of Press, But Goodwill
Persists.” See http://people-press.org. See also Glliam and Iyengar 2000 and Iyengar and Kinder 1988.
The views of most citizens on policy matters are relatively unorganized, unstable, and somewhat
uninformed. For the classic statement on this issue, see Converse 1964.
See also, for example, Delli Carpini and Keeter’s
What Americans Know About Politics and Why It
(1996). A recent National Geographic survey also found that only 37% of the 18-24 age range
could identify Iraq on a map, despite being at war for more than a year.