Arnold+Congress+and+Media+8.27.10

Arnold+Congress+and+Media+8.27.10 - 9 The Press and...

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Unformatted text preview: 9 The Press and Political Accountability A BASIC PREMISE of this book is that the nature of the informational env1ron— ment affects the prospects for accountable government. More and blitttq: information about what elected officials are d01ng in office increases 0 the chances that citizens will notice the information and the likelihood that the information will affect citizens’ decisions about whether elected offic1als deserve to be reelected or removed. A rich'informational env1ronment also affects how elected Officials behave in office. When offic1als know that vyh at they do will be reported to citizens, they behave differently than when ey believe that their actions will be forever hidden. Assessing the consequences of the various informational environments described in this book require; that one first recognize various differences among both representatives an citizens. Representatives atives differ in the kinds of things they do. Some representatives delhriihegtthat most journalists find intrinsically newsworthy; other represen; tatives blend into the background of legislative life. Cons1der the. number 0 articles in which a representative was mentioned in the Congresszonal Quar- terly Weekly Report, the journal of legislative happenings that serves as my benchmark for newsworthiness on Capitol Hill. Among the 187 representa- tives in the third data set, the range was from 3 articles for Jerry Costello (Dé 1L) to 226 articles for Dan Rostenkowski (D—IL).l As chair of the Ways an Means Committee, Rostenkowski was centrally involved in policy dec1s10ns about health care reform, Medicare, NAFTA, unemployment benefits, and every type of federal taxes. He also became embr011ed In a sensational scan— dal. His 1994 indictment for embezzlement and fraud led to his defeat by a Republican novice in what was once the safest of Democratic districts. In contrast, Costello, a member of the Budget and Public Works-Committees], was not senior enough to chair a subcommittee. Nothing he did .on Capitod Hill was covered by CQWR,.although he did get three district-onente mentions, one each for his 1992 election, 1994 primary, and 1994 election. ' The range for the 25 representatives in the first data set was from 7 CQWR articles for Thomas Ewing to 94 articles for Ronald Dellums. POLITICAL ACCOUNTABILITY 245 Most representatives were covered for some of their legislative activities. The median representative in the third data set appeared in 20 articles.2 Although representatives vary in how deeply they are involved in particu- lar' policies or scandals that journalists find newsworthy, the differences are much smaller for other activities. The differences are minuscule for one major Capitol Hill activity, roll-call voting. The average voting rate for all representatives was 96 percent for the 597 roll-call votes in 1993 and 95 percent for the 497 roll-call votes in 1994. Although some representatives have made it their life’s work to show up for every roll—call vote, and some representatives have scores that dip below 90 percent when they run for higher office, most representatives have participation rates within two or three points of the mean (CQA93, 31C—-35C; CQA94, 11C—12C, 46C— 47C). Not only are all representatives repeatedly asked to take positions on the exact same issues, they have little choice about voting on these hun- dreds of issues if they are to avoid charges of absenteeism. Even the least active legislator from the safest of districts, then, provides lots of things for journalists to cover. How has a legislator voted on the various issues of the day? What bills has she introduced? From whom has she raised campaign funds? What has she done to transform her campaign promises into realities? These kinds of questions, which can be asked of all legislators, are relevant to citizens’ evaluations of their representatives. On top of this common base, some legislators do even more to attract the inter— est of journalists and citizens. Representatives who play major roles in im— portant policy conflicts (Kennelly), work to protect endangered federal installations in their district (McCollum), campaign hard for reelection against talented challengers (LaRocco), or run for higher office (Inhofe) provide even more grist for the journalistic mill. Citizens Citizens differ in their attentiveness to the mass media and in the regularity with which they read a local newspaper. According to the 1994 NES survey, 20 percent of respondents never read a newspaper during the week prior to the interview, while 23 percent claimed to have read a paper one or two days, 13 percent three or four days, 6 percent five or six days, and 38 per- cent every day (National Elections Studies 1995, Variable 125). Even these responses may overreport actual readership, since newspaper reading is the socially desirable response. Citizens also differ in the thoroughness with which they read newspapers. Reading habits range from a quick skim of the ZThe median representative in the first data set appeared in 24 CQWR articles. Mean coverage was 28 articles in the first data set and 31 articles in the third; the standard deviation was 20 articles in the first set and 30 in the third. 246 CHAPTER 9 sports page to a thorough reading of every section. In short, citizens differ widely in the likelihood that they might encounter even extensive coverage of representatives in their local newspapers. Some citizens are highly likely - to see at least some coverage of their representatives. Others have virtually no chance of ever seeing any of it. Citizens also differ enormously in their interest and knowledge about politics (Delli Carpini and Keeter I996). Political interest affects the likeli— hood that citizens will notice and choose to read articles about their repre— sentative. Political knowledge affects the likelihood that citizens will under— stand the significance of new information about their representative and that any new information will affect their attitudes toward their representa— tive (Zaller 1992). The range is from completely apolitical and ignorant citizens to those who devour political news. Even citizens who rarely read local newspapers can acquire information indirectly from them because newspapers pump information into the broader system. Local newspapers help set the agenda for other local media, includ- v ing television and radio, so some of what citizens hear in the electronic media was first gathered by print journalists (Mondak 1995, 65—66; McManus 1990). Similarly, newspapers provide raw materials for discussion among all sorts of citizens. In the 1994 NES survey, 77 percent of respondents said that they sometimes discuss politics with family or friends. To be sure, regu— lar newspapers readers are more likely to discuss politics with others—83 percent of seven-day-a—week readers claim that they do—but the rates are not that much lower for those who do not read a paper regularly. Sixty-three percent of those who never read a paper and 71 percent of those who read a paper one or two days a week claim that they discuss politics with family or friends (National Election Studies 1994, variables 125 and 128). The raw materials for these conversations must come from somewhere, and some of itmperhaps lots of it—originates in local newspapers. 4 Rich Informational Environments Some local newspapers create rich informational environments about local representatives’ performance in office. Rich informational environments are the consequence of newspapers covering representatives frequently, thor— oughly, and accessibly. Accessibility refers to whether coverage appears help- ful to a broad range of readers and not just well—informed experts. The Las Vegas Review-Journal, Los Angeles Times, and Tulsa World created the rich- est informational environments among the 31 newspapers in the first and second data sets; the Hartford Courant and San Diego Union-Tribune were almost as informative. These five papers painted rich and comprehensive portraits of james Bilbray, Anthony Beilenson, james Inhofe, Barbara Ken- and campaign funds to pay ghost em 10 ee d ated this kind of broad_based a P Y 8 an pur dals, most issues are not so 11 that large majorities will ever h sentative.3 POLITICAL ACCOUNTABILITY 247 nelly, and Bob F ilner. Two small—town newspapers that were nearly as good were the Lewiston Morning Tribune and Rock Hill Herald. Although their coverage of Larry LaRocco and John Spratt was frequent, informative, and accessible, it was not as comprehensive as coverage in the five larger papers What are the consequen . ts ces of the relatively rich informational environ- men created by these seven newspapers? One consequence is that a dis— attends a local meeting of an environmental group zation, or the Rotary Club, he is almost certain to h of the audience are aware of his recent positions, vo these members are able to ask penetrating questions union, religious organi- nd that some members tes, or actions, and that . Their questions and a ate the raw materials for additional discussions am consequence is that a representative is likely to anti dle such questions when he is deciding what to do about some potentially controversial issue. He may even adjust his decisions to make subse uent explanations easier (Kingdon 1973, 46—53; Fenno 1978 136—70) q The richer the informational environment, the 7 . about a representative’s performance penetrates in constituentsmthose who are less interested in pol' ' 7 upper stratum are but interested enough to read a local representative. One can imagine several consequences of this in- creased penetration. One is that more citizens become knowledgeable about , and this new knowledge ,may affect their evaluations of a representative’s continued fitness for office. A second is that more Citizens initiate or participate in discuss performance. A third is that more citizens writ praising or criticizing his positions and actions or urging him to do thin s differently. A fourth consequence is that more constituents write letters tgo the editor, commenting on a representative’s performance. ong citizens. A related Cipate how he will han— more likely information ions about a representative’s e letters to the representative, . chase automobiles cre- wareness. With the exception of major scan— aturally appealing to journalists and citizens ear particular messages about a local repre- The best known exception is from I958, when voters in Little Rock were unusually well 248 CHAPTER 9 All of these points, however, are merely hypotheses. We don’t know for sure if richer informational environments produce all these effects. We don’t know how much information it takes to penetrate various strata of citizens. Although chapter 8 provides some support for the notion that richer informational environments are associated with citizens knowing more about both representatives and challengers, the limitations of that chapter are severe. The informational environments are measured only by the volume of coverage that mentioned a representative, not by the content or accessibility of coverage. Moreover, the sample of citizens is small and the matching of newspapers with respondents is imperfect. We also don’t know if it takes more information about some kinds of behavior to create a given level of awareness among citizens than it does about other behaviors. Is it easier to inform citizens about a representative’s indictment for embezzlement than to inform citizens about her vote on NAFTA? Is it easier to inform citizens about a representative’s vote on NAFTA than about her votes on banking reform, global warming, or dredg- ing the local harbor? These are all researchable questions. Political scientists have developed good techniques for measuring what citizens know about elected officials. What remains is to link high-quality studies of citizens' knowledge and behavior with high-quality studies of how the mass media cover representatives’ specific positions and actions. Meager Informational Environments Other local newspapers do not create these kinds of rich informational envi- ronments. They fall short of the standards set by the Las Vegas Review-oumal, Los Angeles Times, and Tulsa World in various ways. Some news- papers do not publish many articles about local representatives. Some newspapers focus on only one or two aspects of representatives’ behavior, typically position taking, while ignoring other important activities. Some newspapers provide coverage that, although helpful to well-informed ex- perts, is largely inaccessible to ordinary citizens who lack the contextual knowledge to appreciate it. Some newspapers are deficient in all three re- spects, failing to provide frequent, thorough, and accessible coverage about local representatives. The Washington Times was the least informative of the 31 newspapers. It informed about both the incumbent representative, Brooks Hays, and the write-in challenger, Dale Alford. All twenty-three local citizens interviewed in a national study claimed to have heard or read something about both candidates (compared with 24- percent of citizens who . knew about both candidates in other districts). This high level of awareness was the conse- quence of the federal government sending troops to Little Rock to force the integration of a local high school (Miller and Stokes, 1966, 369—70). POLITICAL ACCOUNTABILITY 249 tioned a local representative than ‘ . an other newspaper. Fifty-nine percent of its articles focused on Albert Wynn}; ttipsiiion taking. Moreover, most of these articles lacked an exp e asic conflict, so they were not particularl ' ' . y useful for Citizens who had not foflloljvetd the 1policy Idlebate. The newspaper excelled only in its frequent use 0 o o a s, ' tafive h}: the grtugy- ma ng Albert Wynn the most photographed represen- . What are the consequences of this meager coverage? First, it is difficult to imagine that many readers learned very much about Albert Wynn from the leashington Times. The infrequency of the coverage—one article every five ays—meant that only the most careful newspaper readers were likely to notice the coverage. Second, the concentration of coverage on a single sub-€Cf:—p0$1t10n taking—and the failure to explain the controversy behind particular roll—call votes, made coverage helpful only to readers who were . Perhaps the frequent appearance of photographs lanation of inform ordinary citizens little to contn'bute to an informed citizenry. The washington Timbes was not the only media outlet that could have mation a out Albert W n’s erforma ‘ tunately, the other outlets had their olivnn prfiblems. T'fi: ill/a5}??? Ctorl] 1113b:- which had a much larger circulation than the Times provided fin] moasr: ginally better coverage. Actually, the volume of coverage in the two ya ers was virtually the same, but the Post was better at explaining position t1:an covering Wynn’s role in local politics, and reporting about the cam ai 1%, Two suburban newspapers circulated in Wynn’s distn'ct, the Mont Idan . [oumal and the Prince George’s Journal, each published five times agweeky Even if their coverage had been superb (no information is available), theif combined circulations amounted to less than 5 percent of the populations of Montgomery and Prince Geor ’ ' ges counties, so the co ld ‘ - formed many of Wynn’s constitue y u nOt have m nts about his performance 0 ' . . . . verall it was a meager informational enVironm , ent that left citizens ill— re ared t '- tor Albert Wynn’s performance in office. P p O mom Although no other newspapers were as uninforrnative as the Washin Times’ several Papers were better b 0111 a "d - . gm” G101”? NWSda)’, Phoenix Gazette, y y sml gsn’ Includmg the Boston . and Tucson Citizen. Th ’ ' enVironments created by e Infomatlonal these papers were deficient in diver . se wa s. The problem With the Boston Globe was not the volume of coverageybut'its excessive focus on Joe Moakley’s obtaining constituency benefits‘ it largely ignored his important policy-making activities in the House. The problem With the Phoenix Gazette was not its coverage of Jon Kyl’s race for the 250 CHAPTER 9 Senate, which was frequent, thorough, and accessible, but rather its superfi— cial coverage of Kyl during the year before the Senate campaign. Long Island’s Newsday was shallow in all aspects of its coverage of Peter King. The lack of informative coverage of King’s 1994 campaign was particularly surprising, since he faced a strong challenger. In most other papers, compet- itive races attracted extra coverage. The Tucson Citizen covered Jim Kolbe infrequently and cursorily, especially compared to its local competitor, the Arizona Daily Star. What are the consequences of the meager informational environments created by these six newspapers? The most serious consequence is that not ' even the most politically interested citizens are likely to be aware of the range of things a representative is doing in office. They may have a hazy sense of what a representative has done, but they are less well equipped to monitor his overall behavior, ask penetrating questions, or sound the alarm when they observe disagreeable actions. They may do some of these things, , but they necessarily do so for a limited range of activities. These meager informational environments offer even less help for the next few strata of constituents. The infrequency and inaccessibility of coverage make it much less likely that less politically interested citizens will notice what newspapers happen to publish about representatives. Typical Informational Environments The best newspapers provide a wealth of information about where represen— tatives stand on the issues and some information about their lawmaking activities. They also cover campaigns relatively well, although only when there is a strong, well—funded challenger. The least informative papers offer much less frequent, less thorough, and less accessible coverage of position taking, lawmaking, and campaigning. Other newspapers occupy the wide expanse between the least and the most informative newspapers. What is a typical informational environment? Statistically, the median newspaper in the first data set published about 15 articles per month that mentioned the local representative. More than half of these articles focused on! a representative’s participation in policy making. The typical newspaper covered representative’s position taking extensively, but coverage of bill in— troductions, committee activities, and leadership was less careful. Competi— tive elections were covered reasonably well; noncompetitive elections were covered cursorily. The Baton Rouge Advocate, Bloomington Pantagraph, Or—r lando Sentinel Tribune, and York Daily Record were typical newspapers. What are the consequences of these typical informational environments? The most politically interested citizens are likely to notice lots of things about representatives. An article every other day is a lot of coverage for . riod, alternative channels for informatio POLITICAL ACCOUNTABILITY 251 careful newspaper readers. The problem is that typical news a ers t d t cover representatives’ lawmaking activities—bills introduced 1:olfnmitfn O tsvriltliesé leadershipfatqtivities—much less thoroughly than do the best pie:- y percent 0 e articles in the Baton ' - Pantagraph, Orlando Sentinel Tribune, and ligzfigdigzvfigfiidlsfgzmmfmn these lawmaking activities (21 articles on average) compared withulsfl on cent of the articles in the seven best papers (48 ai'ticles on avera e) 4 Aler— consequence, the most politically interested citizens are less well—info 3 about representatives’ lawmaking activities, less likely to ask re resentrfile questions about these activities in public meetings, and less likily to rhoi/fiS tor representatives performance in office than are citizens who dwell in richer 1nforrnational environments. J A second consequence is that even less i into the next .few strata of constituents. The frequency of covera e is ke t iAlnftplrming Citizens who are less regular or less carefiil newspapger readlersO f oughlmost readers of the Orlando Sentinel Tribune probably missed the ‘our artic es in two years that discussed Bill McCollum’s committee acti ities, many readers probably noticed at least some of the 25 articles the: focused on his three—month cam ' . . paign to sto the clo ' Naval Training Center and the Orlando NavaIl Hespitailng of the Orlando nformation is likely to penetrate Citizens and Political Accountability Are citizens exposed to the kinds of information they need to hold re resen— tatives accountable for their performance in office? As the precedin Pdiscu sion shows, it depends partly on how rich is the info ' 'g S— regularly read the best newspapers are exposed to a rich diet of inform ti about representatives’ positions and actions. Citizens who infre uentl a 0:11 the weakest papers learn very little about What representatives aci'e doiy tea .How. much accountability can one expect in a system with sucfig- disparities 1n the information available to citizens? First one must reco V'aSt that newspapers and other media outlets are only part ’of the inform lzl env1ronment 1n which citizens dwell. Especially during the campaiZnOE: n exist, including campaign events 252 CHAPTER 9 for incumbents and challengers; direct mail sent by incumbents, challengers, political parties, and interest groups; and campaign advertisements created by incumbents and challengers that appear on radio, television, billboards, and newspapers. Information transmitted through any of these channels can also jump-start conversations among citizens about their representatives’ performance. Outside the campaign period, there are fewer alternative channels for information, and representatives tend to dominate what chan- nels exist. For example, most representatives regularly send newsletters to their constituents and appear at community meetings throughout their districts. Second, accountability does not depend on each citizen carefully mon- itoring every position and action taken by his or her representative. A cadre of individuals who regularly monitor what a representative is doing in office and who inform other citizens when they see something out of line can also serve citizens’ interests in accountable government. These opinion leaders need not be a large fraction of a representative’s constituency. Careful news- paper readers who write letters to the editor to protest a representative’s actions, local talk show hosts who search for topics to spark debates on the radio, local pundits who seek fresh topics for their opinion columns, and potential challengers who seek to impair a representative in advance of a formal campaign are examples of the wide variety of opinion leaders who act as watchdogs for the many citizens who do not regularly monitor what a representative is doing. No obvious advantages would flow from making every citizen a front-line sentry. Much more important is that information regularly flows to those who act as watchdogs, that these watchdogs reflect the diversity of interests in a constituency, and that watchdogs have easy ways to communicate with citizens when they discover a representative do— ing disagreeable things. _ These two points actually widen the disparities between the prospects for accountable government in the richest and the most meager informational environmentsThe best newspapers satisfy both the Full News and the Bur- glar Alarm Standards. They not only provide local opinion leaders with the kinds of information they need to monitor representatives’ positions and actions; they also provide opinion leaders with easy ways to communicate with citizens when they find representatives doing disagreeable things. These opportunities include coverage of their objections in news stories as well as plentiful opportunities for them to voice their objections on the opinion pages. The weakest papers satisfy neither the Full News nor the Burglar Alarm Standards. They fail to provide local opinion leaders with the range of information necessary for monitoring representatives; they fail to give local critics easy ways to communicate their objections to ordinary citi— zens. The seven best papers, for example, published an average of 49 letters own behavior? Do rep heavily behave differently from those w president—would pro ing than a representative who worked without any p POLITICAL ACCOUNTABILITY 253 to the editor about local representatives, while the six lished an average of 6 letters to the editor.5 The ex13tence of alternative i weakest papers pub- ge patterns in local news . Papers affect re - , resentahves who Ob presentatives 254 CHAPTER 9 not known is how much the narrower differences reported in this study matter. Some things that representatives do are recorded for posterity even if they are not reported contemporaneously in the newspapers. For example, the government maintains public records of campaign contributions, bills intro- duced, speeches on the House floor, and roll-call votes. Since challengers regularly scrutinize these records, searching for positions, actions, ,state- ments, or contributions that they can use to tarnish representatives’ reputa- tions, the question is whether representatives behave differently when local newspapers cover these things contemporaneously. I believe that they do. If all that a representative fears is that some future challenger might unearth a roll-call vote and use it against her, then the electoral risk associated with most individual votes is relatively low. The appropriate consideration for a representative is whether, a year or more from now, a challenger could make a compelling thirty—second television advertisement attacking her for voting a particular way. When a newspaper covers a representative’s roll-call votes contemporaneously, however, coverage can affect how constituents view their representative, even if it would be difficult to make a good televi- sion spot a year from now. Coverage that emphasizes how a representative is opposing a popular president, or that suggests she is seriously out of line with the rest of the state delegation, or that informs readers she won’t budge despite the strong views of local editorialists, columnists, or letter writers can affect how some citizens perceive her. Coverage that regularly emphasizes these things can gradually erode a representative’s local reputation, even if the individual votes would not make compelling campaign advertisements. Most representatives do their best to avoid such erosion. The situation is quite different for other types of behavior. There are no publicly available records that show whether a representative commands the respect of her colleagues, whether she is a workhorse or a show horse, whether she has done anything to build a supporting coalition for a bill she has introduced, or even whether she attends committee hearings or markup sessions. These things need to be observed and reported contemporane- ously. When journalists do not cover these things, a representative need not worry that a challenger will later uncover reliable records that can be fea- tured in advertisements against her. The lack of regular coverage of hear— ings, markups, and coalition building makes it much easier for representa- tives to avoid the heavy lifting that is required to make things happen on Capitol Hill. They can be talkers, rather than doers, and their constituents will be unable to observe the difference. ' It is ironic that most newspapers cover position taking heavily, despite the existence of alternative informational sources, while they tend to cover lead— ership activities lightly. Representatives already have good electoral reasons to be cautious when the roll is called; heavy newspaper coverage merely that a representative decides firs will feature his vote. complicated regulatory matter does editorial that argues that a represent ' ‘ represent when he voted to advance contributed heavily to his campaign. ion pages— especially covera final decision—affects how a hypothesis worth testing. One-sixth of the articles in the first data se columns, or letters to the editor. How informative compared With news stories? Would citizens who re learn more about their representative than those wh r1es? Would Citizens be more likely to alter their View POLITICA-L ACCOUNTABILITY encourages them to choose th have few electoral incentives ’ ne s opponents as well as o ’ Otters ‘ ‘ ne s sup- p , so heavy coverage may sometimes increase the risks of becoming a leader}; Certainly the two representatives whose lawmaking activities were most eavrly covered—Bilbray and LaRocco—profited little from their in- vestments. Both representatives faced challengers who emphasized the neg- at1ve consequences of the issues they championed. Both were defeated W'hen representatives observe local newspap ' . they need to be especially careful about the' ' ‘ even haphazard coverage can keep a representative on his toes Police offi cers dont line the highways with radar guns to control speedin ‘ s orad' _ radartraps provide sufficient incentives to keep most drivers frorrgfei3 'lc speeding. Presumably a representative, who has more at stake thancemssdf: speflding tickets, calculates similarly. A newspaper that thoroughly covers a ran om third of a representative’s roll—call votes may have as great an effect on how a representative calculates the elec toral consequences of articul ar votes as a newspaper that throughly covers them all. The crucial) point is t, and only then learns whether a newspaper the interests of out-of-state bankers who . Whether heavy coverage on the opin- ge in advance of when a representative makes a representative decides is not known. It is a Opinion Coverage t were opinion items—editorials, are these opinion items ad lots of opinion items 0 read lots of news sto- s of their representative 256 CHAPTER 9 after reading opinion items or news stories? These questions are important because the differences between how newspapers covered representatives on the opinion pages were even more pronounced than the differences on the news pages. Some newspapers featured representatives in editorials and col— umns, other papers rarely mentioned them in these opinion items. The top five newspapers averaged 69 editorials and columns; the bottom five aver— aged 7. The variance was even greater for letters to the editor. The top five papers averaged 79 letters; the bottom five averaged 1. Opinion items can be enormously informative for citizens because they help citizens evaluate policy proposals and politicians.6 Factual accounts of what representatives have been doing can be helpful for those citizens who already know a fair amount about politics, policies, and politicians. Most citizens, however, do not even have firm preferences about most of the issues that come before Congress. Citizens often need help in understand- ing what is at stake in a particular conflict before they can know whether their representative is doing good or evil. Opinion coverage often does a better job than news coverage at explaining what is at stake. For example, the typical editorial, column, or letter that reported a representative’s policy position was much more likely to explain something about the basic policy conflict than was the typical news story that reported a representative’s posi— tion. Although individual opinion items were often one—sided, collectively they tended to be balanced between those favoring and those opposing a representative’s position. Opinion items are also more likely than news stories to include criticisms of a representative’s policy—making activities. I don’t mean to suggest that boundless criticism is a virtue, but a representative has so many oppor— tunities to tout all the wonderful things he has been doing that it is surely a sign of political health when those who don’t agree with a representative have opportunities to communicate their own views to citizens. Forty per— cent of the letters and 26 percent of the editorials and columns contained criticism of the local representative, compared with only 6 percent of news stories. Opinion items were also more likely to contain praise of a represen- tative’s policy—making activities. Indeed, the balance between praise and criticism was much more evenly balanced in opinion items than in news stories. The principal virtue of opinion coverage is that it dovetails nicely with citizens’ two evaluative tasks. Citizens are asked to evaluate a representa— 5 One experimental study has shown that articles from newsmagazines tend to be more informative for citizens than similar articles from newspapers. The authors suggest this may be because newsmagazines provide more contextual and evaluative information than do news- papers on their news pages (Neuman, Just, and Crigler 1992, 58-59, 78—83). Experimental researchers have yet to examine whether the same is true for newspapers’ opinion coverage compared with their news coverage. much scholarly research, but see Dalt and Huckfeldt 2002; and Kahn and Kenney 2002. e’s positions. The best opinion tasks. The best opinion cover— ther than merely summarizing they stand. A second virtue of coverage focuses directly on these evaluative age gives readers a sense of what is at stake, ra what the candidates have done and 'where opinion coverage is that ittends to be more vivid and memorable than news coverage. None of this is to suggest that newspapers should-substitute opin— iecglilitoiprieragel for newsdcpverage. But newspapers that published frequent a 3, co umns, an etters about a representativ ' _ e seemed more — mative than those that seldom published opinion items. mfor . Of course, we do not know for 3 ion pages allows citizens to learn would learn from just news storie it is not a hypothesis that can be more about their representative than they s. It is merely a hypothesis. Unfortunately, examined in this project because the f _ ourth data set, which connects local newspaper coverage with citizens’ knowledge and attitudes is based on the vol ' , ume of newspa er covera e n t content, quality, location, or format of coverage.7 P g 7 O on the Models of Accountability The discussion in this cha nalists, local opinion leade report what a rep pter recognizes a division of labor between jour— Iesentafirs, an: ordinary :fiitizens. Disinterested journalists ’ ve is 0m in o ce. Th ' ' selective; they could not possibly cfiver everythingesae giggling: be Ideally, they choose to report a range of positions and actions that are 963. portant to various segments of a representative’s constituency Local 0 ' im— leaders momtor journalists’ accounts of what a representative. is doin PT‘llion usually monitor activities related to issues about which the care lley opinion leaders reflect the diversity of interests in a constitueilic so the:l y, 1nterest goes unmonitored. Ordinary citizens pay attention when 0 'a 'no leaders sound the alarm. Ideally, these leaders have easy ways to comfiiliiilfi: cate with citizens so whe th , n ey sound the alarm citizen h ’ I s a chance of hearing it. , ve a reasonable According broad—based journalists’ r listen for ala tion for opi to ’ this tripartite division, disinterested journalists practice police—patrol—style oversight, local opinion leaders scrutinize eports about particular policy precincts, and ordinary citizens rms. Of course, newspapers are not the only sources of informa— nion leaders. Washington—based interest groups and party leaders 7 The ‘ relative efficacy of news coverage and opinion coverage has not been the subject of on, Beck, and Huckfeldt 1998; Beck, Dalton, Greene 258 CHAPTER 9 also monitor what a representative is doing. But the existence of Washington- based monitoring is not the same as having local opinion leaders—a repre— sentative’s own constituents—monitor a representative. Washington-based interest groups are known to underrepresent many interests. Careful report- ing by newspapers allows local champions of underrepresented interests to monitor what a representative is doing. Some newspapers also facilitate communications among constituents by welcoming on their editorial and op—ed pages messages about a representa~ tive’s performance. They provide free platforms for local opinion leaders to communicate with other citizens about a representative’s accomplishments and shortcomings. Of course, opinion leaders have other ways to sound the alarm besides writing columns or letters to the editor, including organizing protest meetings, mailing newsletters, and buying campaign advertisements. But opinion coverage in local newspapers has several virtues. It is freely available to anyone who wishes to voice an objection. The objections are displayed in a public forum where others can endorse or dispute them. Individuals can lodge their objections before a representative makes a deci- sion or immediately after a representative announces a decision. When lo- cal newspapers welcome and regularly publish objections, the disgruntled need not wait for campaign season to sound the alarm. The point of this discussion is to clarify the role of the press in helping citizens engage in burglar—alarm-style oversight of their representative. Bur- glar—alarm-style oversight works only if other individuals, groups, or organiza- tions practice police—patrol—style oversight. Someone must monitor what a representative is doing and sound the alarm. Although local media outlets are not the only organizations that can monitor a representative’s actions in Washington, they are the only monitorial organizations that are staffed by disinterested individuals. Other monitorial organizations are designed to protect specific interests. Burglar-alarm-style oversight also requires that lo- cal opinion leaders have opportunities to inform ordinary citizens when they find a representative doing disagreeable things. Although local media outlets are not the only means by which these messages can be transmitted, they are the only organizations that transmit messages for free. These two points suggest that careful reporting by local newspapers helps level the playing field. In its absence, well—funded interest groups dominate the important functions of monitoring and alarm sounding. An alternative way for citizens to hold representatives accountable is to focus on their performance as members of party teams. Political scientists often speak fondly of strong, disciplined parties because such parties provide powerful incentives for representatives to work together before they are judged together. If citizens seek to reward or punish their representative in this fashion, they need to know whether or not their representative is a loyal team member. Unfortunately, local newspapers convey little information POLITICAL ACCOUNTABILITY 259 about representatives as members of party teams. Representatives seldom claim to be either party supporters or party opponents they seldom invok party as a reason for their roll—call votes. Challengers and other 0 o t: are a bit more likely to accuse representatives of being strong artypslii I1Hit ers, although the'number of instances is small.8 Of course VECll-iflfOEES d citizens who know where the parties stand on various issues can still make inference about a representative’s party loyalty by studying his or her votin record. But newspapers do virtually nothing to facilitate this kind of evalu: tion by ordinary citizens. Indeed, on their editorial pages they regularly pig: 61:52::CHIHUVCS for their independence and for standing firm against Yet another way for citizens to hold representatives accountable is to focus on their connection to the incumbent president. Citizens who stron I support or oppose the president can choose to reward or punish their re I}, sentative depending on whether he or she seems to be aiding or thwargne the president. Some local news a ers f ‘ ' ' ' ‘ Newspapers PIOVided more than tpupe fin:icilitate this kind of evaluation. sentatives support for the president as the for his or her party. Given President Clin were somewhat more likely to portr than as sup es as many references to a repre- y did to a representative’s support tons unpopularity, representatives ay themselves as presidential o . p onents porters, while challengers and other critics were much more to accuse I6 ICSCIItahVCS Of belll SUOII I68 dellha] UPPO 61:5 31' P g g P l S rt 7 g I 1 I 116 I' P 7 C S CII‘lpllaSIZed Ehe ICSlClCIItlal COIIIIC ho OI II C C I] m C 3. fl]. Most of the time, however, local newspapers portray representatives as individuals, not as members of party or residential tea ‘ ' how DaVid Mayhew argued most represerliltatives seek to inf-pill: :deZmII/Icafly hew 1974). Representatives run for office as individuals they defend th ll— records .as individuals; they seek to show that they are the best individu:l: for the job. And we now know that they are largely criticized for their fail— I a representative’s presidential sup ort 275 ‘ ' (261). Representatives portrayed themselves as presidential supporterspin IOZ lrliilfipgilll: giféiprsigal optponentészin 15:3. Challengers and other critics portrayed representatives as presi ppo ers in attic es and as opponents in 18 Most oth' f — sources (although the preSident . . er re erences were by neutral I portrayed three representatives as su I . pporters on th — :lolis). :mong the ZfH athcles where a representative explained a‘policy position ohcl: $12: xp ana ons emphasxzed the role of the president as a reason for taking‘a particular position 260 CHAPTER 9 ures as individuals. Ten percent of all articles included someone criticizing a representative’s individual performance as a policy maker. Future Research This book is the first large-scale study of how local media outlets cover members of Congress. My hope is that it stimulates other scholars to join the parade, for there is still much to learn. What are the remaining puzzles? We should investigate how other media outlets, including small daily news- papers, weekly newspapers, radio, television, Wire services, and Web-based media, cover representatives.” My sense is that local newspapers c‘over rep— resentatives more carefully than other media outlets do, but intuition is no substitute for research. In any event, many citizens obtain their information from these outlets, so we need to determine how they cover representatives. We should also explore how media coverage patterns have changed over time. Are the coverage patterns in 1993 and 1994 typical or are they distinc- tive in some respects? How does coverage of a single representative change over time?“ We should investigate more deeply how local media outlets cover representatives and challengers during campaign season. How do they cover open seats, the most competitive races of all? We should also study more carefully the nature of opinion coverage. If I had known that opinion coverage would constitute one-sixth of all coverage, I would have designed lots of special codes for editorials, columns, and letters, rather than using coding rules that were designed for news stories.’2 A second line of research should investigate why journalists cover repre- sentatives as they do. This book first established how frequently newspapers covered representatives and then used quantitative methods to analyze var— ious newspaper—centered and representative-centered explanations for varia— tions in the volume of coverage. Future quantitative studies could explore the impact of other factors, including ownership patterns, a representative’s press releases, coverage by the wire services, and coverage by other local and ‘0 With random samples, please. It is shocking that few scholars choose random samples of local media outlets, even when doing so would not increase the difficulty or cost of their studies. ” Richard Fenno suggests that the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s favorable coverage of Louis Stokes in 1993 and 1994 was not typical of how the paper covered Stokes early in his career, when coverage was much more negative. Indeed, the paper opposed Stokes in the 1968 Demo cratic primary (Fenno 2003). ' '2 Local newspapers appear to be increasing the space devoted to opinion coverage. Two surveys of editorial page editors, conducted eight years apart, revealed growth in the use of op—ed pages and in the number of letters published. According to the second survey, editors considered letters to be the best~read item on the editorial page (Hynds I984). POLITICAL ACCOUNTABILITY 261 regional outlets. Future studies should also attempt to explain variations in the content of coverage. Someone should intervie ' learn why they make the choices they do. Such i productive, however, when scholars already kno coverage. Interviewing in advance of content analysis requires that joumal- 1sts generalize about both the patterns and the causes of those attems Joumallsts have no comparative advantage in the first task. indeed 1the ar . often unaware of the patterns that they collectively producle.13 7 y e A thIrd line of research should investigate the consequences of various coverage patterns for what citizens know about representatives and chal- lengers. Chapter 8 re ‘ ports my own fledgling attempts at this e of re- search, but my data are far from ideal and the results are inzihclusive. nterviews tend to be more w What are the patterns of umns, and letters to the editor were 0 rieS, but this assertion ‘ - . . the field.” needs to be 1nvest1gated, both in the laboratory and in Excellence in Journalism tressalpften c1112? with exhortations about how . . m es no ' erence whe ' nalists write these books; the reformist impulse is measly/63:32:13 itljhlis— point, I. may disappoint readers, since I lack the reformist gene Althou h I en]oy discovering how and why political actors behave as they do I haveg no expertise Inreforrning institutions or changing behavior. Moreoher I lack experience In wr1t1ng news stories, attracting readers, retaining advertisers or managing newspapers. If reform is the aim, experts on journalism need td Journalists aspire to cover politics and public affairs in ways that are use- ful to citizens. Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel distilled the basic principles were unaware (Gilens 1999, 140-50). “ There is a literature on the effects of news but no corresponding literature for congressional the endorsement decisions for hundreds of paper. endorsements on presidential elections electrons. It should not be difficult to identify papers and then determine what impact these 6 CHAPTER 9 2 2 of journalism by interviewing hundreds of journalists to discover what values they shared. Journalists agreed overwhelmingly that “the purpose of ' journalism is to provide people with the information they thneed go’beririe and self-governing.” Tofulfill this task, journalists agreed at ht: jsou(c) it ism’s first obligation is to the truth; (b) its first loyalty is to c1 ’den ,forum must serve as an independent monitor of power; ((1) it must prov1 .eta esfin for public criticism; and (2) it must strive to make the significant in er g and relevant (Kovach and Rosenstiel 2001, 12—13). hieved My surprise in this study was to discover that some newspfiipersfac afive these five goals admirably. The best papers were wonderfu by 11: IOIIIalI re They provided frequent, thorough, and access1ble coverage a flop _ oc .mopl resentatives. Their news stories" were interesting and relevant: eir (épiChaL pages provided forums for public critic1sm of representative:h an eeded lengers. They provided citizens with the kinds of information HeycpexceL to hold their representatives accountable. These newspapers 0 felrle’ a]- lent models for other newspaperswmodels produced by success joum ' ‘ critics. mill/I111: frigid-sad; best papers so distinctive? What lessons do they offer :3: editors and reporters at other newspapers? First, the best nevcrllspatperssfin plained what was at stake in particular disputes and they fouic'li ere thagt and informative ways to report roll—call votes.’Most of the epiisiqlrlis re politicians face are not about choosing appropriate means or En ds,t ey;1d about making trade—offs among conflicting goals. Can we a or oeslpt? If more to improve health, education, transportation, or the .enVironm .m- we must spend more on defense, should we cut domestic programs, tal crease taxes, or tolerate larger deficits? Would. more stringent :nwilqnmeSbs? or safety regulations make firms less competitive and cost worflirs jls O.f The best newspapers found ways to inform readers about ese 1 e trade-offs, even when they reported roll-call votes. The model paper ’thlaSfiOI; where reporters offered a brief synopsis of a bill and the legislative $1 a 00: summarized the arguments on each side by quoting from at least one pfrop a nent and at least one opponent, and then reported the poSiqons o ar:1 _ representatives.16 The best papers also incorporated coverage 0 represenmb tives’ positions into news stories about what was happening on major tlo"Ill—Ellielsbséltlsét:si'iewspapers also reported representatives’ participation in legisla- [5 Journalists also agreed that (a) the essence of journalism is a disciplin(e )oftverifipaifiefg; 51:): ' ' i i ' ‘ dence from those they cover; 0 i mus its ractitioners must maintain an indepen . ' . . nevi; comprehensive and proportional; and (d) its practitioners must be allowed to exerCIse their ersonal conscience. ’ I I . e ‘6 Ifidividual newspapers need not write these synopses or identify pithy .quotlatiorisl._t;:T1:1lie:J r tasks could be performed by an independent organization, such as Congressiona Qua y the Associated Press. POLITICAL ACCOUNTABILITY 263 tive activities. They reported what legislators were doing besides taking posi- tions on roll—call votes. When representatives were involved in the major issues of the day, they included coverage of local representatives in their front-page stories on these national issues. When representatives were in— volved in less salient issues, they informed readers about what representa- tives were doing to advance or block particular proposals. If they happened to have reporters based in Washington, the best newspapers used them to cover representatives’ legislative activities. If they lacked Washington—based reporters, the best papers found other ways to cover these activities. The best newspapers featured representatives on their editorial and op-ed pages. Editors and opinion columnists regularly evaluated what representa- tives were doing in Washington, sometimes in conjunction with editorials or columns on particular issues, sometimes in pieces that focused on individ- ual representatives. The best newspapers welcomed and published letters to the editor that praised or critiqued representatives’ positions and actions. They also offered representatives opportunities to respond to their critics. During campaign season, the best newspapers created public forums where politicians, opinion leaders, and ordinary citizens could debate the strengths and weaknesses of representatives and challengers. The best newspapers covered competitive races extensively. They were scrupulously fair to incumbents and challengers on their news pages. They offered analysis and guidance on their editorial pages. They welcomed and published letters and opinion columns from diverse viewpoints. Although the best papers did not cover less competitive r ' ' ' clear whether the challengers in these few campaigns were too weak to create compelling messages, or whether newspapers simply refuse to cover challengers who fail to raise mountains of cash. The best newspapers sought to satisfy both the Full News Standard and the Burglar Alarm Standard. They acted as if the two standards were not rivals, but complements. They published lots of specialized articles, so that their most attentive readers could monitor representatives’ positions and ac- tions on a wide range of issues. They also published lots of accessible infor- mation for less attentive readers, especially when local opinion leaders, chal- lengers, and other critics were unhappy with what representatives were doing in office. The best newspapers were a diverse lot, ran the sample to the smallest. Some of these pa tives; some covered one. Some employed ma employed none. Some were rich; most were not. The best papers were distinctive principally in their commitment to covering representatives fre- quently, thoroughly, and fairly. The smallest newspapers were often creative in finding ways to stretch their resources. It was no accident that the small— est newspapers covered representatives more extensively on their opinion ging from the largest paper in pers covered many representa- ny Washington reporters; some 264 CHAPTER 9 pages than did their larger cousins, for welcoming andlpublishing letters and opinion columns is an inexpensive strategy for covenng representatlves and campaigns. That this opinion coverage was also wonderfully 1ntorma- tive reminds us that quality journalism is more about taste and commltrnent than about resources. a... Drawn References \ Alvarez, R. Michael, and Paul Gronke. I996. Citizen about the Persian Gulf War Resolution. Legislative S Arnold, R. Douglas. I979. Congress and the Bureaucra Haven: Yale University Press. s and Legislators: Learning tudies Quarterly 21:105—28. cy: A Theory of Influence. New prise Institute. . 1990. The Logic of Congressional Action. New Haven: Y ale University Press. . 1993. Can Inattentive Citizens Control Their Elected Representatives? In Congress Reconsidered, 5th ed., edited by Lawrence C. Dodd and Bruce 1. Op- penheimer. Washington, DC: CQ Press. Bacon. 1993. Bacon's Newspaper Directory, Bagdikian, Ben H. 1987. The Media Monop Bartels, Larry M. 1988. Presidential Prima Princeton: Princeton University Press. ' . I993. Messages Received: The Political Impact of Media Exposure. Ameri- can Political Science Review 87:267—85. 1994. Chicago: Bacon’s Information. oly. 2nd ed. Boston: Beacon Press. ries and the Dynamics of Public Choice. Bogart, Leo. I981. Press and Public: Who Reads What, When, Where, and Why in American Newspapers. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. . 1984-. The Public’s Use a Quarterly 482709—19. , David S. 1987. Behind the Front Page: A Candid Look at How the News Is Made. New York: Simon and Schuster. ‘ Campbell, James E. 1982. Cosponsoring Legislation in the US. Congress. Legisla- tive Studies Quarterly 7:415—22. * Census, Bureau of the. I994. Statistical Abs ington, DC: Government Printing Office. Clarke, Peter, and Susan H. Evans. 1983. Coverin g Campaigns: Journalism in Con- gressional Elections. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. tract of the United States, 1994. Wash- Congressional Quarterly. I991. Congressional Quarterly’s Guide to Congress. 4th ed. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly. ~ . 1993a. Congressional Districts in the 19905. Washington, DC: Congressio- nal Quarterly. . 1993b. Politics in America, 1994. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly. ...
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