In this discussion I call upon two movies as examples and evidence to examine the role of mass media in politics. The two movies I will use for this basis are The Candidate and All the Presidents Men.
Today, the art of governing a society seems to be much dictated or prescribed by what the assemblage of the citizens of the United States say or express to the mass media.
Thus, the government and politicians listening to and acting upon our very wishes and desires. Or looking at this in another point of view; The mass media relays to us as citizens the news or information about the administration as conveyed or set forth by the administration as the "truth". I believe that the majority of the populace would tend to agree more with this second point of view. The government or politicians of this great country try to appear to have the semblance of truth or honesty in all of it's endeavors.
And sometimes it does. However, on occasion within its own discretion, the media investigates and tries to inform us by the televised news, major newspapers and (large) radio personalities of cover-ups, conspiracies and or wrong doings by our so-called leaders. Are we always told the truth by the mass media? By the government? By the media speaking for or as directed by the government? Or has the line between truth and lies been so badly blurred in politics that we will never know what truly goes on in our political system?
The two movies examined, both play in some way on the function of the mass media in American politics. We can see how much and how heavily we rely on our televisions, radio shows, newspapers and now the Internet to communicate to us the latest breaking news, political campaigns, slandering, commercials for politicians running for office, debates, presidential addresses, cover-ups, conspiracies and information that can take down an entire administration. This shows that in all the different aspects of politics that the media plays a very wide, varied and important role in letting us know what is going on.
The Candidate tries to unveil how a political campaign for office is run. It tells the story of how an upstart uses the media and available resources in its televised form to try and convey his message and his beliefs to the mass public on whom he will rely upon to vote and hopefully elect him into office. As we see though, the people or elite's who run the campaign, take what the candidate says and dilute it, dissect it, take it out of context and rearrange his words into what they think the public wants to hear. We see how elitist decisions are made as to what we get to see, hear and digest on our own. How do they know what we want to hear? (Maybe they would if they would go door to door and take a legitimate poll on the issues and concerns that are the most important to us today.) What we do get to see in this example though, is a behind the scenes look at the candidate and how he differs from his real self personae when not in the public eye and how he is skeptical at a lot of the ways a political campaign is run.
All the President's Men shares the same theme and ideas as The Candidate in that the main link between the people and the politicians/administration is the media. This story is based upon how the undying determination of a team of two reporters for a major newspaper, The Washington Post go at all costs to get the truth out in their
investigation and uncovering of a major conspiracy in the administration. The reporters fact finding was hindered quite a few times along the way to discover and disclose the truth to the public, but their willingness and determination to do so brought out the facts and allegations that crippled the White House. This example shows how the media does play a crucial role in bringing out the truths and realities of what really goes on behind the closed doors of the politicians who run our country.
There are some things that separate these two movies in regard to the role of the media in politics. They differ in the angles at which they approach their respective story. For instance in The Candidate, television is the main means of communication to the public for the fresh upstart and the incumbent running for the office of senator. Television can give almost exactly what the two candidates want. Short spots in which they convey their beliefs, ideas and towards the end, slander for one another. Television provides to us up to the minute, flashy, visual, auditory messages and it has proven to be a good way in which to get a certain point across in a specified amount of time, for a price. The political role of the media has expanded immensely by means of the television set, in what media theorist Marshal Mcluhan called our planet "the global village."1
In All the President's Men the role that media plays takes a different note to reflect the hard hitting sword in the form of the printed word of newspapers. Newspapers are very powerful in the sense that they are print, and most people still believe that what they read is true, instead of taking everything at face value, gathering together several other sources of information and then making the decision to agree or disagree. So with substantial evidence, newspapers can print stories and or allegations that bring about many stirring revelations, as many citizens get their daily dose of news by reading the lowdown that is delivered to them right at their front door every morning. This points out that newspapers are still very much a major player in American and political culture.
Looking further into these films we can see that they make some assumptions about us as the mass public. The films themselves assume, the characters of the candidates running for office assume, the higher ups assume and the media also makes these predictions of what the public wants to be exposed to. In a general sense a couple of these at first glance would appear to be that we as a public do not care about some things. As in All the Presidents Men, when the two reporters first started learning of some of the wrong things that were going on in Watergate and they wanted to report on it, their superiors at the newspaper argued that it wasn't news, "nobody wants to read about that shit". Why do they predict these things, and what do they base their decisions on? Well, I believe that at first they just want to make sure they get the facts straight before diving in and printing some potentially damaging evidence, or one could also argue that they do not want to be the ones to diffuse the truth. In The Candidate at the first banquet the new upstart attends, while giving a speech we can hear the reporter telling the cameraman, "OK, shut it off, we got enough". The candidate had not even spoken two or three complete sentences before being cut off. Maybe a lot of people wanted to hear what he had to say, maybe not. But the media made a curt decision right there on the spot to cut short what they would show in their respective newscast. This clearly shows that maybe they are not playing favorites for the incumbent, who got just about any bit of airtime he wanted, but that the media sticks by what they know or believe. Always just a little hesitant to jump right in with something fresh, until the freshness turns into something tried and true.
I offer some more assumptions or predictions that the media tends to appear to have about the citizens who soak up what they give to us every day; First they seem to be under the impression that we (the public) do not care. In general I would assume that they might think that the majority of the populace are dimwitted and muddleheaded about the politics that rule this nation. That we are curious and want to know, but we take almost all things conveyed through the media as fact and reality, so they can spread just about whatever they would like as the truth.
A good counterpoint to this though is that in this day and age, it is getting more and more impossible to hide or conceal what is the truth as we are becoming ever more connected in terms of the Internet. Someone can publish a document in Yugoslavia about anything and seconds later make it available to anyone with access to a computer and the Internet. Then it could be relayed to the media as a great top news headline, but the media as always will have that final decision.
These assumptions that the media makes in such an ever so lightly way are very much consistent with what we know. These movies were filmed twenty years ago, and yet we can still see that they shed some light on the media in a way that we can compare them with the media as of today. Everyone is always looking for the latest news, newspapers and TV newscasts are clearly biased in the news that they report, and still, we do not always get told the truth.
In closing, I offer the thought that the media should not be so critical in what it reports to the population in the world of politics. If we are to continue to have the greatest country on the planet, we need to be informed of all the facts that are readily available about our State Representatives, Senators and Presidents, so that we may make our own intelligent decisions on who to vote for in our elections when putting these people into office. It would be a shame to have to impeach or require a politician or administration to step down from their position due to some news about wrong doings by them after they have been elected to office, especially if the information was available but never reported before the election took place. This country was built on honesty and integrity and hopefully it will continue to prosper with these values, but as in the past deterioration is sometimes inevitable in the big money world of American political system.