Rhetoric and Writing in the Public Sphere: An Introduction/The Media and the Public Sphere
The Media and the Public Sphere
What Is a Truth?
In a world that is filled with conflicting opinions, facts are used as credible information, but what happens if people believe different facts? Farhad Manjoo, a journalist who frequently writes about media, politics, and technology along with the controversies that they are associated with, offers a firsthand perspective into what essentially is a truth. In his book, True Enough: learning to live in a post-fact society, he explains that people believe different facts that may or may not be credible. Who is right? The digital revolution, as named by Manjoo, in combination with the World Wide Web, television, radio, and other electronic technologies has made life manageable for those seeking information. Technology makes it possible for individuals to get the information they want, whenever they may want it; the information is at their disposal. These applications make it possible to listen, watch, and read, without the nonsense information that may distort their view, only seeking information they want, whether it is truly credible or factual. Manjoo points out that, “In the last few years, pollsters and political researchers have begun to document a fundamental shift in the way Americans are thinking about the news.” This creates a world where opinions are different, but facts are also (Manjoo). Our arguments are not over what we should be doing, but rather what is happening? For example, when two people look at an inkblot, one may see a butterfly and one may see a rabbit. Are either correct, or better yet, who is right? Both answers may be credible and come from two different opinions, but unreliable sources has begun to distort our perceptions about what is reality, creating conflicting views about what is real and what is not (Manjoo). “Evidence doesn't matter,” emphasizes Manjoo. People are going to believe what they want to believe. It does not matter how much credible information is provided in the opposing viewpoints. Digital technology has not only helped us with the flow of information, but how freely one may be able to access the information. With our own opinions we seek to find information that matches our viewpoints, indulging in our own biases and preexisting beliefs only seeking the information we want to hear (Manjoo). Using Manjoo's ideas, we will be looking at an example of a political truth controversy that our nation is still struggling with today involving our current president, Barack Obama.
A Political Truth Controversy: Barack Obama
Back in November 2008, when Barack Obama, born of a Kenyan father and white mother from Arkansas was elected as the first African American chief executive, controversy surrounded his election. Even though this monumental moment erased the barrier that had been holding us back in American government, by never having an African American hold a position to this standard, rumors circulated about his authority to hold office. Barack Obama, unlike some former presidents did not come from a wealthy background. He grew up in a low income and single parent household. His motto of change was not only a slogan for his campaign, but also a slogan for the United States, showing that change is possible by electing him as president. Some people are not willing to look at change, like this one and change their perspective on their beliefs. Although Barack Obama being elected was a step forward for our country, his presidency is smeared with controversy with claims in our public sphere that are not provable, creating a truth controversy of where he was actually born.
During Barack Obama's campaign in 2008, media outlets began to spread rumors that he was not actually born in Hawaii, but rather Kenya. These rumors were all spread through numerous chain emails detailing 'false' allegations about Obama's origin, religion, and most importantly his birth certificate, claiming he was not a real citizen of Hawaii. These assertions, paved the way for the Birther Movement. Although media and critics speculated, there is still no evidence or proof as to who started the rumors.
Birthers have no credible evidence that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, yet those who believe in birtherism, agree that he was not born in Hawaii. They have a preconceived notion of what reality is. They believe that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii, but have no credible information or facts to back themselves up. These individuals are going to believe what they want to believe and are not going to change their minds even if shown credible evidence that he actually was born in Hawaii and not Kenya. According to Manjoo, “People who skillfully manipulate today's fragmented media landscape can dissemble, distort, exaggerate, fake, and essentially lie to more people effectively.” When some individuals believe one thing, they are going to get their viewpoints out in the media and influence others to believe what they also believe. Although they may be lies, people are still going to believe them thinking they are actually truths. Their views and truths of what really happened are different from what reality is. This creates conflicting views of truth over what happened when Barack Obama was born. Credible evidence to back up true facts may be given to change their opinions, but does that evidence matter when they are unwilling to change their minds?
Proof of Documents
To clear up the theories regarding his birth, Barack Obama released as evidence to him being born in Hawaii, his birth certificate in 2008 along with his live birth form in 2011 to prove that he was actually born in Hawaii. In response, numerous rumors by birthers circulated that he did not initially release the documents because on his form he was listed as white or it proved he was not a United States citizen, but these were just rumors, with no facts to back up their claims. Barack Obama released his long form birth certificate issued by the state of Hawaii with signatures by his mother and also the doctor who delivered him at the Kapi' olani Maternity and Gynecological Hospital in Honolulu (Mikkelson). The never before released document from the state of Hawaii is used to generate a 'certification of live birth' accepted by the state and federal authorities as the legal proof of birth (Mikkelson).
If everyone were allowed to touch Barack Obama's real birth certificate or we were all present at the time of his birth, this would prove everything people are claiming as false, but that is not possible. Even though the Hawaii Department of Health, Polifact.com, and numerous other officials have released statements about the validity of the documents; the birthers still pursue the idea of Barack Obama not actually being born in Hawaii. In regards to the documents, claims persist such as the document was changed with Photoshop. “True photos will be ignored as phonies,” argues Manjoo and that is what happened with Barack Obama's birth certificate. When releasing the last document in 2011, Barack Obama said, "I know that there is going to be a segment of people for which no matter what we put out, this issue will not be put to rest, but I am speaking for the vast majority of the American people as well as for the press. We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We have better stuff to do. I have got better stuff to do. We have got big problems to solve (Brady)."
Manjoo emphasizes that evidence does not matter. Barack Obama has given the public what they wanted, but it was still not good enough. The people hold on to their preconceived ideas and due to these preexisting beliefs, the internet and other technological devices will only hype up their stance. People share their beliefs on the internet, on the radio, and on TV. No matter how much factual or credible evidence is out there, people will still come to believe what they want to believe. Although Barack Obama released his document, individuals do not still believe him, indulging in their preexisting biases, and not seeing what truly may be a fact or a truth.
Is there anything we can do to persuade people to believe actual truths? Individuals are going to believe what they want, all someone can do it try to put the correct information out there and hope to persuade the public into believe what is the truth. No amount of information or truths can change the perception of reality an individual may have for a certain topic. Their views are a guide for them to seek the information that they want to hear or read with their preexisting beliefs. No amount of facts or credible information as supported by the Barack Obama example may change a person’s mind, emphasizing Manjoo's point of asking if facts really do matter. People's views on reality are interrupted by media and rumors that have never been proven as fact. These rumors circulating in the public sphere emphasize that individuals will believe anything with specific proof or truths whether it is really true or not. How the rumors were started may never be known, but the amount of “factual” information regarding his birthplace in Kenya and not Hawaii still exists. The public sphere involving rumors presented as facts are intermixed with what people perceived as reality. These situations will only cause more harm than hurt, seeing as no one really knows what truth is anymore.
Brady, James. "Remarks by the President." The White House. N.p., 27 Apr. 2011. Web. 07 Dec. 2012.
Manjoo, Farhad. True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-fact Society. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2008. Print.
Mikkelson, Barbara. "Birth Certificate." Snopes.com: Barack Obama. N.p., 5 Nov. 2008. Web. 07 Dec. 2012
Advertising and the Public Sphere
In a country defined by fads, consumerism and competition, advertising has taken its place as one of the most influential forms of persuasion in American society. Taking precedence over personal experience and even personal thought, advertisement has come to shape much of what the public is exposed to, along with how a product, person, or idea is perceived. However, this observable fact was not always true. Advertising has evolved immensely over time, coming a long way from its early roots when ads intended only to get the word out regarding a particular product’s existence. Today, advertisements attempt to alter how the targeted audience members perceive themselves and society as a whole so that they will be more likely to buy a product or believe an idea. These marketing strategies blatantly conflict with the ideals of the public sphere and have a general detrimental effect on society. Advertising is not going away anytime soon, but with a sufficient level of awareness Americans may be able to take what they see and hear with a grain of salt in order to preserve their own natural consciousness.
Originally, advertising began as a way to increase awareness about particular messages. One of the first recorded examples of text-based advertisement is a relatively small 3,000 year-old tablet on which a Babylonian man has written a message pertaining to the return of a runaway slave (O’Sullivan). Old forms of advertisement were very one-dimensional in that the goal of spreading a message was accomplished only by getting the word out, letting others know that the message existed. It would take many more centuries for people to learn how to create messages that could alter an audience’s sense of perception to the extent that modern advertisers have.
During the Middle Ages, most of the populace was illiterate, and written advertisements became scarce. To adapt to this obstacle in communication, town criers were used to shout messages at passersby (Advertising). It would still be many years until advertising techniques could really evolve. As competition for products increased, advertisers needed to devise new strategies to ensure that their product sold, or that their message was effectively spread. Suddenly, the simple tactic of creating awareness became insufficient. Messages and advertisements in civilizations all over the world began to invent techniques that changed the way audiences thought about products, as well as the way they perceived their own lives.
Current advertising techniques appeal to the audience’s need to feel accepted and prey on lurking insecurities in order to deliver an astoundingly effective and sometimes undetectable message. Many ads seen today use sexuality to draw attention to the product indirectly promising the illusion of better sex lives should the audience choose to buy it. Companies have also figured out that endorsements from revered public figures almost guarantees purchases from the loyal followers of that individual. Famous spokesmen such as professional athletes and celebrities can now be seen advocating for Subway, Nike basketball shoes, and Armor All car wax. Other techniques include manipulating the audience’s ultimate desire to fit in and remain up to date on the latest developments in technology and style. Advertisers key in to these weaknesses and exploit them with incredible effectiveness.
Detrimental Effects of Advertising on the Public Sphere
Alteration of Perception
Unfortunately, this game of persuasion that advertisers play with their audience is not without consequence. Ads are now created to alter the audience’s perception of what values are important, what items they need, and what type of person or behavior is ideal.
Marketing specialists are very careful to use attractive men and women in their television ad campaigns. The people shown downing double cheeseburgers in McDonald’s commercials are mostly lean, well-dressed young adults who smile and enjoy interesting conversation with their attractive, lean, and well-dressed companions. One would be hard-pressed to find a McDonalds’s commercial that featured an overweight person. In this example it is evident that McDonald’s advertising committees are working hard to make sure that no associations are formed between the establishment’s delicious food and the growing problem of obesity. These ads aim to distort the public’s perception of the restaurant by intentionally showing perfect specimens, sending a message that says, ”It’s cool to eat at McDonald’s. The people are cool and good looking, and they are having fun.” The targeted audience member watches that commercial and is more easily convinced that eating at McDonald’s is a good decision, as his subconscious has been bombarded with subliminal messages.
Subliminal messaging is the name of the game, and the ideas that advertisers (and the media in general, for that matter) are implanting into the minds of the public are causing serious societal problems. By influencing the way audience members decide which behaviors and appearances are important in society, advertisements can ultimately change how people perceive themselves. There are hundreds of studies to prove the relationship between the media’s depiction of the "ideal" woman and increased feelings of low self esteem and mental disorders nationwide. In a study conducted by Howard Lavine at the State University of New York, advertisements portraying women as sex symbols caused female viewers to become increasingly dissatisfied with their own bodies, preferring a thinner shape then they actually had. While similar results were observed with male participants, the ads exhibiting the “ideal” person had much more negative effects on women, sometimes leading to disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. A growing proportion of Americans are becoming unhappy with their own image; men want to be larger and women want to be smaller, all thanks to the overwhelming influence of media and advertisements (Lavine).
Competition, Consumerism, and Materialism
Many advertising campaigns instill in people a need to be up to date on the latest fashions and technological gadgets, contributing to an ever-growing pattern of materialism in America. Emphasis is placed on the superiority of new developments in both of these fields, as ads tend to insinuate that individuals without these groundbreaking innovations will be left behind in a world that is becoming increasingly reliant on efficiency and speed. Companies are locked in a never-ending competition to produce the best product, and as new inventions and models one-up each other, people feel the pressure to be on the cutting edge. Unnecessary consumerism has become America’s trademark, and as long as the current trends hold, it is likely to stay that way.
Lack of Concern for Consumer Safety
For the most part, marketing agencies have no regard for the well being of their potential consumers. Without the proper balance of idealism and realism, individuals are more likely to abuse activities like alcohol use and sex because they are portrayed as glamorous and without consequence. A typical liquor commercial often paints a scene of an enormous party that would not be possible without that particular brand of alcohol, followed by a short “Please drink responsibly” message in small print at the very end. “Tobacco use is responsible for 1 in 5 deaths [in the United States]”, however, warning labels are extremely small on products like cigarettes and chewing tobacco (American Cancer Society). At the end of the day, product sales will always be paramount over everything else in the eyes of advertising agencies.
Advertisements are more invasive and unavoidable than ever before. Jay Walker-Smith, President of the Marketing Firm Yankelovich explained in a CBS article that, “We've gone from being exposed to about 500 ads a day back in the 1970's to as many as 5,000 a day today” (Johnson). With the coming of the Digital Age, ads reach even more viewers. Television, radio, and text-based media provide the American people with all the advertisements they could possibly ask for, but since the Internet has become such an extremely important tool, vast new venues for even more advertising have become available and are being taken advantage of. From social networks like Facebook and Twitter, to YouTube and even CNN.com, the majority of online websites have some sort of advertising on their pages. Advertising is virtually inescapable in the modern world.
In a perfect world, advertisements would not taint the public sphere with their underhanded marketing strategies. The public sphere can be defined as “an area in social life where individuals can come together to freely discuss and identify societal problems, and through that discussion influence political action” (Public Sphere). A key element essential to its intended operation is the idea of free speech; members of the public sphere must bring their own ideas and beliefs to the table to initiate positive change in society. If advertisements continue to distort the public’s perceptions of reality, the ideas and solutions those individuals are able to come up with will be to a certain extent limited or shaped by the influence of the media. Not only are many advertising techniques ineffective in creating cognitively independent individuals, they are in fact harming Americans on both a personal and national scale. The synthetic perceptions that advertising creates and imbeds in the minds of the people can lead to physical and mental damage as well as more widespread problems in the form of overwhelming consumerism and unnecessary materialism. Advertising agencies must seriously reevaluate the tools of their trade if they hope to start to contributing to society in a positive fashion. All that will come from the continuation of these psychological mind games is a even more distorted perception of reality, and in turn, a weaker and more ineffective public sphere.
"Advertising." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia Foundation, Inc. Web. 13 Dec. 2011.
American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2011. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2011.
Johnson, Caitlin A. "Cutting Through Advertising Clutter - CBS News." Breaking News Headlines: Business, Entertainment & World News - CBS News. CBS, 11 Feb. 2009. Web. 13 Dec. 2011.
Lavine, Howard, Donna Sweeney, and Stephen H. Wagner. "Depicting Women as Sex Objects in Television Advertising: Effects on Body Dissatisfaction." Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. SAGE, 1 Aug. 1999. Web. 13
O'Sullivan, Jeremiah R. "THE SOCIAL AND CULTURAL EFFECTS OF ADVERTISING." About RVP. Web. 13 Dec. 2011.
"Public Sphere." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia Foundation, Inc. Web. 13 Dec. 2011.
Public Service Announcements and the Public Sphere
Here's a challenge: turn on the television and watch for a solid 30 minutes. Within those 30 minutes of watching you're almost guaranteed to see a public service announcement. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a public service announcement is defined as "any announcement (including network) for which no charge is made and which promotes programs, activities, or services of federal, state, or local governments (e.g., recruiting, sale of bonds, etc.) or the programs, activities or services of non-profit organizations (e.g., United Way, Red Cross blood donations, etc.) and other announcements regarded as serving community interests, excluding time signals, routine weather announcements and promotional announcements” (Dessart). Today, public service advertising focuses on raising awareness and altering public attitudes and behaviors towards a variety of social issues. Public service announcements undeniably fit into the public sphere context because they add to the marketplace of ideas by presenting the public with messages for how to live and what choices to make that lead to higher quality of life.
To continue, The Ad Council is America’s dominating producer of public service advertising and communications. Created in 1941 shortly after the United States entered into World War II, the Ad Council, which was formerly called The War Advertising Council, was developed to carry out a campaign selling war bonds (“About Us”). After 60 years and many campaigns later, the Ad Council is responsible for Smokey Bear, the “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk” campaign, and many other campaigns focusing on issues such as religious tolerance, texting & driving, bullying, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, AIDS, and more (“About Us”). Furthermore, popular television shows have also aired special episodes that focus on a specific social issue and feature a public service announcement after the show. For example, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit had an episode about child abduction and featured a public service announcement after the show educating viewers about child abduction. The original Law & Order has also done the same thing with drunk driving. Finally, 7th Heaven has also used this same tactic by incorporating an anti-gang involvement public service announcement after a specific episode that focused on the dangers of gang involvement.
It is interesting to note that the majority of these advertisements reach their audience through television. Although this is interesting, it is not very surprising since most Americans watch television an average of four hours and thirty-five minutes every day (Gore 6). In Al Gore’s The Assault on Reason, Gore argues “the single most surprising new element in America’s national conversation is the prominence and intensity of constant fear” (25). I would like to argue that public service announcements contribute to this national conversation by relying primarily on fear appeals as a persuasion strategy.
Heavy reliance on fear appeals is damaging to the public sphere because according to Gore, “fear displaces reason” (45). Fear appeals are messages designed to provoke fear in an attempt to gain compliance or to persuade someone to change their attitude or behavior. For a variety of reasons such as to sell products, maximize ratings, or gain votes, marketers, the media, and politicians use scare strategies to increase our anxiety. In Robert Gass’ book, Persuasion: Social Influence and Compliance Gaining, Gass provides evidence for how research has shown that the relationship between fear intensity and persuasion is at most times positive and linear (272). Meaning that greater fear tends to produce greater persuasion. Similarly, Gass agrees with Gore on the culture of fear that is looming from sea to shining sea.
The Truth and AT&T No Text on Board Campaigns
An example of a public service campaign that employs fear appeals as a compliance gaining strategy is The Truth. The Truth exists to educate the public about the dangers of smoking, and to shine light upon the manipulative advertising techniques of the tobacco industry. Fear appeals appear on The Truth’s website in the form of 225 facts related to topics such as mortality and sickness from smoking. Some of these facts include, “If current trends continue, by the year 2020, tobacco is projected to kill about 7 million people per year worldwide,” and, “Since 1964, there have been over 94,000 tobacco-related fetal and infant deaths in the U.S.” (“Facts Image Gallery”). Another example of a public service campaign with heavy reliance on fear appeals is the AT&T No Text on Board campaign. This campaign specifically provokes fear in the viewer by showing individuals who have been in car accidents due to texting and driving and are now physically and mentally disabled for the rest of their lives. This tactic sets itself apart because while many fear appeals try to achieve a change in an individual’s attitude or behavior by scaring them with the thought of death, this campaign seeks to gain compliance by provoking fear with the thought of being disabled for a lifetime.
The Result of Heavily Relying on Fear Appeals
Fear is often titled the oldest and strongest emotion, and it is undeniable that every human being has felt fear. The constant prevalence of fear in American society that Gore and Gass refer to is detrimental to the public sphere and to the United State’s democracy. To expand, while I do not believe fear appeals to be negative in and of themselves, I do think that a heavy reliance on them by politicians, marketers, and public service campaigns will be more hurtful than helpful to the current state of the public forum. Furthermore, I predict that if fear appeals continue to be used at a growing rate one of two things will take place, and both predictions do not have happy endings. First, if fear tactics continue to flood the public sphere I predict that the public will become blinded by fear and as a result be unable to think rationally. Gore claims in The Assault on Reason that scientists have found, “the immobility response is strongly influenced by fear” (36), meaning that when individuals become fearful they freeze up and do not take action. If the public is paralyzed with fear our democracy will not move forward with positive change, but will be taking steps backwards by operating out of fear instead of reason.
The second path the public sphere could travel down due to the power of fear is that of tuning out completely. As fear appeals infiltrate every aspect of the media, politics, and advertising I predict that individuals may become so numb to these strategies that the only processing that will begin to take place is peripheral processing. The Elaboration Likelihood Model explains how persuasive messages are perceived and processed. It states that individuals process messages in one of two ways, either centrally or peripherally. The replacement of central processing with peripheral processing is dangerous because rational thinking takes place when we process messages centrally. The hope of our democracy as a whole rests on the ability of the public to think critically and rationally, if the processing of the public sphere turns only to utilizing the peripheral route we run the risk of becoming shallow citizens who do not know how to advocate for change.
In conclusion, fear appeals are the appeal of choice for public service announcements. This heavy reliance on scare tactics has added to the culture of fear that America has been saturated in within the last decade. As a solution to this problem, I advocate that the designers of these campaigns should help individuals manage and cope with fear instead of adding more on to the pile that Americans already wrestle with in their minds on a day-to-day basis. All in all, in order for our public sphere and democracy to see an improvement citizens must learn how to see past the media clutter in order to overcome fear and contribute critical and rational thinking to the market place of ideas.
“About Us.” Ad Council. n.d. Web. 5 Dec. 2012. <http://www.adcouncil.org/About-Us>.
Dessart, George. “Public Service Announcements.” The Museum of Broadcast Communications. n.d. Web. 5 Dec. 2012. <http://www.museum.tv/eotvsection.php?entrycode=publicservic>.
“Facts Image Gallery.” The Truth. n.d. Web 5 Dec. 2012. <http://www.thetruth.com/facts/>.
Gass, Robert H. Persuasion: Social Influence and Compliance Gaining. Pearson Education Inc., 2011. Print.
Gore, Al. The Assault on Reason. New York: Penguin, 2007. Print.
Mainstream Corporate American Media and the Public Sphere
Mainstream corporate American media holds a vital role in today's public sphere. Most Americans tune in to MSNBC, CNN, or Fox News daily. In fact, with the new-age era of hypertext and digital media, both the supply and demand of news has grown at an exponential rate. Americans now, practically, expect the news at their leisure or on their time forcing mainstream news media to become a 27/7 business. Not only in preparing stories but also in releasing stories them as well. This places a divide between journalists and their editors, whom make tight deadlines due to heavy demand. In Mark Coopers piece Hyper-Commercialism and the Media he claims that, "Tight schedules and competition for attention put their stamp on newsgathering and reporting. Reporting becomes selective and highly condensed. Short pieces require extreme simplification. Time pressures create a tendency to not only run quickly with a story but to uncritically pass through manufactured news. (Cooper 127)"
The 24-hour New Cycle: Exaggeration & Emotionalism
These tight schedules and over simplifications have lead to an odd new way of approaching the news. Howard Rosenberg and Charles S. Feldman argue in there book No Time to Think: The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle that 24-hour news has lead in some cases to reporting on news before it actually takes place. This can be seen often with an overuse of "live" reports on an event and in political celebrity stories. This overload of news coverage has led to heavy exaggeration and emotionalism. Cooper points out four types of media that lend themselves to these two characteristic. Celebrity personalities often get wrapped up in news media today, mainly due to the second type, Scandal. The American public adores scandals such as the recent Casey Anthony trial and Michael Vick. Horse race and hoopla is Cooper’s term for the political game in which news anchors play into where they only report on who is winning and losing never issues surrounding the election. The last of the types is verbal duels, which have become quite popular in hosts of political talk shows, Bill O’Reilly for example.
Viewers today when searching the mainstream media news outlets often come across political talk show journalism, which leads into the threat that biases can play in mainstream news media when substance typically consists of verbal duels. We know them as Bill O'Riley, Anderson Cooper, Glenn Beck, amongst other politically slanted news and political talk show hosts. Rosenberg and Feldman write, "It's what former CNN man Frank Sesno calls 'hypercelebrification' of news. 'A TV correspondent I really respect told me he was told by his boss that what he had to understand was, 'If you're going to play the rating game, you have to understand that when you stand up there in front of the cameras, it's not about the news, it's all about you.' So shows are all named after people now.' (Rosenberg & Feldman, 57)"
News with a Political Agenda
Cooper points out that, “Powerful media owners tend to be very visible figures in their political and policy preferences. (Cooper 118)” Strong biases in the news severely harm democracy, creating the typical partisan back and forth bantering. This bantering leads political discussions into verbal duels like mentioned before, hindering the hope of argumentation for common ground. “The tyranny of the majority in media markets is linked to the tyranny of the majority in politics because the media are the central means of political communication. (Cooper 119)” Mainstream news outlets are the main source for political campaign coverage, and with pre-political agendas in media owners, selecting a network becomes a simple task for the candidate attempting to push his agenda and publicity. This can be seen in candidates purchasing advertising as well, seeing as mainstream news outlets are primarily funded by advertising. “Because advertisers account for such a large share of mass media revenue, the market produces what advertisers want as much as, if not more than, what consumers want. (Cooper 118)” It doesn’t take much to see that Fox is red (republican/conservative) while CNN is blue (democrat/liberal). With so much bias in our TV news media, one may begin to question how many stories have been presented to us as “framed” fact.
News Media Framing
News media owners know their level of power within the public sphere and the American public in general. Media framing takes place a variety of different levels and in various ways. One could look at how news media responded to the September 11th attack and how the media uses the term terrorist so broadly. Or take global warming for example, a news outlet or talk show host can easily skew statistics in his or her favor to build up his or her own agenda or “version of the truth.”
In his book, True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society, Farhad Manjoo uses the example of 9/11 to illustrate how one can essentially “create” truth. He shows how Dylan Avery’s film Loose Change uses individually selected clips and photos to support its theory and to make it appear more credible. However in an age of Photoshop and video editing, the divide between an original and altered picture becomes more and more thin.
Selective Exposure: Perceiving the News
Farhad Manjoo raises some interesting information, through the research of psychologist Aaron Lowin, on how we perceive the news and how we make choices between the various news outlets available to us today.
“Telling a Democrat that Lyndon Johnson might harbor communistic sympathies is what Lowin would have called a weak dissonant message – it’s negative, but because it’s so clearly spurious, it lacks any real punch. Lowin contrasted these with strong dissonant messages, arguments that contradict your views and are difficult to refute… If we’re given a message that’s strong and dissonant, we avoid it. And if we’re given a message that we find strong and consonant- one that supports our views and that is easy to prove – we consume it. (Manjoo 42-43)”
Selective exposure is exposing oneself, whether knowledgeable or not, to news that fits one’s political standing, for example a conservative watching Fox News or a liberal tuning into CNN daily. Selective exposure is taking place all across America and sometimes we don’t even know it is happening. News choice is just preference like everything else, right? Wrong. Selective exposure only sets our already held beliefs closer to our hearts instead of attempting to confront beliefs with strong arguments. Confronting multiple views on an issue allows one to consider finding common ground, which is the goal in a democratic state.
The rapid supply & demand of today’s news as well as corporate involvement with advertising and political agendas & campaigning have led to a decline in mainstream corporate American news media. Its internal biases are beginning to reflect on the faces of its audience through selective exposure and perception. These attributes of today’s mainstream corporate American media effect the very role our public sphere plays in democracy.
Cooper, Mark. “Hyper-Commercialism and the Media.” Converging Media, Diverging Politics: A Political Economy of News Media in the United States and Canada. David Skinner, James R. Compton, & Michael Gasher. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2005. 117-144. Book.
Manjoo, Farhad. True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2008. Book.
Rosenberg, Howard & Charles S. Feldman. No Time to Think: The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group Inc, 2008. Book.
Women's Media Center & the Public Sphere
The media is well recognized as a powerful tool of public influence. From the billions of dollars spent each year for 30 second advertising blips during the Super Bowl to the millions shelled out for campaign commercials during election years, we can see quite clearly that marketing agencies value the media and its influence. The Women's Media Center (WMC) understands the power media has over not only public decision making, but perceptions of competency and worth. The organization is concerned about the effect that under-representation of women in the media and sexist media portrayals of females can have on public understanding of the worth of women in society. The WMC, rather than passively complain about the issues they see, uses the media and internet to spread its own message and to point out sexism in order to promote discussion and spark social and political change.
WMC was founded in 2005 by the writers/activists Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, and Robin Morgan. The non-profit organization strives to be connected and engaged with the media at all levels. The organization monitors media outlets for sexism and will often launch their own media campaigns in response to try to mitigate some of the damage done to public perception. The WMC also does advocacy work, creates their own content for the gender equality movement, and holds leadership training for women and girls to encourage active media participation .
The mission of WMC is to make women more visible and powerful in the media. Although women are 51% of the population, they are significantly underrepresented in media-centered jobs and in the media's construction of reality. What women are on film or in the news often does not correlate with what women are in real life. This issue of not only under-representing women but misrepresenting women ranges from the rampant use of Photoshop to manipulate the bodies of women to the portrayal of whiny, incompetent women appearing on sitcom x. The WMC targets the media in particular, because its operators recognize the significant role that media lays in shaping the public's understanding of the world. The value of women and their competency as human beings is something that can be shifted by the media, if it is left unchecked. The WMC finds great significance in who the media allows to talk, what shapes debates that make it on air, who writes for media outlets, and what issues are deemed worthy of reporting. Not everything can make the evening news, but WMC finds significance in the type of stories and issues which are consistently overlooked. By drawing attention to women's issues and sexist representations, WMC intends to make the issues of women a public concern, rather than allowing them to be swept under the rug or ignored by media and news outlets 
A fair amount of WMC's activism and awareness efforts are now posted online on their website's blog. Andrew Sullivan (2008) describes blogging as the extreme sports of writing, an opportunity for writers to write as facts emerge in a more free-form, alive way . The writing on WMC does have some “shoot from the hip” qualities in that they often post quickly when events happen, such as when legislation which harms women is passed, in order to keep the site relevant. These rapid posts often link to other sources in order to support or substantiate claims or to provide access to the original, offensive material. Including hyperlinks to other sources is something that Sullivan (2008) claims has a significant influence on both the credibility and functionality of blogging . Being credible and accurate are two things that make WMC's blogging an effective method of providing an alternative view to damaging mainstream media and political ads.
Two Way Dialogue
Aside from accuracy and providing a plethora of information for their viewers, what makes WMC successful at changing the public sphere for the better is their encouragement of reader participation. WMC goes out of their way to inspire dialogue, discussion, and get the perspective of their readership. The tagline for their website is “Amplifying women's voices, changing the conversation”, and that seems to be what they are doing. At the end of every blog post or article, there is an invitation for the reader to post their own comments or contribute on the topic. In the side bar there are links to sign petitions and report sexist media that the reader has observed. Through the WMC's “Name it. Change it” campaign which is also linked through their site, readers are encouraged to contribute their thoughts on reported incidents of sexist language used towards political candidates, but also are invited to contribute their own experiences. This is something that Sullivan describes as customary when working in the blogosphere . Conversation and communication with one's readership is how a blog maintains success.
In his book, The Assault on Reason, Al Gore (2007) refers to the public sphere as a marketplace of ideas . This is something the WMC recognizes, and is trying to use for the benefit of women everywhere. Gore (2007) suggests in his book that one of the problems with the current media set up is the way it lacks voter participation . Our current democratic system, thanks to media, leaves much to be desired because the public is merely fed information. They are expected to accept this passively, and they often do. Television and the internet often only offer one way communication and do not inspire dialogue between readers, or between readers and the author. By encouraging women to get involved and report violations of gender equality rules in the media and in politics, WMC hopes to counteract some of the damage done by the current powers who control the public sphere.
Gore has also attempted to create a similar atmosphere for conversation and debate among the public viewership with his television channel “Current TV”. The website for the program invites users to comment after viewing videos, reading blog posts, or reading articles in a way that resembles WMC's website . The way to get through to the public, based on Gore's efforts and those of the WMC, appears to be to use the media's tools against itself. You should play videos, but let people respond. You should write articles, but invite open discussion in response. Make people aware of things they wouldn't be able to see by looking at Fox News or other mainstream outlets. Open the eyes of the public, and they may just start using their voices.
WMC understands the power that media holds and the damage it can do if that power is left unchecked. By way of their blog, media campaigns, and encouraging dialogue about media representations and political WMC is doing their best to use the media's tools to raise awareness of issues the media creates or will not acknowledge. By raising awareness and encouraging readers to find their own voices, sign petitions against legislation, and share their own thoughts and experiences WMC calls readers to action for the benefit of the public sphere. By giving the public an opportunity to raise their voices, and to actually have a say in the government or what the media is releasing is necessary to return the public sphere to a marketplace of ideas where everyone has a say.
- (2012). About us | women's media center. Retrieved from Women's Media Center website: http://www.womensmediacenter.com/pages/about-us
- Pugh Yi, R. H., & Dearfield, C. T. (2012, ). The status of women n the u.s. media. Retrieved from Women's Media Center website: http://wmc.3cdn.net/a6b2dc282c824e903a_arm6b0hk8.pdf
- (2012). Mission | women's media center. Retrieved from Women's Media Center website: http://www.womensmediacenter.com/pages/mission
- Sullivan, A. (2008, November). Why I blog. Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/11/why-i-blog/7060/
- Gore, A. (2007). The assault on reason. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/The-Assault-Reason-Al-Gore/dp/1594201226
- (2012, ). Current tv: Official site. website: http://current.com/
Presidential Campaigns, Television, and the Public Sphere
Television is a main source of news and information for the American public and the American voter. During presidential election campaigns, candidates advocate for their platform via the many opportunities available to them on television. In fact, in the fall of an election year, it is difficult to avoid mention of the presidential candidates on most TV channels. There was once a much simpler time for presidential elections, when rallies and in-person campaigning were the only ways to garner votes. Today, presidential campaigns’ presence in the public sphere also includes the Internet, print journalism, television, and all the mediums that come with those categories.
Presidential candidates utilize presidential debates and media appearances and coverage to send their message to voters. These campaign events are vehicles for discussion and also lead to further analysis and discourse in the public sphere. The information that passes between candidates, commentators and voters sheds light on our political and societal problems as a country. That rhetoric allows voters to develop a clearer picture of their vision for America and which candidate can make that vision a reality. Presidential campaign events on television are meant to mobilize voters to the polling booths.
The first televised presidential debate between the two major party nominees occurred in 1960 between Nixon and Kennedy. Before 1960, many debates had occurred during the primary season, on the radio, or in person. The establishment of the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) in 1987 ensured that debates would become a permanent component to any presidential election and that debates would provide useful information for voters. The establishment of the CPD set the stage for a theatrical medium of talk, which is a crucial attribute of the public sphere. Debates continue to captivate Americans and the media because of their dramatic and emotional appeal.
Presidential debates are a unique platform where candidates can express their policy proposals on a national scale and stand side-by-side for voters’ comparisons. Debates are recorded and analyzed by the media, garner mass viewership, and they are considered the type of campaign event that is most likely to captivate potential voters. In addition to the debate content, viewers are also exposed to commentary after the debate that helps the voter understand the significance of what transpired.
A study was done on the third 2004 presidential debate in Tempe, Arizona. This study attempted to isolate voter reaction to the debate itself from other factors (including post-debate media commentary) that may have altered the impact of the debate. The study found that candidates’ messages in debates are persuasive for voters, but voters are also affected by the subsequent media coverage. The transition between debate and media commentary is so seamless and well-controlled that most Americans are not even aware of the switch.
Presidential debates offer an opportunity for candidates to make their views known on a national scale while simultaneously contrasting themselves from or even attacking their opposition. Debates spark a conversation on news stations and direct the political discourse for the campaign. The questions reflect the key issues for American voters at the time of the election, identifying societal problems. Presidential debates offer a unique public sphere platform and move Americans to take action and cast a vote on Election Day.
The View, a morning talk show on ABC, consists of a panel of women who discuss the events of the day in a format geared towards female viewers. During presidential election seasons, The View content is heavily focused on the campaigns. Most notably, co-host Elisabeth Hasselback was a fierce defender of the Bush administration and, during the 2008 campaign, the McCain-Palin ticket. In 2008, discussions of the candidates became heated and gained attention from other mass media sources. The women on The View also interviewed John McCain during the election.
Oprah Winfrey, often considered the most influential woman in the world, publicly and financially endorsed Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election. Oprah’s influence on the public sphere is incredibly significant, as she has created an empire of female empowerment. Therefore, her support of Barack Obama was widely publicized and powerful, considering Oprah’s sphere of influence. Oprah is considered a trend-setter, so this endorsement contributed to Obama’s “celebrity” image and it has been estimated that without Oprah’s financial support, Obama may not have won the Democratic nomination. Oprah’s position as a talk show media mogul helped Obama become a part of the public sphere and facilitated his election.
Talk shows have a unique effect on the public sphere in relation to presidential campaigns. Talk show viewers tend to be female, and perhaps the hosts of these shows are less obligated to present non-biased political commentary than mainstream news reporters. Oprah’s influence on Barack Obama’s campaign and tensions on The View in 2008 show the role that talk shows play in the political public sphere as it relates to presidential campaigns. The hosts influence the discourse in whatever manner they choose, in a more lighthearted but no less powerful way.
Presidential campaigns dominate major news networks’ coverage for much of the election year. News networks have a responsibility to keep voters informed, hold politicians accountable, and disseminate information accurately and quickly.
Throughout presidential campaigns, media personalities influence public sphere discussion of party nominees through their reporting. The stories they choose to report on as well as the facts and stories they choose to leave out of the news cycle make a difference in the mind of the voter.
Cable news networks like CNN, Fox and MSNBC sometimes feature polarizing reporters like Fox’s Bill O’Reilly and formerly MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann who do not attempt to hide their political leanings. Often, as was the case with O’Reilly and Olbermann, reporting may take a negative, combative tone during presidential campaigns and heated political times. The mainstream media’s effect on the public sphere in presidential campaigns is often partisan in nature. This can mobilize voters who choose to rely on partisan news sources for information.
Late-night comedy and satirical news
Late night comedy played a larger role in the 2008 election than ever before. Throughout their entire campaigns, McCain appeared on late night shows 17 times, and Obama made 15 appearances. These shows provide a long, often uninterrupted block of time for the candidate to speak to the public and not compete with their opponent for time or attention. Late night comedy is also full of jokes about the candidates themselves. These television programs change the tone of political discourse in the public sphere by making light of the presidential campaigns.
Satirical news shows are a subset of late night comedy. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, award winning hosts of late night news satire programs on Comedy Central, have become an integral part of the political sphere. Their shows revolve around the day’s headlines, satirizing how today’s major networks choose to cover news. Studies have reported that 48% of adults and 60% of young voters got their news from programs like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report during the 2004 election campaign. Stewart and Colbert insist that they are not journalists, but comedians, and that their shows are not meant to replace mainstream news. The high percentage of viewership during presidential campaigns, however, shows that Stewart and Colbert play a significant role in the public sphere. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert identify societal problems that are being ignored by the mainstream media.
Late night comedy and satirical news shows play a major role in delivering information to voters. While some use them as their sole source of news, others are simply influenced by these comedians’ opinions and jokes. Late night comedy has a major effect on the public sphere in that it simplifies politics for Americans and uses humor to find a common political ground.
- 2009. Commission on Presidential Debates. http://www.debates.org/. (December 13, 2011)
- Schroeder, A. (2008). Presidential Debates: Fifty Years of High Risk TV. New York: Columbia University Press.
- Fridkin, K.L., Kenney, P.J., Gershon, S.A., Shafer K., Woodall G.S. (2007). Capturing the Power of a Campaign Event: The 2004 Presidential Debate in Tempe. Journal of Politics 69 (3), 770-785.
- The View (U.S. TV series). (2011, December 7). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 03:48, December 14, 2011, fromhttp://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_View_(U.S._TV_series)&oldid=464619254
- Oprah Winfrey's endorsement of Barack Obama. (2011, October 29). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 03:49, December 14, 2011, fromhttp://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Oprah_Winfrey%27s_endorsement_of_Barack_Obama&oldid=457927045
- Broadcast media. (2004, November 11). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 03:49, December 14, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Broadcast_media&oldid=16917375
- Media bias. (2011, December 11). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 03:47, December 14, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Media_bias&oldid=465264844
- Lisheron, Mark. "Is Keith Olbermann the Future of Journalism?" American Journalism Review (Feb./Mar. 2007): 41.
- Lichter, S.R. (2008). The Comedy Campaign: The Role of Late-Night TV Shows in Campaign ’08. Media Monitor, XXII(3), 1-8. Retrieved from: http://www.cmpa.com/pdf/08winter.pdf
- (2008). ‘Fake’ News Shows Less Important in Learning About Politics. Newswise, Retrieved from: http://newswise.com/articles/fake-news-shows-less-important-in-learning-about-politics
Film and the Public Sphere
Fox News and Its Effect on the Public Sphere
“Fair and Balanced.” This is the motto that Fox News has prided itself on. The coined term is in response to many critics constant use of the term bias, when referring to the news station. Critic’s argument that Fox tends to lean towards the right has validity. (Morris). The station is no stranger to controversy and has found itself in seemingly partial scenarios, contradictory to their slogan.
Since its launch in 1996, Rupert Murdoch’s 24-hour television network has become known as somewhat of a “safe house” for conservative viewers. While escaping from the media’s “liberal bias”, they believe they are delivering the cold, hard, truth. However, this is quite the opposite of what Fox advocates and stands for. They view themselves as being one of the only unbiased news stations on television (Morris). By using slogans such as, “we report, you decide” Fox has opened its doors up to all that want to hear the “truth.”
When asked their opinion on the matter, Fox generally stands by their word and looks to other popular news stations for comparison. Fox frequently uses the common “well he did it, why can’t I?” argument when defending its frequent media biases. Fox is quick to place the blame on other media outlets, dubbing them as “liberally bias”; however, they are slow to develop clear-cut arguments when defending their controversial actions. Although Fox would like their audience to believe in their impartiality and objectiveness, it is difficult to accept as truth due to history and their somewhat obvious right-sided objectives.
The F.A.I.R. Argument
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, F.A.I.R., is the public media group that has been presenting well-informed critique of media bias since 1986. The group advocates reform and break up of the “dominate media conglomerates, and establish independent public broadcasting (Ackerman)” All and all, F.A.I.R., seeks the truth. That being said, FAIR has publically denounced many of the stories, practices, and anchors that frequent Fox News Cooperation. As one of their largest and loudest critics, FAIR has made their views about Fox public on their blogs and sites.
One of FAIR’s most evident arguments lies in Hannity & Colmes—a program with an uncanny resemblance to Crossfire’s style and format. Similar to Crossfire, the premise of Hannity & Colmes is intended to be a debate style talk show. In one corner, stands Sean Hannity, a Republican with conservative policies and ideologies and a knack for being contentious and argumentative. On the other side, Alan Colmes. While Fox would have you believe that Colmes is a die-hard liberal, he has been reported proclaiming, “I’m actually quite moderate” (Ackerman). Prior to Colmes joining of the cast, Hannity & Colmes was named “Hannity & Liberal to be Determined.” This name alone gives validity to the relative weight each host had both on-screen and off. This point was later driven home when Alan Colmes, the democratic co-partner of the show, stepped down, leaving his Republican co-host, Hannity, to run the entire show; therefore, the premise of the show completely changed in favor of the conservative agenda (Ackerman).
The Fox News Effect
Does the media have a profound impact on voting patterns? Because Fox News Cooperation began fairly recently, 1996, it is easier to judge the effect it has had on certain areas of the country and the overall public sphere. Through the years 1996 and 2000, the channel’s availability grew significantly. In a test conducted in 9,256 towns where Fox had been introduced during those four years, the Republican presidential vote gained an average between 0.4 and 0.7 percent (DellaVigna). Additionally, the same study showed an increase in Republican vote during Senate races in 2000. This increase, however, was much larger—standing at 3 to 8 percent respectively. This Republican voter increase trend became formally known as the Fox News Effect. This effect on voting was based on “one of the most dramatic media shifts in the past years” (DellaVigna).
The reason for this dramatic shift in voting seems complex at first; however, once you get to the root of Fox News, the explanation becomes fairly simple. When Fox News first debuted on airwaves, most were unsure of the network’s affiliation (DellaVigna). Similar to most news broadcasters, Fox claimed its neutrality right off the bat. It was their constant positive portrayal of George Bush that made viewers undoubting of his leadership abilities. The Fox News Effect undoubtedly had an effect on the 2000 presidential election voters.
Outfoxed is a 2004 documentary created by proclaimed filmmaker, Robert Greenwald. The film aims at scrutinizing the Fox News Channel and its attempt to inform the public in a blatantly right-winged manner (Block. The film addresses its argument further by proclaiming Fox News engages in consumer fraud. Consumer fraud relates to the public sphere. Outfoxed claims that Fox knowingly mislead the public in a fraudulent way.
The film has many assertions as to why Fox is a bias network. Perhaps one of the films main arguments may be Fox’s coverage of the war in Iraq. In 2003, during the invasion of Iraq, coverage by Fox news was overwhelmingly positive. By displaying positive signs that read “operation Iraqi freedom”, Fox laid down the groundwork for the war (Aday, 320). This groundwork set the standard for other news channels that continued with the positive outlook. Stations such as MSNBC took it so far that they fired self-proclaimed liberal, Phil Donahue, due to his constant criticism of Bush’s Iraq policy (Aday, 152). It was not until later when we learned that America had entered Iraq under false pretences did news coverage, other than Fox, become negative. During the constant coverage of the Iraqi War, Fox News climbed the charts to number one—dubbed the most watched news station in the country. This misinterpretation of information was deemed misleading to the public sphere; in other words, consumer fraud.
Outfoxed’s second main assertion is Fox’s premature call for the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. During the election, a cousin of George W. Bush, John Ellis, was working for Fox News. Discrepancy and debate among the many news stations about who had won Florida was universal; however, Fox made a controversial call that night. At 2:15 am EST, Fox News declared Bush had taken Florida and thus the Presidency. After their declaration, other stations such as NBC, CBS, and ABC followed suit and named Bush as the ultimate winner (Morris). Many believe this impulsive call was made in order to avoid discrepancies and ensure Bush’s presidency.
“Fair and balanced,” the slogan Fox has prided themselves on since 1996. This is a somewhat bold phrase for any news station to dignify themselves; however, extremely controversial in the case of FNC. The slogan has caused controversy across the board. The terms fair and balanced open up the floodgates for scrutiny. Many organizations have created efforts and have come forth in order to debunk the news station; however, Fox still maintains their objectiveness. It is evident that Fox leans towards the right and appeals more to the conservative population. The greater concern stems in their constant denial. By denying their affiliations, Fox News is misguiding the public and ultimately damaging the public sphere.
Ackerman, Seth. “ The Most Biased Name In News.” FAIR. 01 July 2001. Web. 03 December 2012.
Aday, Sean, John Cluverius, and Steven Livingston. "As Goes the Statue, So Goes the War: The Emergence of the Victory Frame in Television Coverage of the Iraq War." Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 49.3 (2005): 314-331.
Aday, Sean. "Chasing the Bad News: An Analysis of 2005 Iraq and Afghanistan War Coverage on NBC and Fox News Channel." Journal of Communication 60.1 (2010): 144-164.
Block, Alex Ben. Outfoxed: Marvin Davis, Barry Diller, Rupert Murdoch, Joan Rivers and the Inside Story of America's Fourth Television Network. St. Martin's Press, 1990.
DellaVigna, Stefano, and Ethan Kaplan. The Fox News Effect: Media Bias and Voting. No. w12169. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2006.
Morris, Jonathan S. "Slanted Objectivity? Perceived Media Bias, Cable News Exposure, and Political Attitudes*." Social Science Quarterly 88.3 (2007): 707-728.
Satire in the Public Sphere
Satire is the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, or folly . In terms of the public sphere, satire is a device that is commonly used to ridicule individuals, institutions, and often society itself in an attempt to improve upon societal issues that concern the wellbeing of the public. Through their use of satire, satirists take on the responsibility of shaping public dialogue and human discourse. Satire is often considered to be comical in nature; however, its societal critiques serve a much greater purpose as it is able to recognize the collective psyche of the society, and discover the true adoration and displeasures of that society. Satire uses these likes and dislikes to highlight issues of importance in regard to the society as a whole. In their book Sociological Insights of Great Thinkers: Sociology through Literature, Philosophy, and Science, Christofer Edling and Jens Rydgren state, “More than most forms of discourse, humor presumes a self-conscious framing by the author. More than most forms of humor, however, satire presumes an authorial stance that differs from the text’s narrative often presuming a hostility to that which is being depicted” . Edling and Rydgren are illustrating the practice of irony and sarcasm used by satirists to depict a specific societal issue. Sarcasm is perhaps the greatest and most common tool used by satirist. Often the voice of the narrating the text is not the author’s own, which can have can distort public discourse. However, Edling and Rygren argue that, “Satire often involves a claim that is absurd and or meretricious, but it becomes moral when the reader can separate what the author means from what the text announces” . Satire is not a new device, it can be found in almost all cultures throughout the world and dates back thousands of years. Jonathan Swift, an Irish writer during the eighteenth century, used satire extremely well in his critiques of Ireland and England during this time period. In his essay "A Modest Proposal," Swift suggests that Irish peasants should sell their children to the wealthy of England to be eaten. He claims that this would lessen the burden on the poor and on the country. His proposal claims to be acting in the best interest of his countrymen, however, Swift was in fact identifying the societal problems that the peasantry of Ireland faced at this time. He considered his proposal to be no worse than the actualities occurring to Irish peasants. During the time swift wrote A Modest Proposal, many readers found his solution to poverty to be grotesque and unrealistic, however, modern analysis of his work discovered that his proposal was in fact sarcastic and satirical. Whether in Ancient Greece and Rome, eighteenth century Ireland, or in the modern United States, Satire has played, and will continue to play a significant role in how discourse within the public sphere operates.
With new innovations of technology such as radio, television, and the internet, the arena of the public sphere has changed considerably since the dawn of the twentieth century. However, its purpose still remains the same. It is “A discursive space in which individuals and groups congregate to discuss matters of mutual interest and, where possible, to reach a common judgment” . Perhaps no object of the public sphere is influenced more by satire than that of politics. Satirists use many different platforms within the public sphere in an attempt to spark political conversation and in some cases, political action. Talk show hosts such as David Letterman and Jay Leno have been in the public eye for decades and consistently discuss political issues in a satirical tone. However, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are currently the most popular and prominent satirists. They use television as their platform to reach millions of Americans on a nightly basis, bringing Americans satirical news in the form of parody to highlights political issues from all over the spectrum. In the past decade, political satirists have become more popular than ever before and thus, their influence over how the public views politics has increased enormously. Furthermore, Jody C. Baumgartner and Jonathan S. Morris’ article, titled "One 'Nation,' Under Stephen? The Effects of The Colbert Report on American Youth," states, “Early research, most of which was based on experiments in marketing and psychology, seemed to suggest that humor has some ability to change attitudes and persuade audiences” . It was also found that when messages are accompanied by humor, the listener will be more likely to agree with those messages .
Media corporations now control much of today’s news outlets. As these corporations began to fall under the title of “Big Business”, their credibility as legitimate news sources also began to diminish. Although Neil Postman did not believe that satire was the best way to gain “media consciousness”, he did state that television programs would be created “…to show how television recreates and degrades our conception of news, political debate, religious thought, etc. I imagine such demonstrations would of necessity take form of parodies, along the lines of Saturday Night Live and “Monty Python,” the idea being to induce a nationwide horse laugh over the television’s control of public discourse” . Postman’s remarks from his Amusing Ourselves to Death, published in 1984, are extremely insightful. Jon Stewart’s TV show, The Daily Show, and Colbert’s The Colbert Report are precisely what Postman foreshadows in his comments. Both Colbert and Stewart’s shows are parodies of what is considered “real” news programs. Not only do they satirize politics and politicians, but they also have a deeper message that criticizes main stream media for its control over the news, as well as, its lack of legitimacy. In "Why Mitt Romney Won’t Debate a Snowman," Henry Jenkins states, “Duncombe has argued that news comedy shows, such as The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, foster a kind of civic literacy, teaching viewers to ask skeptical questions about core political values and the rhetorical process that embody them: “In doing this they hold out the possibility of something else, that, they create an opening for discussion on what sort of political process wouldn’t be a joke” . In short, Jenkins is essentially defining what it means to be satirical. Colbert, especially, uses this tactic to point at fallacies he sees in the mainstream media. He pretends to be an extremely conservative news anchor, when in reality he mocking such anchors, most notably Bill O’Reilly. By pretending to be extremely right winged, he forces his viewers to look at certain issues from the other perspective. Jenkins also goes on to say, “In doing this they’re setting the stage for a very democratic sort of dialogue: one that asks questions rather than simply asserts the definitive truth.”
Although satirists are often commended for their outspokenness and effort to bring knowledge to societal issues, they can also be met with heavy criticism. One such critique of satire is that there is a fear that satirist may be misinterpreted. Often they are so good at what they do that to a viewer who lacks knowledge of a particular topic, the satirist may seem truthful in what they are saying. Christofer Edling and Jens Rydgren stated, “The ambiguity inherent in the structure of satire- the gap between the speaker and the author- provides a challenge in that satire may easily be misunderstood. Colbert faces the most scrutiny when it comes to this notion. His act as far right-winged republican is so good, that at times people are unsure of his actual message. Baumgartner and Morris’ analysis of Colbert led them to form two hypotheses. One was that, “Colbert’s explicit criticism of liberals and democrats will generate more pro-Republican perspectives among viewers” and that, “Colbert’s mixed messages will cause a decrease in internal political efficacy”, that is to so say that an individual’s assessment of their own political competence will decrease . Jon Stewart faces a different, yet similar critique. In "The Political Sins of Jon Stewart," Roderick P. Hart and Johanna Hartelius argue that “Jon Stewart makes cynicism attractive; indeed, he makes it profitable. Each night, he saps his audience’s sense of political possibility even as he helps AT&T sell its wares” . The argument here is that Stewart makes cynicism attractive among younger voters, and this cynicism may lead younger generations to care less about politics and put almost not emphasis on voting. Hart and Hartelius state, “Cynicism involves an athletic depiction of human failty and institutional corruption and an artful delineation of mass unhappiness” .
Satire has had an undeniable effect on human discourse and consequently, the public sphere. Satirical humor and tactics have been used throughout human history, but as evident, satire has never been more popular than today. Today’s society will shape the future of tomorrow’s, thus it is important that people understand satire, and how it affects the public sphere if there is too be any hope of a bright and prosperous tomorrow.
- "Satire." Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com. Web. 02 May 2012. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/satire
- Edling, Christofer, and Jens Rydgren. Sociological Insights of Great Thinkers: Sociology
through Literature, Philosophy, and Science. Santa Barba: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2011. Print. Invalid
<ref>tag; name "edlingrydgren" defined multiple times with different content
- Hauser, Gerard. "Vernacular Dialogue and the Rhetoricality." Routledge. 79.1 (1998): 83-105. Web. 2 May. 2012. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/03637759809376439.
- Baumgartner, Jody, and Jonathan Morris. "One 'Nation,' Under Stephen? The Effects of The Colbert Report on American Youth." Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media. 52.4 (2008): 622-643. Print. Invalid
<ref>tag; name "baumgartner" defined multiple times with different content
- Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. Elisabeth Sifton Books. (1984): 3-10, 155-163. Print.
- Gray, Jonathan , Jeffrey Jones, and Ethan Thompson. Satire TV: Politics and Comedy in the Post-Network Era. NYU Press. (2009): 283. Print.
- Baumgartner, Jody, and Jonathan Morris. "One "Nation," Under Stephen? The Effects of The Colbert Report on American Youth." Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media. 52.4 (2008): 622-643. Print.
- Hart, Roderick, and Johanna Hartleius. "The Political Sins of Jon Stewart." Critical Studies in Media Communication 24.3 (2007): 263-272. Print.
Sacha Baron Cohen
If one were to partake in any of the several discussions currently taking place within the public sphere, then one would most likely adhere to the universal rules that govern them; that is to say, one would probably exhibit proper etiquette and a certain degree of familiarity to the topic in question. This is primarily due to the fact that public discourse, whether it is centered on politics or pop culture, is widely considered to be a means through which individuals can solemnly discuss about social issues in hopes enlightening the public. These “unspoken rules” are nothing new, for decorum and quasi-expertise have long-been observed as two unofficial prerequisites for entry into public discourse, regardless of whether it is taking place on a college campus or the “big stage” of the presidential elections. When these rules are breached, public discourse inevitably fails to fulfill its basic objective, which is, as previously mentioned, to enlighten the public. Take, for example, Jon Stewart’s unforgettable appearance on CNN’s Crossfire: Stewart was invited on the former long-running show in October of 2004 to engage in a discussion about the schismatic state of American politics. Although Stewart’s tone was a bit sardonic, understandably because he is “the funniest smart guy on TV,” the discourse, initially, took on a professional air; however, as Stewart’s tone grew more and more sardonic, provoking an equally sardonic tone from co-host Tucker Carlson, the discourse quickly transitioned from a serious discussion about a serious issue to a surreal exchange of personal insults between Stewart and Carlson. As a result, Crossfire’s reputation as a platform for serious discussion would be irreparably tarnished and the once popular cable news show would be cancelled three months later. Interlocutors who are deemed unacquainted with a given topic can also steer public discourse astray. Take into consideration the U.S. vice-presidential debate of 2008: shortly after the showdown between former Governor Sarah Palin and former Senator Joe Biden, many scholars, including the venerable political analyst Mark Halperin, deemed Palin’s performance equal, if not better, to that of the incumbent Vice President; however, a series of polls conducted by CNN reflected something quite different: 56 percent of the public believed that Biden had won the debate whereas 36 percent viewed Palin as the victor. Many researchers have attributed this dissonance between the academia and the general population to Palin’s proverbial self-destruction in a pivotal CBS interview with reporter Katie Couric. During the interview, Palin displayed what many viewers considered to be a profound lack of political awareness. This impression would cast Palin’s credibility under a negative light that would carry on to the vice-presidential debate and, as a result, would render the majority of the public indifferent to her otherwise cogent talking points. Clearly, if public discourse is to prove effective, those who participate in it should not only follow the rules of acceptable behavior, but must also possess an adequate amount of knowledge pertinent to the subject at hand. But exactly how ineffective is public discourse if these two conditions are not met? This is a question that satirist Sasha Baron Cohen has been answering since 1996. By assuming the role of the brilliantly conceived fictional character Ali G, Cohen demonstrates to his viewers how an ostensibly serious discussion can easily transform into a confabulatory mess upon breaking the universal rules that shape public discourse.
Ali G: Misshaping Public Discourse Since 1996
Ali G is a simple-minded suburbanite from England who has an affinity for hip-hop culture, women and marijuana. Although he does not necessarily strike one as intelligent, Ali is highly inquisitive, for he constantly seeks a better and deeper understanding of academic subjects ranging from Feminism to international relations. As host of F2F (1996-1997), The Eleven O'Clock Show (1998-2000) and the eponymous Da Ali G Show, which aired in the U.S. from 2003 to 2004, Ali G, using means that Cohen himself has refused to disclose, manages to invite some of the most brilliant minds around the world on his show to discuss about social issues that revolve around their areas of expertise. What ensues is nothing short of pure, unadulterated Sacha Baron Cohen-esque satire: acting as the moderator, Ali G proceeds to conduct an “intellectual” discussion in which the unsuspecting experts attempt to answer a set of premeditated inquiries. These inquiries tend to be inappropriate in a number of ways: they very often have little or no relevance to the guests’ breath of knowledge or the discussion at hand (e.g.,Ali G to Dr. Kent Hovind: “I ain’t pointing fingers but…are you the one backstage that didn’t flush?”), they are usually leading in the sense that they attempt to elicit a desired, often amusing response (e.g., Ali G to Rabbi Barry Freundel: “Why do you like…chop one of your nuts off?”), they tend to be devoid of sense and logic (e.g., Ali G to Andy Rooney: “Has [a] journalist ever put tomorrow’s news out by mistake?”) and they are sometimes accompanied by obscure sexual undertones (e.g., Ali G to Marlin Fitzwater: “Hillary [Clinton]…does she sip from the fairy cup? But does she eat from the bushy bowl?”). The experts usually make a conscientious effort to answer Ali’s malapropos questions without coming across as arrogant or uninformed, which inevitably directs the discussion clear off course and into a ditch of sheer chaos—Cohen’s very objective. Things tend to go downhill from that point: the guests become visibly irritated (few derive amusement from Ali G’s antics), the discourse deviates further and further away from its subject matter (a “discussion” can go from being fixated on the Bush doctrine to being centered on something as ridiculous as Barbara Bush’s “babylons”) and the seemingly educational Da Ali G Show soon appears to be nothing more than a plebeian source of entertainment.
As absurdly hilarious as Cohen’s satire may be, it does, however, achieve a didactic purpose— public discourse is ineffective to the extent that its partakers fail to showcase proper etiquette and apropos knowledge. Judging from Da Ali G Show, the more a given panel ignores these conditions when undertaking public discourse, the more amusement (at the cost of enlightenment) it provides to its audience. Too often, discourses within the public sphere serve as vehicles for entertainment by disregarding the rules governing polite behavior and serious discussion. This is especially noticeable in the world of cable news, where the likes of Bill O’Reilly and Chris Matthews routinely berate fellow panelists who so much as disagree with them. On his political commentary program The O’Reilly Factor, O’Reilly has developed a knack for outright scolding guests whose views run counter to his own. Using infantile insults such as “shut up,” O’Reilly, at times, exhibits poor etiquette which seems to detract from the enlightening qualities of the discourses that transpire on his show. Nonetheless, The O’Reilly Factor reels in millions of viewers each year; in fact, as of September of 2009, Fox News’ most popular program went on to become the number one cable news show for 106 consecutive weeks. This prompts the following question: Are viewers tuning in to The O’Reilly Factor to acquire better insight into the intricacies of American politics or to catch a glimpse of O’Reilly “shutting up” his next victim? Judging from the nature of the show, the latter seems more plausible. This kind of information-based entertainment, or, as the respected James Madison University professor Karen McDonnell would say, “infotainment,” has also left its mark on the domain of talk radio. The Rush Limbaugh Show, a conservative talk radio show hosted by opinion-leader Rush Limbaugh, has reigned supreme as the highest-rated talk show in the United States since 1988. Limbaugh’s nationally-syndicated radio show, as with any other radio show, has the potential to enlighten listeners through serious discussion pertinent to the country’s social and political climate. But The Rush Limbaugh Show, it seems, has managed to rise to the zenith of American talk radio not by conducting serious discussions that bear social and political relevance, but by disseminating absurdly controversial, often inaccurate statements that, at times, are evocative of Cohen’s satire. Some of these statements include incendiary comments about First Lady Michelle Obama’s “uppity-ism,” Michael J. Fox’s “shameless” neurological disorder and Barack Obama’s purported ties with terrorist organizations. This is the very trend that Cohen criticizes with the use of the character Ali G—our country’s unhealthy tendency to let entertainment take precedence over enlightenment when attending to public discourse.
Sacha Cohen Baron: The Satirical Prophet
Sacha Baron Cohen is more than a satirist; he is a prophet…a prophet who has consecrated precious years of his life to raise awareness about our country’s growing dependence on amusement and entertainment. His comedy is more than mere satire; it is an antidote…an antidote aimed at taming this addiction that has suppressed our country’s motivation to become brighter and more informed. And although some critics have labeled Cohen’s satire as unpalatable and tasteless, it should be noted that many of these critics do not make an effort to see beyond Ali G’s obtrusive vulgarity…because, if they did, then they would see the underlying message that Cohen has been conveying to the masses since 1996: Entertainment is to enlightenment what alcohol is to painkillers—although it may “feel good” to consume the two together, the former inevitably inhibits the beneficial effects of the latter, resulting in a combination that is not only otiose, but potentially deadly.
Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and the Public Sphere
First airing in 1999 and 2005, respectively, Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report have made a controversial splash in the American political realm. These sources of self-proclaimed “fake news” have hosted an innumerable amount of infamous guests including President Barack Obama, Senator John McCain, investigative journalist Lara Logan, CNN host Fareed Zakaria and many others. Drawing influence from the Fox News network and more specifically political pundit Bill O’Reilly, Stephen Colbert’s façade brings an additional comedic spin to today’s political infotainment, most notably affecting a younger generation of politically active individuals. These humorists have made quite a noise with their satirical commentary on today’s media, comedic cynicism and even influence on important campaigns and elections.
One of the most obvious comedic tactics used in TDS and TCR is character imitation. Stephen Colbert’s ironic conservative bias clearly resembles pundit Bill O’Reilly, who is infamous for leaking personal bias into his news reports. In an early sketch of his section “The Word,” Colbert heaped criticism on O’Reilly’s falsity by presenting the word “truthiness”—a combination of information from the head and the heart. Jon Stewart also imitated in his October 2010 “Rally to Restore Sanity” drew influence from Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally in Washington, and as NPR’s J.J. Sutherland noted, it was “an obvious echo” .
Audience participation is another large source of this style of humor. In 2008, viewers had the opportunity to edit a green screen video of candidate John McCain and submit it to Colbert’s site www.colbertnation.com. Colbert has produced “wriststrong” bracelets and one book—I Am America (And So Can You!). Jon Stewart’s book, America (The Book) uses similar comedic techniques, both mocking an overtly nationalistic American tone.
Stewart and Colbert’s use of cynicism is a large point of critique in assessing their role in the public sphere. In their article The Political Sins of Jon Stewart, Roderick Hart and Johanna Hartelius claim that because the two disguise their political beliefs with a comedic overtone, they are not criticized as they should be. They insist that all viewers “can…be young, clever…and lazy”  demanding the show doesn’t produce as much action as many supporters think. It is, however, this imitation that requires the use of an extremely cynical tone. W. Lance Bennett notes, in response, “Perhaps it is more cynical merely to report officially sanctioned news without much critical scrutiny beyond talk show gossip and insider posturing” . Due to this lack of truth from traditional news sources, it is TDS and TCR, for example, that present a fresh look at politics; “comedy—even cynical comedy—can offer the freedom to make associations that fall outside the bounds of ideologies and other preordained truths” . The argument that cynicism detracts from political value, in this case, is then undermined.
TDS and TCR have extensively covered a number of political campaigns, most recently with the presidential election of 2008. Not only did Senator John McCain appear for 13 interviews and officially announce his candidacy on TCR, but it is commonly assumed that Barack Obama’s appearance made a positive impact on the voting practices of his youthful audience.
Critics often claim comedy is the excuse for the opportunity these show hosts utilize—presenting news with little to no outside commentary. Some argue that this source of entertainment cannot bring political change, as it is not coming from a place of sincere desire and that “Cynicism, in contrast, promotes only itself, summoning followers to abandon conventional society and its stultifying love of order, predictability, and progress” . The audience is a young, uninformed one, and the main focus is attention—nothing more.
An article entitled "One 'Nation' Under Stephen? The Effects of The Colbert Report on American Youth,"
presents the Elaboration Likelihood Model as an important point of reference when assessing cynical political commentary . This theory suggests that mental processing takes two routes: peripheral and central. The peripheral route requires less thought when digesting a message, leaving open the possibility of strong external influences. In other words, many different factors can affect mental processing. On the other hand, the central route requires critical reasoning, with more of a focus on the specific message being produced. Cynical humor, they would argue, uses the peripheral route, taking away important information about the segment’s message. For example, in a report on the Occupy Wall Street protests, a viewer would hone in on Colbert’s comedy rather than on the event being discussed. Thus, the practice of gathering news solely from TDS or TCR is delegitimized, as is the argument that it is a reputable source of primary information.
In Stewart’s 2004 appearance on former CNN talk show Crossfire, host Tucker Carlson presented a new critique of the comedians’ interview tactics. Carlson repeatedly hounded Stewart concerning the triviality of questions presented to guest John Kerry, the most infamous being “How are you holding up?” This brings up the question of whether these commentators should ask real questions. In the presence of a presidential candidate, Carlson and co-host Paul Begala would insist so, despite Stewart’s response that the show preceding his is the cartoon Crank Yankers.
NPR’s J.J. Sutherland was quoted claiming, “it seems that the difference between pundit and entertainer is trending towards zero” . On the one hand, Stewart was named one of the top 100 influential entertainers in 2006. On the other hand, Stephen Colbert’s appearance as the guest speaker for the White House Correspondent’s dinner—also in 2006—prove TDS and TCR are beginning to gain serious attention from political commentators and officials alike. In addition, Obama’s recent 2011 appearance suggests quite the same thing. The president’s comment “I don’t want to lump you in with a lot of other pundits” presents the argument that no longer is Stewart seen as a comedian alone (Sutherland). In addition, the Washington Post commented on the same interview. Dana Milbank suggests that because Obama is clearly a liberal figure, TDS’s traditionally left-leaning reputation is being challenged, proving Stewart to be an unbiased check on political figures.
While cynicism is indisputable as a source of comedy in TDS and TCR, a defensive stance would suggest its necessity. As Bennett states, “it is the negative and cynical tone of the news itself that leads many citizens to despair and disconnect from the political process” . In a deeply cynical media environment, then, responding with the same tone is no crime. Carlson’s argument is also rebutted in an article by ABC. In 2008, Stewart hosted John McCain, asking him, “Did you feel bad that you said that?” in response to a statement concerning the political group Hamas . The triviality of the question is clear, but its relevance is nonetheless just as important as any hard-hitting pry. Additionally, it reminds his viewers of the comedic intentions of his show; “unlike much of politics, political comedy is fun”.
Another defense cites the innovative use of the television/internet mixed genre. Both Stewart and Colbert’s sites—almost identical in format—provide an outlet additional to their nightly program, making it easy to consume bits of information from each night’s episode. By using a tagging technique similar to Twitter or Facebook, the most popular citations are included at the bottom of the home page and can be quickly viewed in video form. The shows’ segmented layout—varying in length from thirty seconds to around eight minutes—make watching one or two news spots extremely simple .
Lara Logan, the former swimsuit model then CBS foreign correspondent is proof of the helpfulness of an appearance on these shows. Logan is famed, sadly, for a mob rape situation that occurred in Cairo after reporting for CBS. Stewart, however, was one of the only anchors who would give her a chance to voice her experience, crediting her for the serious and important work she had done. One article cites reports following the scandal such as “News Babe’s ‘Iraqi Tryst’…” and “Sexy CBS siren Lara Logan…” . Supporters claim that, while Lara Logan’s reporting is reputable, Stewart alone viewed her as a legitimate journalist, as opposed to the sex-crazed pundits from other stations focused solely on her former career.
Viewer participation is the final aspect of audience support. Many give the example of a statement by Colbert to change a Wikipedia article concerning African elephants, and its effective outcome—the page was closed for edits following his show . Colbert’s Super Pac is also a venue for participation, where members of the Colbertnation can donate anywhere between $25 and $5,000 to the advancement of Stephen’s political action group.
The Public Sphere
In conclusion, it is the democratic community surrounding these Comedy Central pundits that makes such a large impact on America’s overall political environment. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert provide a venue—both on television and the Internet—for accessing entertaining and critical commentary and recent political news, humor notwithstanding. Journalists appear to boost their own credibility, presidential candidates look to a youthful voting public for support, and citizens disinterested with the biased hackery of traditional news networks come to these men for a lighthearted yet honest look at current affairs. Through consumption, media sharing and individual participation, this “cynical” form of political news provides even the farthest out viewer with an opportunity to be involved in the U.S. democratic system, making TDS and TCR an important part of today’s public sphere.
- Baumgartner, Jody and Morris, Jonathan. "Relief in Hard Times: A Defense of Jon Stewart's Comedy in an Age of Cynicism." Routledge. (2007): n. page. Web. 14 Dec. 2011.
- Bennett, W. Lance. "One "Nation," Under Stephen? The Effects on The Colbert Report on American Youth." Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media. (2008): n. page. Web. 14 Dec. 2011.
- Hart, Roderick, and Johanna Hartelius. "The Political Sins of Jon Stewart." Routledge. (2007): n. page. Web. 14 Dec. 2011.
- Hovell, Bret. "McCain on 'The Daily Show' with Jon Stewart." ABC World News. (2008): n. page. Web. 14 Dec. 2011.
- Milbank, Dana. "On the Daily Show, Obama is the last laugh." Washington Post. (2010): n. page. Web. 14 Dec. 2011.
- Montgomery, James A. "Can Wikipedia Handle Stephen Colbert's Truthiness?." MTV News. (2006): n. page. Web. 14 Dec. 2011.
- "Networked News: Stewart, Colbert, and the New Public Sphere." (2009): n. page. Web. 14 Dec. 2011. <https://blackboard.jmu.edu/bbcswebdav/courses/WRTC320_2_FA11/Networked News Stewart, Colbert, and the New Public Sphere.pdf>.
- Sutherland, J.J. "Obama On The Daily Show." NPR. (2010): n. page. Web. 14 Dec. 2011.
The Newsroom and The Public Sphere
Introduction to The Newsroom
On June 24, 2012, Home Box Office (HBO) aired the pilot episode of their satirical show, The Newsroom. The show, created by entertainment veteran, Aaron Sorkin, follows a fictional news program, News Night, it’s hotheaded, opinionated anchor, Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) , and his team of producers, writers and executives at the fictional cable news channel, Atlantis Cable News (ACN). Sorkin, along with being the creator of the show, also writes every episode uses his fast paced style to give the viewer a look into the high stress and tempo that those working in the news struggle with on a daily basis. 
The show very openly criticizes the current state of the public sphere while showing viewers the ideal other option. The fictional show, News Night works to report the news in an unbiased, bi-partisan manner. The show has no fear of enemies and will call out lies can be circulated through the public sphere, specifically the medium of cable news.
The creator, writer and one of the executive producers of the show, Aaron Sorkin, works to incorporate his style of writing while also creating a show that has some very generic content. When creating this show, Sorkin worked to give the audience an idea of how cable news can become a political and a financial business rather than a medium to inform the general public.
During an interview with NPR, Sorkin explains, "I like writing about heroes [who] don't wear capes or disguises. You feel like, 'Gee, this looks like the real world and feels like the real world — why can't that be the real world?' ".
Will McAvoy, News Night’s Anchor
In the opening episode, Sorkin wrote a monologue for his news anchor, Will McAvoy, that expresses the characters frustration with mainstream media. McAvoy is speaking at a college campus when a student asks him “why America is the greatest country in the world?”. What follows not only surprised the fictional students but also those watching. “It’s not the greatest country in the world, professor. That’s my answer.”“…gets to hit you with it anytime he wants. It doesn’t cost money…it costs votes. It costs airtime and column inches. You know why people don’t like liberals? Cause they lose. If liberals are so fucking smart, how come they lose so god damn always?”“And with a straight face, you’re gonna tell students that America is so star-spangled awesome that we’re the only ones in the world who have freedom? Canada has freedom. Japan has freedom. The UK, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Australia…Belgium has freedom! So…207 sovereign states in the world…like 180 of ‘em have freedom.”Will: “And, yeah, you…sorority girl. Just in case you wander into a voting booth one day, there are some things you should know. One of ‘em is there’s absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22ndin science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, number 4 in labor force and number 4 in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies. Now, none of this is the fault of a 20-year-old college student, but you, nonetheless, are, without a doubt, a member of the worst period generation period ever period, so when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about! Yosemite?!”(Silence.)Will: “It sure used to be. We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reason. We passed laws, struck down laws, for moral reason. We waged wars on poverty, not on poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were and we never beat our chest. We built great, big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election and we didn’t scare so easy. We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed…by great men, men who were revered. First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore. “
McAvoy is portrayed as a damaged, washed up, bitter, yet attractive news anchor. After his rant on the college campus, He must clean up his image. By cleaning up his image, he must also clean up the show’s image and switch things up in the office. This leads to the beginning of the new nation news format.
News Night’s News
The show, although fictional, is based around popular news stories in the past year, including, the BP oil spill in the Gulf, The shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, the Casey Anthony Trial and many more. Sorkin originally thought that he could create news stories, but after realizing the difficulty behind that, he decided to go with stories that the general public would already know. Using these stories, Sorkin allows the audience to relate to the stories and see an unbiased approach to the familiar and popular news stories in the past year.
Sorkin tells NPR"I realized I could set the show in the recent past… My big worry was making up the news — writing fictional news — because it was just going to take us too far away from reality. ... But [setting the show in the recent past] became the gift that kept on giving. Because you have the fun of the audience knowing more than the characters. ... I know that this device has bothered some people who think that I'm leveraging hindsight into a way to make my characters stronger. That wasn't the idea."
Although already knowing the outcome of the news definitely gives Sorkin’s characters a leg up when it comes to reporting, it also allows the audience to relate to the stories being reported.
Casey Anthony and Nancy Grace
In one episode, News Night is scrambling to improve ratings. It is clear that although their new format is intended to promote an unbiased news program, it is not as entertaining as the competing programs. In order to save the ratings, the producers look to Infotainment queen, Nancy Grace. They analyze her “experts”, talk about her editing jobs, and explain how she tugs at the viewer’s heartstrings in order to get the response from the viewer that she wants. In this specific case, they watch Nancy Grace’s coverage of the Casey Anthony case.
McAvoy, who is unimpressed by Grace’s techniques, blows off the idea of infotainment. He has no interest in becoming a slave to infotainment, however, due to pressure from the station, McAvoy covers the Casey Antony story. Forbes writer, John Tamny explains that “the Anthony story more broadly, it seems Sorkin misses the point. No doubt some members of the media wish otherwise, but quite happily Americans aren’t terribly interested in hard news."
Tamny is correct, but Sorkin is trying to point out that Americans should care more about the “hard news” and less about the entertaining news. It pains McAvoy and seemingly Sorkin to cover something that he does not be considered to be the news, but, as predicted, the ratings spiked and Sorkin showed the viewers how easy it is to fall prisoner to the lure of infotainment.
Corporate News and the Koch Brothers
Unlike other satirical news shows, Sorkin does not look for laughs when presenting each episode of The Newsroom, he looks to inform the general public of how the national news could be conducted if there were not so many ties to each cable news station. The fictional cable company, ACN’s CEO is a driven, wealthy woman named Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda). Keeping with the issue of cable networks working to benefit their political and financial gain, Lansing and her son, Reese Lansing (Chris Messina) are constantly battling with both ACN’s news divison president, Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterson) and News Night’s shows executive producer, Mackenzie McHale ( Emily Mortimer) about the shows unbiased and honest approach. The show openly talks about the Koch brothers and their influence on politics and the content that is reported by the cable news networks they financially support. McAvoy speaks constantly to his viewers the he will “follow the money” which in one episode lead him to the very wealthy brothers. The Koch brothers are not fictional characters and their role in the public sphere and politics is a large one. They are very supportive of many politically conservative groups, as expressed in the episode.
McAvoy, and News Night’s attack on the Koch brothers, although in a fictional context, delivered a strong message to viewers about the corporate side of the news. Lansing made a powerful threat to fire McAvoy and McHale for their attack on the brothers, due to the fact that they are very strong financial supporters to the network.
The show has gained more than a few critics. One New York Times article, written by Emily Nussbaum tells her readers that “much of McAvoy’s diatribe is bona-fide baloney—false nostalgia for an America that never existed—but it is exciting to watch… “The Newsroom” is full of yelling and self-righteousness." Nussbaum finds the ideal news program, News Night, to be a hoax and a false interpretation of how the public sphere could change.
Although the show has critics, the critics of the show also have, well critics. On The Media’s Robert Schoon talks about the fact that the critics of the show are the people that the show is blaming for the downfall of the public sphere, journalists. Schoon says that “ince before The Newsroom aired on HBO last Sunday night, nearly every critic has found something negative to say about writer Aaron Sorkin's new show. While this is inevitable - Sorkin's wordy, hyper-intellectual, sometimes elitist style is polarizing - The Newsroom has been a lightning rod for nitpicks and skepticism this week, even from critics who are fans of his work. One reason? Its premise trespasses on the reviewers' turf.”
Jason Baily of The Atlantic explains the “he (Sorkin) was just asking for trouble by creating a series about the media—specifically, about how the media in its current incarnation is a gutless, witless, sensationalistic pursuer of the lowest common denominator. A media writer may agree with Sorkin's claims about the industry, but it's kind of like talking about my male pattern baldness or spare tire around the middle: I can say that stuff, because it's me. You don't get to write about my flaws, and you sure don't get to let Jeff Daniels pontificate eloquently about them.”
Although the show has its share of those who disagree with its message and those who defend its message, it is clear that Sorkin was looking to stir up some trouble with the media. One does not write a satire on the biased nature of journalism and the factors that go into the “news”, without expecting to get some backlash. At the very least, Sorkin has opened up a topic of discussion that many were too afraid to discuss. His fictional news program may be out of reach in some eyes, but Sorkin is trying to ask his viewers and those who are involved in public sphere why his image of it has to be such a pipe dream.
- "The Newsroom (U.S. TV Series)." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Apr. 2013. Web. 20 Apr. 2013.
- "Aaron Sorkin: The Writer Behind The Newsroom." NPR.org. NPR, 27 Dec. 2012. Web. 17 Apr. 2013.
- "In the Bunker." In the Bunker RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2013.
- "Aaron Sorkin: The Writer Behind The Newsroom." NPR.org. NPR, 27 Dec. 2012. Web. 17 Apr. 2013.
- Tamny, John. "The Newsroom's Aaron Sorkin Is Wrong About The News, And Casey Anthony." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 12 Aug. 2012. Web. 20 Apr. 2013.
- Garlock, Chris. "HBO's 'The Newsroom' Takes on Koch Brothers." AFLCIO.org. AFL-CIO, 29 July 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.
- Nussbaum, Emily. "Broken News." The New Yorker. Conde Nast, 25 June 2012. Web. 25 Apr. 201
- Schoon, Robert. "The Problem with "The Newsroom's" Critics - They're Journalists - On The Media." Www.onthemedia.org. On The Media, 27 June 2012. Web. 25 Apr. 2013.
- Bailey, Jason. "Why I Love 'The Newsroom': A Defense of Imperfection." The Atlantic. N.p., 27 Aug. 2012. Web. 20 Apr. 2013.
- Carey, Madeline. "The Newsroom: Fantastic or a Flop." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 19 July 2012. Web. 15 Apr. 2013.
- "List of The Newsroom Episodes." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 20 Apr. 2013. Web. 25 Apr. 2013.
The Effects of Stephen Colbert’s Super PAC on The Public Sphere
PACs, What Are They?
Essentially, Political Action Committees (PACs) are groups that donate money to a campaign or candidate who will favor their opinion in certain issues. They came into being because of the Tillman Act, and the Taft-Hartley Act; both of which were designed to prohibit corporate and labor union contributions to political elections. Basically, PACs were formed to bypass the system and allow corporations and other groups to funnel money to anyone they wanted to. In 1971, Congress passed the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) to limit campaign contributions. The same bill also set up the Federal Election Commission (FEC) whose purpose is to administer federal campaign finance laws. There are different variations of PACs: Connected, Unconnected, Leadership, and Super. Each of them is slightly different than the others. But the main issue is the difference between the others and Super PACs.
What is The Difference Between a PAC And a Super PAC?
In 2010 the Supreme Court ruled on the case of Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission. They found that it was unconstitutional to prohibit corporate and union entities from spending money on political matters. Also in 2010, there was a ruling by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that allowed groups not donating to an official, or their campaign, to accept a donation of any size.
With the rulings of these two cases the creation of Super PACs became legal. While they operate like a normal PAC there are a very few noticeable and important differences. They may solicit an unlimited amount of money from anyone, and spend it in almost any way they see fit; the exception being that they may not donate directly to candidate’s campaigns or political parties. The kicker is that to become a Super PAC, all that has to be done is filling out one additional sheet of paperwork.
Why is This a Problem?
The real question is “why is this legal?” It is a blatant disregard of democracy. Many elections are already decided by who spends the most. It is literally impossible to find a presidential election where the winner wasn’t the man who spent the most money on campaigning. I will quote what the Center for Responsive Politics said about the 2008 election, “In 93 percent of House of Representatives races and 94 percent of Senate races that had been decided by mid-day Nov. 5, the candidate who spent the most money ended up winning.” And we all know that Barack Obama won the presidency; it happens to be the case that he also spent more than his opponent, John McCain. This essentially equates money to power. Quoting Stephen Colbert, “This is one-hundred percent legal, and at least ten percent ethical.”
History of Colbert’s Super PAC
On July 1st , 2011 the FEC approved Stephen Colbert’s request for a Super PAC —Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow — which he proceeded to announce to the public along with a request for donations. Assisting him throughout the process was Trevor Potter, who is still Colbert’s lawyer. Who also assisted him in setting up a 501 (c)(4) under the name of Colbert Super PAC SHH Institute. The 501(c)(4) is a social welfare organization capable of spending money on political issues. And as Colbert pointed out, his 501(c)(4) may take any amount of money and not have to reveal the donor; it can then donate that money to his Super PAC where it will be shown as being donated from his 501(c)(4). This means that anyone could give any amount and nobody would ever be able to find out who it was. Colbert sums it up well when he asks Potter, “What is the difference between this and money laundering?” Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow ran four ads while Colbert was initially in control of it. The first two were attempts to persuade Iowan residents to write in Rick Parry in lieu of Rick Perry. The third and fourth were related to the NBA lockout incident.
Colbert eventually decided that he wanted to attempt a presidential run, starting in South Carolina, and so he handed control of his Super PAC over to his close friend and business associate Jon Stewart. Stewart, now in control of the Super PAC, was required by law not to coordinate with Stephen in any way. The penalty for doing so is incarceration and/or a fine, which is payable with Super PAC funds. When Stewart took over the Super PAC the name became: The Definitely Not Coordinating with Stephen Colbert Super PAC. While he was running the Super PAC he continued to run ads, primarily in South Carolina. The first was an attack ad aimed at Mitt Romney, and equating him to a murderer. The second was to support Herman Cain, and basically said that a vote for Cain was a vote for Colbert; as Stephen could not get onto the ballot in South Carolina. The third was an ironic threat of using negative attack ads to end negative attack ads. The fourth is an attack ad for Colbert; it was meant to show that he was not coordinating with the Definitely Not Coordinating with Stephen Colbert Super PAC.
Colbert and Stewart soon performed skits in which they poked fun at how simple it was for candidates to “not coordinate in any way” with a Super PAC. Bringing up points such as how it was possible for Stewart to hire Colbert’s former Super PAC staff, but only as long as they didn’t know what Colbert was doing. Another relevant point that was no less subtle was Trevor Potter being the legal counsel for both the exploratory committee and the Super PAC. In addition, they found that it was possible for the Super PAC to tell the candidate exactly what it was doing so long as the candidate didn’t advise or coordinate with them; it is also possible for the candidate to speak to the public, and if those in charge of the Super PAC happen to “accidentally” hear his plans that’s too bad. All of this, of course, is legal.
After ending his presidential run due to not being able to get on the ballot Colbert proceeded to take back his Super PAC and continue on his way. And recently Colbert released what he is calling the “Colbert Super PAC Super Fun Pack.” Which is a product geared towards college students, but it can be enjoyed by those of all ages. It is meant to guide the user through the process of creating their own Political Action Committee. It contains: all the legal documents necessary for creating a Super PAC, an instructional booklet by Trevor Potter to guide users along the way, an Allen wrench, official Colbert Super PAC T-shirt, dorm room door sign, official Colbert Super PAC tube socks, a list of the four-hundred richest Americans, and an authentic treasure map.
Now most of these items make sense, but a treasure map? It’s all part of Colbert’s newest promotion for his Super PAC. Whoever deciphers the treasure map first and claims the treasure gets a fantastic prize; a one-hundred year old silver turtle that also functions as a service bell. Oh, and Colbert will visit the campus of whoever wins. But that’s not important; what is important is that the turtle does not like peanut butter.
Effects of Colbert’s Super PAC on The Public Sphere
Stephen Colbert has done more than anyone else to show the general public just how Political Action Committees work, and what it is they actually do. Was it a satirical joke poking fun at the system, and meant to get ratings? It probably was. Did Colbert send a real message to those who were listening? Yes, absolutely. Colbert’s call to action did not go unheeded; there are already examples of students taking his message to heart. And as Colbert said, “We are divided between those who think with their heads and those who know with their heart.”
One such group is the Penn Staters for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, who define themselves as “The Penn State chapter of Stephen Colbert's Super PAC: Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.” Their mission is, “To make our voices heard in the form of Stephen Colbert's voice and draw attention to the bipartisan issue of Super PACs and money in politics.” Another such group is Texans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow. It is a branch of Colbert’s Super PAC; started by Paul Benefiel, who is a sophomore in the University of Texas, with Colbert’s permission. It is only logical to assume that this trend will continue, and lead to more public involvement in issues like Super PACs and campaign finance; because the public, unlike Super PACs and candidates, can coordinate.
- " Money Wins Presidency and 9 of 10 Congressional Races in Priciest U.S. Election Ever - OpenSecrets Blog | OpenSecrets." OpenSecrets.org: Money in Politics -- See Who's Giving & Who's Getting. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 May 2012. <http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2008/11/money-wins-white-house-and.html>.
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- "Penn Staters For A BetterTomorrow Tomorrow." Facebook. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 May 2012. <https://www.facebook.com/PennStatersForABetterTomorrowTomorrow/info>.
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Image Manipulation and the Public Sphere
In 2000, the Washington Post stated:
“Photography has come to be trusted as a virtual record of an event. We must never betray that trust. It is our policy never to alter the content of news photographs. This means that nothing is added or subtracted from the image”.
Ten years ago, our society struggled to keep images honest within the media. Today, the issue still remains. There is a noticeable increase in image altering technologies that are available to anyone and everyone. With this increase in technology, truths are created and crafted within our public sphere, which philosopher, Habermas, would argue to be a place where “true public opinion could be formulated”.  So, we must ask ourselves: what is true? Our media grips the public by television, advertising, music, and especially images. Various cases exist where image alteration has changed original images and more importantly, their original meanings and messages. A new art form, however, has been born: political art. Digital artist take images from the political world, alter them, and give them new iconic, beauty.
Manipulation Technologies and Availability
In almost every electronic store today, consumers can find digital cameras priced as low as $40. Most home computers come with basic photo editing programs, like Apple’s iPhoto, giving everyday photographers the ability to change the brightness, contrast, and color of their images. Blemishes and eye redness can be removed with the click of the mouse. Adobe Photoshop, a more advanced graphic editing program, was developed and published by Adobe Systems Incorporated in 1990. This application allows consumers to “edit, enhance, correct, and manipulate” any image in order to alter its “composition, framing, color, and combinations of elements and scenes”. Photoshop users have the ability to essentially remove memories from photographs. If an ex-boyfriend or an ex-girlfriend haunts one’s favorite picture, why not just delete them? Photoshop, an intricate, revolutionizing computer program gives consumers this option. Because of the increase in availability of photo editing software and digital cameras, we have becomes so used to having the option to change anything we do not like about an image. Digital effects give us a chance for creative manipulation, therefore making “image alteration an everyday aspect of the consumer experience” and an opportunity to “artificially construct realism”.
Crafting Truths and Lies Within the Public Sphere
As a population dictated by the news and media, we’d like to believe that images we see within our public sphere are always real and not manipulated. This, however, is not always the case. In recent years, more and more “questions of verifiability and manipulation of images” have surfaced in “the context of photojournalism and documentary photography”. In many instances photo manipulators seek personal gain by falsifying images, and when they get caught, “their digital manipulation is seen within the framework of a discourse of image ethics”. Is it okay to make a celebrity appear flawless when they are really wrinkled? Is it okay to place the president among people he has never met? These questions must be frequently asked in this day and age because of the number of technologies surrounding photographs and imaging. We are accustomed as a group of people within the public sphere to be more accepting of celebrity image falsifying than of news organizations not meeting journalistic standards because of image manipulation.
Altered O.J. Simpson Image
The subject of much debate about murder, O.J. Simpson was featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1994. The image of his face, however, had clearly been altered. This distortion is one of the most famous accounts of image manipulation ever that illustrates the negative effects of photo alteration tools. Time claims their purpose behind darkening his skin tone and increasing the contrast was for “aesthetic reasons”. These “aesthetic reasons” had a very negative impact on Simpson’s reputation because of history’s connotation of darkness with evil. In addition to evil, cinematic history tells us that dark and black commonly indicate guilt. Throughout the 20th century, it was usual for filmmakers to only cast black actors as villains, which coincided with literature and the theater. Unfortunately, our society still holds onto beliefs from centuries past because they have manifested themselves in our public sphere and media repeatedly.
Altered Pyramids of Giza Image
The first, public scandal of image alteration happened in the early 90s. National Geographic, a reputable, photojournalism magazine featured a picture of the Pyramids of Giza on its cover, but needed to manipulate the image in order to make it fit vertically. The yellow frame of the magazine took away from one of the pyramids, so National Geographic decided it would be okay to squeeze the two closer together. Although very slight, the pyramids were technically falsified and did not actually exist that close to one another in reality. A scandal resulted because the image editing technology was brand new creating a question of ethics among photojournalists. The question remains today: is it okay to change an image and would it make it any less true? Many debate that even the slightest of changes to an image, like in the case of the Pyramids of Giza, is crafting the truth and therefore creating lies.
Altered Oprah Winfrey Image
Also in the early 90s, Oprah Winfrey became very famous for her television program giving her a lot of attention in the public eye. TV Guide featured her on one of their covers, but the public would soon realize only a portion of Oprah on the cover was really Oprah . Oprah’s head had been composited to Actress, Ann-Margret’s body from an image taken in 1979. Ann-Margret’s torso and legs had to be digitally darkened in order to match Winfrey’s face, and the table Ann was sitting on was manipulated into a mound of money showcasing a new and improved Oprah Winfrey. Neither women were informed of TV Guide’s photo editing.This is yet another example of what happens when company’s selfish desires become more important than an individual’s reputations.
Digital Imaging Becoming Political Art
Much discourse within the public sphere about image manipulation is negative. Various artists, however, have taken well-known images from our public sphere and transformed them into works of art that everyone can appreciate. Digital imaging programs and techniques not only create scandals within the media, but they create a new of way of seeing and appreciating our public sphere. Today, a brand new form of art has emerged where visionaries have “engaged in the experience of media overload by working with images from news and entertainment media”. Artists are taking what they know from image manipulation and creating something entirely different and unique.
Obama Political Art
When one hears the words politics and art together, they see Obama and the word “hope” in bold, blue font underneath. Shepard Fairey, a street artist recognized for his “Hope” image, created the image for President Obama during his presidential campaign in 2008. The image is for sale on poster websites listed as a piece of artwork, so what is it? Is this image a piece of politics or a piece of artwork? It is a combination. Today we see “computer-generated images that resemble real-life subjects in an iconographic way”, just as we do with Fairey’s creation. Obama could have had his photograph taken and simply published, but because Fairey manipulated, added text and different colors, he created a whole new perspective. The image is entirely different because Fairey changed it and as a result, it is now iconic. Obama and the word “hope” go hand in hand because Fairey put the two together, and now most of the world recognizes it. This marked history for the United States and Fairey was there to create a powerful message and beautiful artwork.
- Irby, Kenneth. "Washington Post Policy on Manipulation of Photographic Images." Poynter.org. The Poynter Institute, 5 Sept. 2003. Web. 7 Dec. 2011. <http://www.poynter.org/uncategorized/15451/washington-post-policy-on-manipulation-of-photographic-images/>.
- Lisa, Cartwright, and Marita Sturken. "Reproduction and the Digital Image." Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. New York: Oxford UP, 2009. 214-17. Print.
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- Time 27 June 1994. Web.
- Lester, Paul M. "Faking Images in Photojournalism." Media Development (1991): 41-42. Web. 7 Dec. 2011. <http://commfaculty.fullerton.edu/lester/writings/faking.html>.
- "Most Famous Faked Photos." LIFE 5 May 2011. Web. 7 Dec. 2011. <http://www.life.com/gallery/60111/image/ugc1220081/most-famous-faked-photos#index/27>.
Bill O' Reilly and the Public Sphere
Political movements, media influence, and public interests have all been contributors to the enriched political culture that we live in today. The changes that have occurred in just a decade influenced cultural norms that are formed by misconstrued information by the public. Some of these influences can be traced back to talk show hosts such as Oprah Winfrey and Bill O' Reilly. Talk shows are a great source for people to view the natural order of things and gain perspective to make an educated decision about specific topics. While talk show hosts can have subjective point of views to attract a certain demographic, news channels that host politically charged shows that of Bill O' Reilly's, The O' Reilly Factor should be objective to give the American public the opportunity to either agree or disagree with a specific topic. This is where O' Reilly's show becomes controversial because he takes the stance on the issues that he discusses on his show which right away is a form of rhetoric that influence the public.
Bill O' Reilly was born in Manhattan on September 10, 1949. He spent most of his childhood in Long Island, New York. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History in 1971 and returned to school in 1973 to earn his Master of Arts in Broadcast Journalism. He also earned a Master of Public Administration from Harvard University.
Maintaining his position as an involved individual, O' Reilly ventured out to find an anchoring position. He worked in different cities all over the country covering local news. As O' Reilly covered investigative news on corruption or criminal activities he gained critical acclaim and moved up the ranks to work as the CBS news correspondent. O' Reilly left CBS after disputing the lack of respect that he received as a news anchor. This came about because Bob Schieffer used an uncredited footage of the Falklands conflict that was shot by O' Reilly's crew.
In 1996 he was hired by Fox news channel to anchor The O' Reilly Report which was later changed to The O' Reilly Factor. O' Reilly also hosted a radio show emphasizing his political views even though he consistently denies being liberal or conservative. His show has gained widespread attention over the years and continues to do so today.
Although O' Reilly has stated several times that he is independent in his show, or his books, he finally revealed in one of his books that he is a traditionalist. This type of political affiliation is similar to being a conservative. Even though his show is a talk show which is supposed to be engaging and filled with intelligent discussion. However, his show allows him to talk more on the air than give his guests the opportunity to state the facts or voice their opinion.
O' Reilly hasn't endorsed any political candidate recently but points fingers at candidates who he believes is unqualified. During the 2004 election John Kerry did not have the time to convince O' Reilly on his campaign to the presidency which could have been an eye opener to some of the shows' audiences. The fact that O' Reilly does not care that he insults political candidates such as John Edwards calling him a “phony” is an incorrect method to use his show to promote a adverse reaction to specific people.
In terms of foreign politics O' Reilly has clearly stated his views on specific issues. Just to name a few the Iraq War, border control, and terrorism. Even though the news commentator has taken a stance in many of the issues covered, the Iraq War has been one topic where O' Reilly has bounced back and forth. When the United States first invaded Iraq O' Reilly was wholeheartedly supporting this act, however, as the progression of the war saw many pitfalls he changed his view and flip-flopped onto revoking his support. Though it might have seemed that O' Reilly was actually genuinely sane about making a statement again the war he followed it by adding that the Iraqi people do not have the guts to fight against these terrorists.
Border control has always been a heated issue. O' Reilly supports having stricter borders and deporting illegal criminals out of the country. He disagrees with the actions taken by the Bush administration and would like to see the INS take more control of the issue.
Finally, terrorism has been a controversial topic to address in any setting and it is especially critical in The O' Reilly Factor. As many of the general public would agree that terrorism should be abolished there is not particular association that should be involved with this threatening act. O' Reilly in his guest appearance on The View stated that “Muslims killed us on 9/11”. Making a statement as such only devalues the commentators credibility as he showed clear ignorance. It is right to pin point areas that terrorist activity maybe be of development and O' Reilly supports any investigative action toward these acts. Although O' Reilly may seem objective by doing his research and following key figures to inform the public, he makes no attempt to be an authentic news anchor that the public need him to be.
Fox news' owner Rupert Murdoch claiming to be a striving individual trying to bring the world just the daily news fails to do so by inserting political innuendos in the topics covered. This political jargon is mainly done through the interviews that are held with guest speakers whether it be a politician, an economist, or a stock broker. As the documentary Outfoxed investigated the rhetoric behind Fox news channel, it is revealed that there was a political statement made even in the simple graphics that is used. The general public has no way of being educated about these facts unless they investigate these specifics. Fox news anchors in an attempt to voice their opinion also use the term “some people say” to make sure that they have given a statement about the pressing issue. The anchors do not specify who these people were that say the particular statements and they continue on with their interview to make it seem fair and balanced.
As the show is focused on O' Reilly, it fails to give respect to the guests that they have on the show. Even though the host clearly disrespects many of the guest speakers, the news channel should have the courtesy to acknowledge the fact that anything O' Reilly says should not be affiliated with the channel itself but maybe Fox news does stand by anything said on The O' Reilly Factor. O' Reilly has a problem with name calling. His most famous one that is used on almost all of his shows is “shut up”. He has shown no qualms what so ever to apologize once he does use these insulting words.
In a research done by Mike Conway an associate professor of Indiana University, he studied the number of times the news commentator used name-calling and propaganda techniques. The research involved analyzing O' Reilly's commentary in 2005 and it was compared with the antisemitic and anticommunist radio broadcaster Father Charles Coughlin. The results showed remarkable numbers, O’ Reilly called someone a name 2,209 times over 248.65 minutes, or 8.88 times per minute. While this study was merely a glimpse at the extent to which the news commentator uses name-calling, it is an eye opener for the audience. Many who watch O' Reilly's show have been exposed to his erratic speeches so they do not question the credibility of the statements that he makes. The influences that are fed through The O' Reilly Factor can be seen in the public sphere by the way people make claims towards an issue.
Oprah Winfrey is an influential woman in the world and many of her viewers are house wives who find the time to watch her show during the afternoon. She clearly shows off the fact that she is a liberal when she had President Obama come on her show asked him questions that were tailored to impress the specific demographic that she reaches out to. In the same way Bill O' Reilly has his supporters during the prime time airing of his show. While many of his viewers are the strict right wing politically charged people who do not mind being fed the repeated abuse that O' Reilly gives his guest speakers.
Many of O' Reilly's viewers are men who have always dominated the political spectrum and have had more influence over the years in changing the ideals that people value. This show is not particularly an influential one among younger audiences. The majority of the young viewers turn to Jon Stewart or Steven Colbert to get their news as they do not see O' Reilly as a credible news source. However, this is not the same with the older audiences who have been vigorous followers of O' Reilly and believe almost everything he says.
The people who do watch his show are conservative grand parents and parents who refuse to gather all the facts before making an educated decision. Instead of making their own opinions these dust gatherers get completely brain washed by the insulting statements that O' Reilly continually makes on his show. His viewers refuse to analyze the derogatory statements that insult many groups in this country. In a recent interview with Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, O' Reilly asked about President Obama's initiative to gain the support of African- Americans by asking, “Are they going to be on Soul Train?”. Either O' Reilly did not realize that the show is highly irrelevant to the political notion of his question or he actually meant to ask that question exactly as it is. The mis perceptions that O' Reilly has are spoon fed to his devoted audiences who could potentially find themselves in a socially awkward situation if they were to follow his footsteps.
These conservative audiences do not realize that the tainted words that O' Reilly uses are mostly just his opinion that do not have a lot of factual clarification. To be an informed citizen of the public sphere individuals need to view news that is more objective and central to the point that do not have personal attacks to any particular person or organization. The older generations who have set their path in stone refuse to change their views and continue to praise Bill O' Reilly for his commendable efforts to bring news to the world. Even though MSNBC does tend to lean to left, the public should gather information from both sides to clearly make a judgment of their own. As Farhad Manjoo in his book True Enough has said selective perception is a driving force for O' Reilly's supporters.
While news is meant to be objective for the public to gain knowledge on specific issues, Bill O' Reilly makes this difficult to pursue. His successful yet deviating show The O' Reilly Factor has been a great influence to the public who refuse to stray away from the path that has allowed them to be closed minded. The influence of this show can be seen through the immense support that O' Reilly gets through blogs that praise his political thought and action. This show is meant to be a news talk show that gives the public an incentive to be involved in political action. However, it only emphasizes the skewed information that O' Reilly instills on his viewers who don't mind being exposed to it. The democratic consensus is not at all achieved by this show and it only stresses the one sided information that is mostly just opinion rather than fact. O' Reilly achieves his goal as a controversial news commentator but it is the audiences job to be educated viewers to make a valuable decision to make a difference in our government.
- "Tallying Bill O’Reilly’s Name-Calling - The Numbers Guy - WSJ." WSJ Blogs - WSJ.<http://blogs.wsj.com/numbersguy/tallying-bill-oreillys-name-calling-100/>
- "Poll: Bill O'Reilly Is Popular, but Rachel Maddow Is Unknown to Likely Voters - Keach Hagey - POLITICO.com." Politics, Political News - POLITICO.com. <http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0910/42738_Page2.html>
- "Bill O'Reilly (political Commentator)." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_O'Reilly_(political_commentator)>
Oprah Winfrey and The Public Sphere
Daytime talk shows have been a way to televise mixing conversations with publicly concerning discourse. There have been a number of talk shows on programs such as NBC, CBS, CW, ABC, and OWN. Each program having a different daytime audience though the discourse is centered on similar topics and issues. They all include episodes with themes that conclude with lessons to educate and inspire their audience members. Hosts of talk shows hold a particular amount of importance when leading these discourse sessions. These hosts give their opinions and share their views on specific topics for viewers to possibly identify with. Hosts, like Oprah Winfrey, have established a trust by their audience in many ways more than just being titled as one of the “People Who Shape Our World.”
Oprah Winfrey: A Global Media Leader
Oprah Winfrey began her career in television and public discourse in 1973 at the early age of 19 years old. Reading news on radio in Nashville and being named Miss Black Tennessee launched Winfrey’s career into what ultimately became an empire. Over the course of 38 years, she has hosted the most popular daytime talk show, produced and starred in multiple motion pictures, hosted the daytime Emmy’s, initiated legislation bills, launched charities for the less fortunate and natural disaster relief victims, established an online partnership, launched Oprah’s Book Club, was named by a number of magazines’ as “Most Important Person” to “Most Influential,” created The Oprah Magazine, won a total of 45 Emmy’s, became inducted in the NAACP’s hall of fame, surpasses 100 million page views in a course of one month, fulfilled a personal dream of establishing a philanthropy for a leadership academy for girls in South Africa, became a spectacle to the public eye by opening the “Oprah Store,” and plenty more.
It is an apparent statement that Winfrey is an accomplished woman in the public eye. Not only did she accomplish an incredible amount of life long goals and establishments, she has become such a public figure that every human being has heard of her. These accomplishments work as Winfrey’s credentials. The Oprah Winfrey Show started in 1984, previously known as AM Chicago. Following a dramatic increase of popularity in ratings after one month of the debut, the show was renamed to the name we all know now.
Oprah’s Public Sphere
According to David Krasner’s review on Eva Illouz’s book, Oprah Winfrey and the Glamour of Misery, The Oprah Winfrey Show attracts the “culture of pain and suffering.” The daytime television talk show reflects how an ordinary African American woman “prevailed through the network of Black Culture” in order to make a difference not only in her life but in her admirer’s lives as well. Illouz explains in her book the path of hardships Winfrey had overcame in order to “attain her success.” From “child abuse, rape, weight gain, depression, failed romance,” and other struggles, Winfrey certainly stands as a good spokeswoman for...well...women and her talk show exemplifies just that. “Victimization and the power to transcend suffering provide the basis for Oprah Winfrey’s popularity.” Illouz’s explanation for Winfrey’s likeability from the public initiated the idea that the audience, the public, desires to watch and possibly learn from the therapeutic storytelling and life lessons for edutainment or simply for entertainment. The Wall Street Journal even has coined the term “Oprahfication” referring to “public confession as a form of therapy.” Though Oprah reflects such a “cliché” character, as Krasner points out, she still manages to win over an increasing amount of viewers.
Winfrey’s popularity and the viewers’ trust that have been adopted in her have impacted viewers to become more involved in public to political issues. Oprah viewers not only were impacted by the “paths to recovery” stories but also, in watching the show, supported Winfrey’s ever-long activism in politics, charities, books, and personal opinion. Because this woman has developed such a strong reputation to the public, her opinion and discourse of social, economic and political issues even strongly impact her audience. Her audience can even voice their own opinion, comments and passions on Winfrey’s website. The website is not only a place to catch up on where or what Oprah is or who she is interviewing, it’s a virtual public sphere for followers of Oprah to voice their personal views and ideas and also to educate themselves on specific subjects.
Political Opinion Appealing to The Oprah Audience: Private to Public
In 2007, Winfrey endorsed Barack Obama’s political campaign. Not only was Oprah personally endorsing Obama but her brand also was in behind it. This being the first time Winfrey endorsed a political candidate, her reasons became clear for why she chose to do so in The New York Times article,Oprah Endorses Obama.
“Because I know him personally. I think that what he stands for, what he has proven that he can stand for, what he has shown was worth me going out on a limb for – and I haven’t done it in the past because I haven’t felt that anybody, I didn’t know anybody well enough to be able to say, I believe in this person.”
Announcing to the public that this was her first time involving herself or her brand in a political campaign may have persuaded viewers/voters to listen to Winfrey’s views. On her website there are plenty of articles, photo slides, videos, and interviews endorsing President Barack Obama before he became elected. From the 2004 O Magazine a brief article titled,Oprah’s Cut with Barack Obama is an interview she conducted with this senator of Illinois in November of 2004. Winfrey admits that even conducting this interview was a different and strange thing for her to do. “I don't consider myself political and I seldom interview politicians. So when I decided to talk with you [Barack], people around me were like, 'What's happened to you?' I said, 'I think this is beyond and above politics.' It feels like something new."
The people who responded to the interview were in fact the public audience that identifies with her. Her statement, “It feels like something new,” may very well have influenced her viewers in becoming more apt to pay attention to this specific senator during the present and the future in politics. Obama’s inspiring win in the senate that year did catch Winfrey’s eye, for he was the nations only African American in the US Senate at the time and had a difficult past that captivated her attention.
With that being said, Barack Obama’s story is uplifting to audiences’ like Winfrey’s. He had hardships in his past that he overcame. His stories about his childhood struggles are appealing to Winfrey’s public sphere, why? Because that is what her show is about. Keeping Hope Aliveand Man of the Moment are online articles dated back to October 2006 and January 2005 on Winfrey’s website.Keeping Hope Alivediscusses Obama’s accomplishments as a person and as a senator. Winfrey cuts in one liners in the article to voice her opinion to her audience, for example, “Today, Senator Obama's not only one of Oprah's representatives in the United States Senate, she says he's also her favorite senator!”Man of the Moment is an article exemplifying Obama’s hardships in life. It is a mini biography for viewers to read and educate themselves on the senator and to essentially relate and identify themselves with him, much like Winfrey does.
Winfrey even endorses the life and hard times of Michelle Obama in the article The Heart and Mind of Michelle Obama. The article works as an inspiring piece for Winfrey’s audience. It is apparent with all of these articles and interviews that Winfrey happily and freely decided to support the couple in their efforts to achieve goals for the future political spectrum. Winfrey’s endorsement also became apparent after Obama was elected president. The article A New Day explains Oprah’s emotional and personal views on the Obama’s successful campaign that lead to victory. She responds with statements that initiate her acceptance and approval, thus sharing with her followers her private opinions to ultimately span out into the public opinion. “…he is a unifier, he will unify and bring [this] country together. Can't wait for all the possibilities."
Oprah Winfrey is a powerhouse. This is no secret. However, what most people don’t know about her is that she also started a social movement — a movement to bring topics that were once only in private sphere into the public sphere.
She gave her viewers the confidence and support they needed to ask the tough questions and feel comfortable discussing everything from weight gain to hemorrhoids. She gained the viewers trust, and allowed them to feel like old friends with someone they had probably never met. Occasionally, Oprah would use this comradely to encourage her viewers to use the public sphere that she had created for what a public sphere is truly for — to discuss and change laws.
Dr. Mehmet Oz Broadens the Conversation about Health
Have you ever listened to what your poop sounds like when it hits the water? Well this is what Dr. Oz encouraged viewers to do during the episode “Everybody Poops.”
"You want to hear what the stool, the poop, sounds like when it hits the water. If it sounds like a bombardier, you know, 'plop, plop, plop,' that's not right because it means you're constipated. It means the food is too hard by the time it comes out. It should hit the water like a diver from Acapulco hits the water [swoosh]" (3).
Most women would probably be embarrassed to announce the frequency and substantiality of their bowl movements to about 44 million people; however, on Oprah nothing is off limits. One viewer stood up and shared her problem of constant constipation, while another talked about how she suffers from diarrhea, hemorrhoids and constipation.
The ease with which these women were able to stand up and talk about potentially embarrassing heath issues is because of Oprah’s ability to transport topics that were once in the private sphere into the public sphere.
After talking about poop on television, Oprah says she realized nothing was off-limits with Dr. Oz. "Nobody likes to talk about it. Everybody's embarrassed right now, but just think, everybody you're going to see today…they poop" (3).
With her warm and relaxed attitude, Oprah allows women to feel comfortable talking about problems with their bodies, and sometimes she even helps to save their lives.
Aside from just asking about the normalcy of multiple orgasms or potentially being allergic to their husband’s semen, some women have come forward with stories about how the lessons that they learned from Dr. Oz saved their life.
One woman told Oprah that she had a double mastectomy to remove cancerous tissue. While she was at home recovering she saw Dr. Oz’s discussion on medical mistakes and thought she was lucky that her surgery had gone well. However, when she went to have the bandages removed, she felt her chest and found that the lump was still there. “I has seen the medical mistakes show and every cell in my body was screaming, ‘This is the same lump!’” She insisted that the doctor preform another mammogram, and it revealed that the doctor had completely missed the tumor (2).
Thanks to Oprah’s willingness to open up her show as a platform for discussion of any type, women are able to open up about their heath problems and help solve potential future issues. She created a unique “market place of ideas” on her show, by opening up the floor for any viewers to freely discuss whatever problems or health issues were being discussed at the time.
However, Oprah didn’t merely rely on her audience members to share their personal stories; she shared hers as well.
Opening the Discussion on Weight Issues
It’s no secret that Oprah’s weight has “yo-yoed” over the years. However, instead of trying to hide this issue from her audience, she shared it with them and tried to help others struggling with their weight.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that Oprah isn’t embarrassed about her weight; she is just willing to talk about it and share her successes and failures with her audience.
“I’m embarrassed, I’m made at myself … I look at my thinner self and think, ‘How did I let this happen again?’” (5).
Struggling to lose weight was something that women previously tried to brush under the carpet. No one really talked about it because it was assumed to be a problem with the individual’s will power. Yet, once again, Oprah took this private issue and brought it into the public light on her show. She showed her audience that it’s okay to embrace your flaws and try to find a solution to them. Once she found her solution, she shared it with her viewers. In an episode called “Why We Eat,” Oprah shared the thing that had “broken [her] open” in terms of her relationship with food: a book called Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth (5).
Oprah opened up and shared her emotional epiphany with the audience. “What I'm really feeling is every time I have ever been beaten by my grandmother ... What I recognize as I'm stuffing myself with the lettuce is I still have that feeling of if I don't do what pleased the other person, then somehow that person has the power to annihilate me" (5).
This willingness to show vulnerability and open up in from of millions of people encourages Oprah’s viewers to do the same, not only on her show but with their own friends and family, in their own spheres. Suddenly, issues that women considered inappropriate for company, were becoming coffee-time conversations across the country. She showed women that’s they don’t have to be embarrassed about their poop, their sex lives, or even their weight.
Yet, Oprah doesn’t stop there. She is determined to get everything out on the table, even her childhood abuse.
Proving the Power of the Public Sphere in a Democracy
Being sexually abused is something that no one should have to go through, especially not a child. Unfortunately, about 80,000 reports of child abuse are reported each year, with a far greater number more going unreported. Oprah was one of these unreported cases.
For three years, from the age of 9-12, Oprah was repeatedly molested by male relatives and another “visitor.” She hid this abuse from everyone she knew and struggled as an adolescent to deal with the weight of her secret (8).
Although, Oprah was obviously able to overcome her abuse, she wants to ensure that it doesn’t happen to another child.
Along with her many other accomplishments, Oprah became known as the empowering voice behind the survivors of childhood abuse. Before Oprah, being abused as a child was something that most people were deeply ashamed of. They felt that they had to hide this aspect of their lives from their families and friends and bury it deeply inside themselves. However, Oprah changed all of this. She made surviving child abuse into and empowering success that should be celebrated. She brought awareness to an issue that most people just ignore.
In 2008, Oprah aired an episode in which she issued an “urgent call to her viewers to take action against child predators” (9).
“What you are going to see is going to shock you to the core, but I’m asking you to please not turn away, because this is happening in our country to our children in the United States every day” (9).
Two years later, Oprah once again embraces her past and sits down to talk with four convicted child molesters in a two hour special (10).
She continues to take an issue that was once swept under the carpet and considered a “stain” on a family history, and made it something that needed to be talked about. However, in this case, talking is not enough. Oprah takes the public sphere to the next step, and encourages a change in the way the law deals with sexual predators.
In 1991, Oprah testified at Capital Hill, before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of the National Child Protection Act, which advocated the establishment of a national database of convicted child abusers. “I am speaking out on behalf of the children who wish to be heard, but whose cries, wishes and hopes, often, I believe, fall upon deaf or inattentive ears." With Oprah’s support, the Act was signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1993 and dubbed the “Oprah Bill” (4).
In 2005, Oprah launched Oprah’s Child Predator watch list and pledged to provide a $100,000 reward to those individuals whom the FBI or local law enforcement officials say provided critical information which lead to the capture and arrest of predators (4).
Yet, she didn’t stop there. In 2008, Oprah utilized the public sphere that her viewers had come to create in order to fill one of the main duties of a public sphere: to change or bring about political policies that are insufficient or non-existent.
During the 2008 episode mentioned above, Oprah urged her audience to contact their senators in favor of the PROTECT Our Children Act. This bill would require the Department of Justice to develop and implement a National Strategy Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction, to improve the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, to increase resources for regional computer forensic labs, and to make other improvements to increase the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute child predators (11). Oprah’s plea to her audience members caused Senate officials to warn staffers that the appeal might result in “larger than normal volumes of traffic.” They were right. Offices were flooded with calls, email and letters — the bill was signed into law (4).
Because of Oprah’s willingness to discuss issues that were once considered inappropriate or too sensitive for TV, she was able to open up the discussion on many issues, both silly and serious. This open discussion of ideas has allowed viewers to come forward with questions they were previously too embarrassed to ask, and stories they thought no one would listen to. Oprah created a sphere of empowerment for her viewers and allowed them to embrace their flaws and their successes, and sometimes she even helped to save their lives. Oprah and her viewers also teamed up when their discussion lead them to believe that the current laws and regulations were sub-par. Through Oprah's influence and her audiences sheer numbers, they were able to persuade government officials to make changes that were long overdue.
Daytime Talk Shows Effects on the Audience
Talk shows like The Oprah Winfrey Show invites the audience to participate in daily discourse. Not only are topics of victimization repeatedly brought up on daytime television, social issues are as well. According to When Oprah Intervenes: Political Correlates of Daytime Talk Show Viewing, her show contains episodes dealing with “talk” about family issues to relationship problems to celebrity personalities. Each topic in its own appeals to The Oprah audience whether it regards public gossip to personal issues. Such issues as childcare, family struggles and personal health and fulfillment are problems that are emphasized on the show. The audience not only learns a moral “lesson” at the end of each episode but also becomes more aware of social issues that affect their public sphere. Ultimately viewers that feel uplifted by these publicly shared stories will act upon them and advocate change in the public sphere thus encouraging government support.
According to Matthew Baum and Angela Jamison’s article, The Oprah Effect: How Soft News Helps Inattentive Citizens Vote Consistently, The Oprah Winfrey Show falls under the category of “soft news.” Soft news is characterized in the article as “personally useful or merely entertaining.” This type of news media frames their “talk” around how crime, disaster, scandal, and political issues impact their specific public sphere. Within these talks, information is being transmitted to the audience ultimately educating them. Soft news audiences are seen as having little education or interest in politics (hard news audiences are more involved and attached to magazines like “The New York Times” or “The Wall Street Journal.”), though, with the help of their daytime talk host the political news comes off as more appealing. Luckily for them, daytime talk has “quality information” and thus allows “politically unaware individuals who consume soft news more likely to vote consistently than their counterparts.”
Oprah Winfrey is seen as an influential and accomplished woman. Her daytime television talk show was a show that inspired and impacted millions of viewers across the nation and world. Her show emphasized discourse pertaining to social issues that directly affect her public sphere and her website still offers this insight. Her private opinion has been such an important opinion to follow that it has spread public. The Oprah Winfrey Show’s purpose was to channel a specific audience, a specific public sphere, to inspire in becoming more of a citizen in our country and more as a socially aware individual and to teach lessons concerning personal health and family issues. The show has been a phenomenon from the year 1986 to 2011. The trust and association that Oprah’s audience has identified to her has initiated that they follow her strides in public issues and political action. Her endorsements and efforts in political campaigns have even more so influenced her audience in accepting and developing parallel views. From private opinion to public opinion, Oprah Winfrey is one of the most influential figures in the public eye and daytime television.
- Baum, Matthew, and Angela Jamison . "The Oprah Effect: How Soft News Helps Inattentive Citizens Vote Consistently." Journal of Politics 68.4 (2006):13. JSTOR. Web. 13 Dec 2011.
- "Dr. Oz Helps a Woman Recognize a Medical Mistake." Oprah.com. 12 May 2009. Web. <http://www.oprah.com/health/Best-of-Dr-Oz-5-Years-of-Memorable-Moments/9>.
- "Everybody Poops." Oprah.com. 1 Jan. 2006. Web. <http://www.oprah.com/health/Everybody-Poops/4>.
- Fetini, Alyssa. "Top 10 Oprah Moments." Time. 25 May 2011. Web. <http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1939458_1939454_1939397,00.html>.
- "Geneen Roth Talks About Women Food and God." Oprah.com. 12 May 2009. Web. <http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Geneen-Roth-Talks-About-Women-Food-and-God>.
- Glynn, Carroll, Michael Huge, Jason Reineke, Bruce Hardy , and James Shanahan. "When Oprah Intervenes: Political Correlates of Daytime Talk Show Viewing."Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media June 2007. 228-244. EBSCO. Web. 13 Dec 2011.\
- Krasner, David. "Eva Illouz. Oprah Winfrey and The Glamour of Misery: An Essay on Popular Culture." African American Review 38.3 (2004): 3. JSTOR. Web. 13 Dec 2011.
- "Oprah Winfrey Biography." -- Academy of Achievement. 8 Nov. 2011. Web. <http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/win0bio-1>.
- "Oprah Calls for Action Against Child Predators." Oprah.com. 12 Sept. 2008. Web. <http://www.oprah.com/pressroom/Oprah-Calls-for-Action-Against-Child-Predators>.
- "Oprah's Conversation with Child Molesters." Oprah.com. 8 Feb. 2010. Web. <http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Oprahs-Conversation-with-Child-Molesters>.
- "S. 1738 (110th): PROTECT Our Children Act of 2008." PROTECT Our Children Act of 2008. Web. <http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/110/s1738>.
- Zeleny, Jeff. "The Caucus." The New York Times. N.p., 03 May 2007. Web. 13 Dec 2011. <http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/05/03/oprah-endorses-obama-2/>.
SNL and The Public Sphere
The Public Sphere is an area in social life where individuals can come together to freely and openly discuss and identify societal problems, and through these discussions, influence political action (8). The power of the public sphere is hugely important to the world of politics in America. We are the citizens choosing the outcomes of elections and voting politicians into Washington. To say that we make these decisions based on our own personal opinions, and no outside influence is a huge lie. This day in age, the public sphere works in extraordinary ways. Media, television, celebrities and more all have huge impacts on average citizens’ daily lives. An example of this idea is depicted through the television comedy show Saturday Night Live. Saturday Night Live or SNL for short is NBC’s Emmy award winning late night comedy showcase, which entered its 38th season in September 2012. SNL is unique in that it is a live broadcast late night variety and comedy sketch show (9). The show parodies contemporary culture and politics, with sketches and skits performed by a large and unique cast of comedians and actors. Each episode of SNL is hosted by a celebrity guest, who usually delivers an opening monologue and performs in skits with the cast. Each show has a musical guest, who performs twice throughout the night. A typical episode of Saturday Night Live usually begins with a sketch that ends with someone breaking their character and proclaiming “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!” thus beginning the show proper (9). One might ask how all of this has to do with the public sphere, and the simple answer is that SNL has proven to have a dramatic influence on news and politics. The public has keen awareness of this influence, and pays great attention to the information and skits being presented. SNL is not just a comedy show; it is a powerful public political tool.
Many of the skits on SNL are simply meant to induce laughs from the audience, and have no political agenda. These sketches make up a great deal of the show, while others have a deeper plan. In the early years of Saturday Night Live, sketches were created with actors imitating political figures. For example, after Gerald Ford slipped while walking down the stairs from Air Force One, Chevy Chase, a cast member at the time made a weekly gag out of portraying him. Chase depicted Ford as a bumbling klutz who was prone to dropping papers and falling down (2). This was an unfair representation done by SNL, as Ford was a star college football player and athlete, but the reputation stuck with the public and ultimately hurt Ford. This was one of the first instances that clearly depict SNL’s impact on public perception and opinion. Individuals judged Ford based on what they saw on a comedy show, instead of the actual facts. This sketch began the trend of satirizing politics on the show, thus changing Saturday Night Lives’ societal impact forever (2). Saturday Night Live has impacted politics, nailing politicians mercilessly and skewering issues so skillfully, that they have been forever changed in the public’s mind. After the Ford parody, others followed that changed the game for politicians. SNL has often relied on political satire as a means of entertaining the millions who watch it each week. Political satire is now a staple of the show, with political skits consistently being placed as the opening scene because of their importance in the SNL lore (2).
SNL’s sketch on the 1988 presidential debate showed cast member Dana Carvey playing a shaking and jittery George H.W. Bush and cast member Jon Lovitz as a bad haircut-donning, forklift-riding Michael Dukakis (3). The impact of these depictions blew up Dukakis as a height-challenged technocrat who could not combat Bush’s rush of talking points. In one telling moment, Lovitz as Dukakis turns to the camera and says, “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy.” The real life candidate did end up indeed losing to that guy (3).
A memorable moment in SNL history was the 1999 presidential debate skit, which included cast members Will Ferrell as George W. Bush, and Darrell Hammond as Al Gore. During the skit, Hammond continually referred to the existence of a “lock box” in which he wished to store away the surplus in the government’s budget. This figurative “lock box” created laughter because it played upon the relatively safe and boring public perception of Gore and heightened it with a sensationalized take on his possible policies if he were to be elected. In addition, Bush was captured as clueless with his verbal fumbling, coining the phrase “strategery” (3). Saturday Night Live was able to reaffirm the public’s view of Gore while also characterizing Bush as charismatic despite his incoherence, a trait that would help him win the 2000 presidential election.
The 2008 election for SNL was huge, one small example of this is shown in a February sketch with cast members Fred Armisen as Barack Obama and Amy Poehler as Hilary Clinton. In the sketch, the Obama character is babied during a debate by fawning journalists, who shrugged off the Clinton character. The real-life Hilary Clinton referenced the sketch three days later during a real debate, saying, “maybe we should ask Barack if he’s comfortable and wants another pillow.” Tougher press vetting of Obama followed, leaving individuals wondering if it was a direct result of this SNL skit (3). The 2008 election was heavily portrayed and satirized on Saturday Night Live, introducing the hugely famous and controversial character of Sarah Palin played by Tina Fey. In one sketch, Fey sums up the Republican Vice Presidential candidate’s image as a foreign policy lightweight with the line “I can see Russia from my house!” Contrary to hugely popular belief, Palin never actually said these words. Fey herself uttered this phrase for the sketch, forever changing the public’s perception of Palin through her pitch-perfect impression of the nominee. Tina Fey may have single-handedly forged the public’s opinion of Sarah Palin through her own comedic representation, as she continually exaggerated Palin’s ties to Alaskan culture as well as her lack of knowledge about America’s role in global politics and economics (3).
With the most recent election, SNL highlighted the cast of Republican presidential hopefuls through a variety of debates, reflecting the lack of a frontrunner in the race for nomination. Each week the show portrayed a different candidate in the debate skits, mirroring the changing popularity of candidates such as Romney, Cain, and Perry. It was interesting to note the varying amounts of attention that the skits produced according to their prevalence in the media the corresponding week. Romney was eventually selected as the candidate, and debate sketches followed pitting him against Obama (3).
Election Cycle and Influence
It is evident that Saturday Night Live sketches are influential to the public sphere and thinking, but how are these sketches reverberating the election cycle? Are they really making a difference when voting for candidates? The answer is that memorable comedy can have an influence. When SNL sketches target a generalized feeling about what is going on with the news media and candidates, it can have extreme impacts in substantiating a prejudice or hunch that the public has on a nominee. Electing a president is one of the most important tasks our country and citizens have the power to participate in. Is Television really having that much of an effect on elections, when they are so important? Entertainment TV is becoming more of a contributing influence on public issues than ever before. Many young voters claim they get their news from shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and of course SNL on a regular basis. The perception is that there is an audience that cites its primary news source as predominantly entertainment shows and, if valid, this would undoubtedly have a say in the presidential election (7).
Candidates Riding the Wave
Candidates and politicians are intelligent individuals; therefore they know how to reach their audience. The fact that candidates go on Saturday Night Live and other late night television shows, means they believe these shows have an impact on the voters. Since the 2008 election, it has become more usual for candidates to make appearances on non-news television, as entertainment and information are merging. So, why are candidates eager to embrace these sketches? Going on a non-news program such as SNL shows the public that the candidate is a “regular person.” They are shown as someone with a sense of humor, and the public likes that quality in its officials. It shows humility, which is also a valued feature in a potential candidate. A politician going on television takes away the perception that they are arrogant, uncaring, or unfeeling. It shows that they are just like the rest of us, someone we can vote for with confidence (4). Indeed, both Barack Obama and John McCain went of SNL during the 2008 campaign. George W. Bush also made an appearance on the show before winning the election as well. Appearances on late-night comedy programs have become an essential strategy, which is in large part due to the fragmentation, or breaking up, of the mass media audience. In a video released of Mitt Romney during a 2012 election fundraiser, the candidate said he turned down an offer to appear on Saturday Night Live because he thought it would not “look presidential.” He may have not realized that current and previous presidents went on the show, and were successfully elected. Seth Meyers, head writer for SNL stated in an article for Politico: “it is very important for them [candidates] to come on our show. Senator Obama came on in 2007 and we all saw what ended up happening to him” (4). This affirms how key SNL is in the political arena and public sphere.
The simple fact is Saturday Night Live has weight on elections. Voters reported that political sketches that were shown on the show had influenced them in the voting booth. The media dubbed this as “The SNL Effect.” The so-called SNL effect was observed during the 2008 presidential campaign, according to Mike Dabadie, “We saw that ten percent of voters said they were influenced by the skits. At the same time, the data shows that fifty-nine percent of those who saw the skits voted for Obama and thirty-nine percent voted for McCain.” The survey also found that six percent of respondents indicated the skits made them more likely to vote for Obama/Biden and four percent said the SNL skits made them more likely to vote for McCain/Palin (6). Another example showing SNL’s influence is as follows: in the Democratic presidential primary campaign, Hilary Clinton received more favorable treatment than Barack Obama. SNL then portrayed Obama in a better light than Clinton, and thus the tides mysteriously changed. It is clear that major candidates running for election must be acutely aware of just how much of an impact these types of television shows are having on the voting public (6).
SNL News and Information
Saturday Night Live is powerful enough in its scope that it has extreme influence on politics, and also how individuals attain their news and information. Citizens tune into SNL not only for laughs, but to catch up on the news of the week. Weekend Update is a SNL sketch that comments on and parodies current events. It is the show’s longest running recurring sketch, having been on since the show’s first ever broadcast. It is typically presented in the middle of the show, immediately after the first musical performance. One or two of the players in the cast has the role of the news anchor; currently it is cast member and show writer Seth Meyers. He presents gag news items based on current happenings going on in our country and around the world. Other cast members offer occasional editorials, commentaries, and other performances throughout the skit (10).
Weekend Update does present real news stories, but turns them into satire, meaning that this is not the best way for an individual to learn about the real news taking place. SNL has become so popular that some people have stopped watching real news broadcasts, and instead tune into Weekend Update. This is where SNL is seen as having a negative influence on society. People in general are less aware of the important events going on around them because they pay no attention to real news stories. The overly satirized stories presented on SNL and other shows alike do not present the accurate records and data of what informed citizens need to know. Saturday Night Live has become a significant factor in the American political and infotainment landscape. It plays an essential role by influencing the public perception of political figures to the extent that their characterizations can chip away at politicians’ attempts to forge a positive image, and by tearing away at the masks of insincere actions through its satirical impressions of important political figures and news stories.
Due to its longevity, Saturday Night Live has crossed generational lines and made the culture of a younger audience available to their elders, and vice versa. Ultimately, SNL must be considered one of the most distinctive and significant programs in the history of United States television. The show has influenced countless elections and perceptions of news stories. It is enthralling to see how American citizens are swayed in one direction or another based on what they have seen. It is also important to note that many have become more politically involved and aware of current events through this show as an outlet of exploration. The final question that all individuals who watch this show must consider, whether they are watching for entertainment or deeper purposes is: do you really want to use the freedom to vote, that millions do not have, based on what you see portrayed through a TV skit? Guilty pleasures are fine, but are we going to allow SNL to make political decisions for us? We need to consider these issues when walking into polling booths and casting ballots for our country. Entertainment should stay entertainment, not sway a vast majority of the public’s perceptions and beliefs.
- Achter, Paul. “Weekend Update and the Tradition of New Journalism.” University of Richmond. March 21, 2009. Web. December 1, 2012. <http://flowtv.org/2009/03/%E2%80%9Cweekend-update%E2%80%9D-and-the-tradition-of-new-journalism-paul-achter-university-of-richmond/>.
- Kingkade, Tyler. “’Saturday Night Live’ Political Skits May Sway the Presidential Election, Academics Argue.” Huffington Post. September 9, 2012. Web. 26 November 2012. <www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/21/saturday-night-live-political-skits_n_1901761.html>.
- Luftala, Andrew. “’SNL’ Influences Public Perception of Politics.” Puget Sound Trail. December 2, 2011. Web. December 1, 2012. <http://trail.pugetsound.edu/2011/12/snl-influences-public-perception-of-politics/>.
- Murphy, Declan. “Can ‘SNL’ Sway Presidential Elections?” The Ram. October 3, 2012. Web. December 1, 2012. <http://www.theramonline.com/opinions/can-snl-sway-presidential-elections-1.2772947>.
- NBC. “About the Show.” Saturday Night Live NBC. 2012. Web. December 1, 2012. <http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/about/>.
- SandiegoJack. “The ‘SNL’ Effect: ‘Saturday Night Live’ Political Skits make real Impact on Voters.” Strat@comm. November 5, 2009. Web. 29 November 2012. <http://www.sandiegojack.com/story/9299558/the-snl-effect-saturday-night-live-political-skits-make-real-impact-on-voters>.
- University of Southern California. “’Saturday Night Live’ and the Election Cycle.” Election 2012 USC. May 9, 2008. Web. November 29, 2012. <http://election2012.usc.edu/2008/05/saturday-night-live-election-cycle.html>.
- Wikipedia Contributors. “Public Sphere.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 17 November, 2012. Web. December 5, 2012.
- Wikipedia Contributors. “Saturday Night Live.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, December 4, 2012. Web. December 5, 2012.
- Wikipedia Contributors. “Weekend Update.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, December 1, 2012. Web. December 5, 2012.
Talk Shows and the Public Sphere
The View and the Public Sphere
The public sphere is an idea, a concept, an imagined space, that brings people together, to share and spread ideas. Ideally, people can use the public sphere to freely express themselves, and their views, in order to improve the state of democracy. Scholar, Alan McKee, explains the idea of the public sphere in simple terms. He says, “The public sphere, is not, of course, a sphere. It’s a metaphorical term that is used to describe the virtual space where people can interact"  No matter which definition one turns to find the meaning of the public sphere, the true difficulty comes from understanding how to use the public sphere wisely. Many scholars, and influential figures, such as Al Gore, have argued that mass media is destroying the public sphere. Gore believes that because technologies like the radio and television are one-way mediums, it is impossible for an effective political discussion to occur. There are currently hundreds of cable channels on television, constantly streaming messages to viewers. Talk Shows have become especially popular in the last few decades, with an aim to discuss the important issues in the world.
The famous talk show, The View, is a show on daily television that discusses “hot topics” in the news and mass media. The show is comprised of five women co-hosts that work together as a panel to lead discussions. The hosts are all famous women, mostly seen as influential figures in the media. They include, Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Berhar, Elizabeth Hesselback and Sherri Shepherd. The co-hosts often bring guests onto their network, to discuss issues they find controversial. Although never explicitly stated, the show is geared towards women viewers, which becomes obvious when viewing the way the discussions are presented. The hosts have brought many famous political figures on their show, including Bill O’reilly, President Obama, and his wife Michelle Obama. The talk show could be a vehicle for woman to become more engaged in the public sphere. However, the show falls short in reaching below the surface on the issues that are not only important, but also extremely essential to American democracy. The concept of a talk show is to literally talk about controversial issues in the world, and how people are handling them. The View is a unique talk show because it is comprised of all women that are famous for reasons other than their success on the view. This gives these five women a lot of creditability, and makes many viewers trust their words devoutly. With creditability, comes power. These five women have the power to bring change to the way women are involved in the public sphere. However, these five women do not effectively use their “power” to explore the issues that should be explored in the public sphere.
Obama on The View
On September 25, 2012, the view invited President Obama and wife, Michelle Obama on The View. The backdrop on the show that day included an American flag and pictures of Obama and Michelle. The title of the episode, was, “Red, White and The View”. The episode opens with a clip of Michelle, talking about Barack at the Democratic National Convention, “I did not think it was possible to love my husband any more than I do, but I love him more than I did four years ago”  Barbara Walters introduces the couple by stating, “It is clear four years at the White House has brought them closer together”. It became apparent early on that this episode would not focus on the political issues occurring in the world. It was obvious that the discussion on The View would focus on the relationship between the President and his wife. The hosts could have used this opportunity to discuss controversial topics in the media, like his proposed tax increase on the middle and upper class. As the episode progresses, Walter’s and the co-host’s ask the President and Michelle questions about their children, and life inside the White House. Obama talks about how he and Michelle try to raise the children to be level headed and appreciative of their lifestyle  . Walter’s asks Obama if his daughters are aware of what their father is doing in the world. Obama responds by saying he keeps his children aware of the changes he is trying to make. He also mentions that they have heard some of the negative comments about their father in the media. There was no elaboration, however, on the changes Obama was trying to make. There was absolutely no elaboration on the negative portrayal of Obama in the media. The talk show’s segment is close to thirty minutes long, with the attention of millions of women across the world. The day Obama and Michelle came on the View, the show had the attention of 4.3 million viewers  This was an opportunity to engage women into a political discussion, or debate, with President Obama. The viewers put a lot of faith in their co-hosts to bring them shows that are interesting and thought provoking. The co-hosts are all considered influential women that are very well known. The impact they could have made on the political discussions among women could have been profound, especially if they used their expertise in an effective manner.
According to the author of True Enough, Farhad Manjoo believes that “experts” hold more power over individuals than facts themselves do. He explains that experts today, can come from any medium, and through any kind of niche . We look to experts when we want to learn something about which we are ignorant . The five co-hosts are “experts” in terms of the talk show The View. They should explore more than just what the viewers are interested in, but rather issues that need to be explored. However, since the audience is primarily women, the co-hosts use a more gentle approach to politics than most media outlets do. Studies have found that women are often under-represented or stereo-typically portrayed as playing passive, submissive, and dependent roles  Unfortunately, the co-hosts on The View are exemplifying this stereotype through the way they address politics on their show. Because of the submissive attitude they portray in their talk show, a potentially effective conversation of democracy turns into a social conversation among five women co-hosts.
Gun Control in The View
In January of 2013, The View featured a segment on the NRA and gun control. The episode was a response to the nineteen executive actions on gun control going through the legislature. The topic of gun control was and is one of the biggest debates occurring in the media. Every major new station, such as NBC, CBS, FOX News, all feature segments on the topic of eliminating guns as a right in the constitution. Similar to the episode featuring Obama and Michelle, the episode could have become an open discussion for women, but fell short. The episode could have been a valuable way to enlighten their viewers on what the gun control ban would mean, and even what the NRA stood for. Whoopie Goldberg opened the episode by introducing the nineteen executive actions on gun control, however she fails to explain what the nineteen actions are. She introduces the gun control debate by bringing up the new NRA phone application, “New York State is said to pass the countries strictest gun control law, and the NRA released an app called practice range. It let’s players four years and up simulate shooting stuff”. She goes on to explain, what she calls, “strange news” by debating this phone application with her fellow co-hosts. What could have been a productive, and informative debate turned into a discussion about a smart phone application. Not only was twenty-five minutes spent discussing a phone application, but the co-hosts seemed to quickly agree that the NRA application was a phone application that was dangerous for children. It is evident that the approach to this “hot topic” on The View was very surface and submissive. The idea that people prefer receiving information in a more gentle and subdued manner is a phenomenon Farhad Manjoo explores in his book, True Enough. He references an experiment conducted by researcher John Ware in 1970. Ware hired an actor, Michael Fox, to play a medical doctor that would hold mock encounters with patients. From his research he found that profoundly more people in the experiment trusted a warm, friendly “doctor” with bad advice than a cold, impersonal “doctor” with good advice . He brings up a very important point through two rhetorical questions. Who are the people we find most influential? And is it because of the things that they know? (Manjoo). His point was that the most influential people are influential because of their personality, not because of what they know. Through his research it became evident that the individuals that are most likable in society best deliver “expertise”. The five co-hosts on The View have a chance to use their expertise to change the way women use the public sphere. However, their discussions stay close to the surface, and never dive into territory that initially seems uncomfortable.
Then Came Bill O'Reilly...
I have to applaud the co-hosts for bringing Bill O’Reilly on their show. Especially Whoopie Goldberg, whom is known for being especially leftwing. This episode was one of the most controversial episodes that aired on The View. The women had the very aggressive, very republican, Bill O’Reilly on their network, whom agreed to be questioned about his new book. The discussion quickly headed south when O’Reilly was asked about his opinion on the Muslim mosque being built near the 9/11 memorials. O’Reilly immediately became fired up, and made a statement that caused anger and extreme frustration in Goldberg and Behar. He stated he did not believe the mosque should be built near the memorial because, according to O’Reilly, “Muslims were the ones that killed American’s”. Goldberg and Behar stormed off the stage, completely enraged after O’Reilly made the claim that Muslims were responsible for 9/11. The episode was effective, because it sparked a political debate among the hosts and guests; however, it ended with two hosts removing themselves from the stage.
Walters addresses the hostile situation between O’Reilly and the hosts by stating, “We should be able to have discussions without completely washing our hands clean, and walking off stage” . Although she made a very accurate point, the discussion exemplified the purpose of the public sphere. It produced a kind of conversation that does not typically occur on The View. There was a debate and a discussion that went far beyond the social realms The View typically follows. I would not suggest The View makes Bill O’Reilly a regular guest on their talk show, or even others like him, however, I do believe that this sort of discussion can be very effective. The public sphere is meant to be a space where ideas can be shared, that leads to the improvement of democracy in the United States. The View offers this kind of space with women as their intended audience. The problem is they cater specifically to how they believe women want their news delivered and it interferes with the intended purpose of the public sphere. If discussions and debates, involving passion and controversy became an integral part of The View, women could begin using the public sphere in ways they never have before.
- [McKee, Alan. An Introduction to the Public Sphere. Cambridge: n.p., 2005. Print.
- "Barack & Michelle Obama on the "View" [Complete]." YouTube. YouTube, 25 Sept. 2012. Web. 25 Apr. 2013.
- "Barack & Michelle Obama on the "View" [Complete]." YouTube. YouTube, 25 Sept. 2012. Web. 25 Apr. 2013.
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- Manjoo, Farhad. True Enough. N.p.: John Wiley & Sons, 2008. Print.
- Manjoo, Farhad. True Enough. N.p.: John Wiley & Sons, 2008. Print.
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- "Hot Topics: Gun Control Reform - The View." YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2013.
- Manjoo, Farhad. True Enough. N.p.: John Wiley & Sons, 2008. Print.
- "Bill O'Reilly Gets Whoopi Goldberg & Joy Behar to Walk Off The View." YouTube. YouTube, 14 Oct. 2010. Web. 25 Apr. 2013.
- "Bill O'Reilly Gets Whoopi Goldberg & Joy Behar to Walk Off The View." YouTube. YouTube, 14 Oct. 2010. Web. 25 Apr. 2013.
Hannity and the Public Sphere
Today, the media makes up a large amount of our everyday lives and serves as a major news source. The media also greatly influences the public sphere, because the media our connection to our political knowledge. As Al Gore noted in his book, The Assault on Reason, Americans spend much of their lives glued to the television screen. One would think that because of this our news media would help its citizens understand the world better. Instead, we live in a society that value TV shows that hurt the public sphere. One of these shows is Hannity on the Fox News Channel.
Sean Hannity and his show hurts the public sphere by not allowing open and free discussion. Hannity, much like Bill O’Reilly, prevents the other side of the issue and viewers perceptions are distorted by opinion and not hearing the facts or the truth. Hannity provides his opinion, and exposes his audience to what he wants them to hear. This idea very much relates to Manjoo’s notion of selective exposure which is raised in his novel True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.
Who is Sean Hannity?
Sean Hannity (born on December 30, 1961) is an American television host, an author, and widely renowned conservative. Hannity is known for hosting a national talk radio show that is called The Sean Hannity Show and a cable news show, Hannity, on Fox News.
What is interesting about Hannity is that he attended college for two years, but dropped out when he could no longer afford to pay tuition. Without a college degree, Hannity joined Fox News Channel in 1996 and began co-hosting Hannity & Colmes, where Hannity represented a conservative perspective and Colmes represented a liberal perspective. On November 25th, 2008 Fox News stated that Alan Colmes would leave the show and it was decided that Hannity would be the new name of the new program.
The show’s format consists of Sean Hannity interviewing guests and providing his own commentary on the issues that he raises. This show is much like Fox’s The O’Reilly Factor, where much of the same bullying and ill distaste for the liberal biased media can be found.
The intent of the news talk show is to raise intelligent discussion between Hannity and his guests on the questions that Hannity poses. However, the reality is much different. As Michael Massing writes in his article titled, “Un-American”, shows like Hannity “promote a mindset in which opponents are seen not merely as fellow citizens to be debated but as members of a subhuman species that must be stamped out”.  Most of the time, it is hard for the guest to even to get a few points across, before being talked over or cut off completely. The show has also been caught by the likes of Jon Stewart for using fake footage.
Hannity also seems to have a dislike for President Obama. It was at one of its highest points during the 2008 Presidential Election. As Massing describes, “Consumed with a hatred for Obama that at times seemed pathological, Hannity waged a nightly campaign to depict him as a treacherous enemy of the people, who, if allowed to take office would subvert every value and tradition Americans hold dear”.  Hannity tried desperately to destroy the President’s image and hurt his chances of being elected, by accusing him of being a Muslim and a Socialist, yet he had no evidence to support this claim.
One of His Books
One of Hannity’s three books titled, Deliver Us From Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism was written in 2004 and criticized by many. In the book, Hannity argues that modern liberals are hesitant to “acknowledge real evil exists in the world and tend to ignore historical evidence proving that it does”. Hannity uses figures like Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Saddam Hussein to advance his points that free societies are under the constant threat of terror.
A reviewer for Publishers Weekly observed, “Many readers… will find Hannity’s ‘irrefutable’ evidence to be anything but, and his selective use of history and circular logic raises far more questions than it settles”. Thane Peterson who is a renowned critic acknowledged, "Hannity's biases and rhetorical style are revealed from the outset...The advantage of such black-and-white thinking is that it relieves him of any obligation to listen to his political opponents--or provide reasoning that is more sound and substantive”.
These critics expose Hannity as someone who does not provide much evidence and credibility to his opinions. It is important to be critical of everything that we read and not just assume what we read is true, since we live in a world where anyone can post an article online and claim to be an expert.
Effect on Public Sphere
The format of talk shows can be considered a great way to discuss issues and make them apparent to the public. Talk shows should make it possible for its viewers to gain perspective from discussion in order to make their own informed decisions.
Fox News shows hinder the public sphere by dismissing the other side of the story and sticking to conservative right wing viewpoints no matter what. Because of this, the need for non-profits like Media Matters For America, who are a “web-based non-profit progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. news media”, is more than ever.
There is no rule requiring hosts and producers to be honest and no industry guidelines or requirements to meet. Don’t get me wrong, I think everyone is entitled to an opinion, but when you say things that aren’t true to millions of people you are hurting the public sphere.
The need for open discussion on issues to create a more informed public sphere is at a heightened state. Shows that are very opinion based, one sided, and lack concrete facts like Hannity have no business being a part of the public sphere. Fox News claims that they are “Fair and Balanced”, but how can this be true when two of their most popular shows dismiss differing opinions. Instead, it is a source that provides skewed information to its viewers who do not seem to mind being exposed to it.
Just,recently, Sean Hannity provided a clear example of giving opinion based information. Jon Stewart, the host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show pointed it out for the nation to see in his April 24th episode. After the second Boston Bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was caught; Hannity said “he should be water boarded”. This, however deserving Hannity believes it to be, is a clear violation of the 8th Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. To make matters worse, Stewart then showed a clip that showed Hannity saying that he does not believe in enhanced interrogation torture, which completely contradicts what he said concerning Tsarnaev.
In that episode, Jon Stewart illustrated how Fox News personalities love for the U.S. Constitution was quickly abandoned after it went against their opinion on the recent Boston Bombings. Yes, Tsarnaev did a horrible thing, but as a U.S. citizen he has certain unalienable rights, like the right to a fair trial and the protection from cruel and unusual punishment.
In a perfect society, shows like Sean Hannity’s would not distort and taint the public sphere by misinforming his viewers. Hannity’s show, which does not offer any benefit to the public sphere, is still very successful as Fox News reports it has “averaged 2.8 million viewers each night”.
Instead, opinions need to be enforced with facts and expressed in a civil fashion. The hope is that raising awareness on television shows like Hannity and The O’Reilly Factor will show our society that they need to become more informed and educated on the issues we face every day. The problem is that people who do not know much about politics and turn to Hannity as a source of information have no idea that they are getting a very one sided viewpoint. Gore makes this point in The Assault on Reason, when he calls for a society that is active in politics and does not believe everything it hears.
Hopefully by raising awareness about shows like this, more individuals will get involved and become informed on issues by actually researching what they hear to see if it is true. By doing this, the public sphere can be restored to an open forum where individuals can come together to freely discuss issues, and through this discussion influence political action.
- "Sean Hannity." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2005. Biography In Context. Web. 25 Apr. 2013.
- Massing, Michael. “Un-American.” Columbia Journalism Review (2009): 14-16. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 25 Apr. 2013.
- Massing, Michael. “Un-American.” Columbia Journalism Review (2009): 14-16. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 25 Apr. 2013.
- Massing, Michael. “Un-American.” Columbia Journalism Review (2009): 14-16. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 25 Apr. 2013.
- "About Us." Media Matters for America. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2013. <http://mediamatters.org/about>.
- Dolan, Eric W. Jon Stewart destroys Fox News for jettisoning the Bill of Rights after Boston bombing. The Raw Story, 25 Apr. 2013. Web. 25 Apr. 2013. <http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/04/25/jon-stewart-destroys-fox-news-for-jettisoning-the-bill-of-rights-after-boston-bombing/>.
- "Sean Hannity Biography." Fox News, n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2013. <http://www.foxnews.com/on-air/personalities/sean-hannity/bio/#s=h-l>.
- "Sean Hannity." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2005. Biography In Context. Web. 25 Apr. 2013.
- "Sean Hannity." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2005. Biography In Context. Web. 25 Apr. 2013.
- "About Us." Media Matters for America. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2013. <http://mediamatters.org/about>.>
- Dolan, Eric W. Jon Stewart destroys Fox News for jettisoning the Bill of Rights after Boston bombing. The Raw Story, 25 Apr. 2013. Web. 25 Apr. 2013. <http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/04/25/jon-stewart-destroys-fox-news-for-jettisoning-the-bill-of-rights-after-boston-bombing/>.
- "Sean Hannity Biography." Fox News, n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2013. <http://www.foxnews.com/on-air/personalities/sean-hannity/bio/#s=h-l>.