Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Obama, the Media, and US Politics

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There is so much going on in the above editorial cartoon by Glenn McCoy (from October 2nd). It not only portrays Obama as some Soviet-style dictator (his outfit is hard to mistake for anything else), but also shows the media in lock-step in support of his agenda. Now, there are plenty of examples of how the media has rushed to defend the administration on scandals (real or imagined). And certainly, there are some included there who are avowed left-leaning outlets (MSNBC, there on the far left front). At the same time, however, there are times when the media has attacked the administration on certain policies – if you wanted to create a heated debate at one of my previous employers, The Nation (on the left, and very proud of it), one of the easiest ways was to bring up the administration’s apparent addiction to drone deployment – a story that took longer than expected to grab the attentions of political editors in the rest of the media.

The role of the media in politics, and government officials’ attempts to manipulate it, have long been an interest of mine – and I dedicated two chapters of my PhD thesis to the subject (as part of a pluralist approach to foreign policy analysis). I’m re-working the first of the two thesis chapters (a theoretical and empirical survey of the media’s role in the foreign policy-making process) for publication. It is an issue that many see as ‘decided’, and therefore undeserving of study. Partly, I believe, this is because the originators of political pluralist theory were writing when radio and newspapers were the only real mediums of political news dissemination. Robert Dahl, the most prominent and comprehensive writer on pluralist theory (and originator for most of what is still used), barely touched upon the role of the media in a pluralist society. It is my ultimate intention to address this oversight – at least in part.

However, given the hyper-pluralistic nature of American politics, I would actually argue that it is almost immune to a generalised theoretical analysis. Instead, almost every issue requires constant attention and multiple approaches, in order to properly ascertain the forces at work. Since finishing my thesis, the roles of Twitter and Facebook and other social media platforms (especially in election seasons) has only grown.

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