Pipes and Flutes for Interest Groups

The Heavenly Chorus: Interest Group Voices on TV News Author(s): Lucig H. Danielian and Benjamin I. Page Source: American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 38, No. 4 (Nov., 1994), pp. 1056-1078 Published by: Midwest Political Science Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2111732 Accessed: 28/10/2009 21:01

The Question:

Is there “systematic biases or unrepresentativeness” in TV news stories that represent certain interest groups or is the TV news balanced and fair? If the media is biased and unrepresentative of all public interests, then which interest groups does it favor, or, sing for? If it sings for authoritative (recognized elite / resource rich) voices, how does a weak (non-elite / resource poor) voice find itself among the choir of news?

The Method:

80 separate “policy issue” categories were organized and analyzed between the years 1969 and 1982 which “were of relatively high political salience.” Danielian and Page initially broke down the issues by dividing the data into 7,747 separate source stories, and then coded the data according to “783 interest group source stories.” This coding methodology enabled them to report changes in public opinion—illuminating public knowledge of policy issues according to the broadcast material. Of the 783 interest group source stories, they focused their report on the high frequency of interest groups in the news: the loudest voices.

The Findings:  

Table 1: Frequency of Appearance of Different News Sources

53% of the news stories were related to government, with nearly 40% of those stories directly related to the Executive and his administration. Foreign affairs were heard about 16% of the time while interest groups sang from the anchor person’s mouth into the camera roughly 14% of the time.

Table 2: Source Appearance by Issue

The major issues reported in the news related to government, foreign affairs or interest groups were related to wage/price controls, the Middle East, Vietnam, civil rights, energy, U.S. / Soviet Relations, taxes and the domestic budget. Noncapitalist professional organizations received almost no coverage.

Table 3: Prominence of Different News Sources

The President most often led the news, followed by administration news, then foreign enemy news, foreign friendly news, opposition party news, events, experts, and interest groups. 

Table 4: Types of Interest Groups in the News

Business related interest groups comprised 36% of the interest groups, followed by citizen action interest groups (32%), labor (13%), and minority interest groups (7.1%).           

Table 5:  The Top 20 Interest Groups in the News

1st place is awarded to AFL-CIO, 2nd place to the Moratorium Committee, 3rd place to Exxon, 4th place to American Petroleum Institute, 5th to Gulf.  However, even though the AFL-CIO was most frequently mentioned in the news, business groups (particularly oil interest groups) usurped much more air time (40% of total) than labor.

Table 6: Types of Interest Groups Covered, by Issue

Business groups primarily advocated for energy (oil) topics. Labor mostly shouted about wage/price controls. Citizen action interests focused on Vietnam and U.S. Soviet relations.

Table 7: Activities by Different Types of Interest Groups

Business, Labor, Professional, Agricultural and Minority interest groups primarily reached the news choir through statements. Citizen Action groups and Religious groups primarily entered the news stream because of demonstrations.      

In summary, Danielian and Page determined that the news chorus focuses on business interests over labor interests and the administration over opposition to the administration. They acknowledge that overwhelming bias towards one interest / faction “could mislead the public and would ill serve democracy.” The authors see the interest groups’ use of propaganda to influence the public as potentially troublesome, yet do not advocate that all groups should have a voice in the media chorus. Instead, they submit that minority and weaker voices opposed to the dominant interest sing at some time so that the chorus is not “monologue.”

Danielian and Page admit that weak voices (without money or power) are drowned out of the chorus unless they resort to screaming, or, public demonstrations. However, demonstrations are seen as uncouth, akin to screeching during a beautiful melody. And screeching has its consequences, since the public views this tone as “less viable, legal and stable by the public.”  Statements or press releases, distributed by the administration or business interests, are “less dramatic—but arguably more persuasive.”  This study found that the “heavenly chorus” is more focused on “business corporations or capitalist interests rather than ‘upper-class’ accents generally.”

The Implications:

Every avid news gatherer should be aware that the chorus of the news is slanted towards what appears to be viable, trustworthy and useful; however, it is mainly an expounding of business and government interests. Since the information is acquired through press releases as opposed to undercover investigations, it is even more apparent that the news is sometimes just hype. Organized protesters screaming for a cause are viewed as somewhat deleterious and delirious. Clearly, the heavenly chorus of the news is ringing to the intellectual elites with ears, since the hyped tones are a far cry from harmonious deliberation.

The Shortcomings

Danielian and Page completed an extensive survey with excellent depth and insight. For this student, I might only seek an update, since capitalism has conquered Vietnam/Soviet Union. The question might be to look more closely at when capitalism is corrupted by authoritarianism–keeping it inefficient for the people.

Further Explanations

Danielian and Page intelligently complete the article, “It is of interest to know not only who sings in the choir but also who pays the singers and who writes the songs.” Thus, the authors (or we) might further this study by discovering and distinguishing the propaganda in news from the truth, or, reality. Of course, since most of the news broadcasters are private enterprises, herein we see competing interests between democracy and capitalism.

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2 thoughts on “Pipes and Flutes for Interest Groups

  1. Pingback: Poltical Scientists: “I’m American” | Political Pipeline

  2. Pingback: Review for American Politics Comp. Exams | Political Pipeline

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