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Funny Politics Essay

1589 words - 7 pages

In A Theory of Media Politics John Zaller sets out to explain the roles of three key actors, politicians, journalists, and citizens, in mass political communication.1 And when considering the characteristics of each actor I believe there has been the emergence of a fourth actor in media politics which developed as a natural outgrowth of the demands place on journalists by politicians and citizens as identified by Zaller. Additionally, Gilens, Vavreck, and Cohen's article “The Mass Media and the Public's Assessment of Presidential Candidates, 1952-2000”2 provides a basis for considering the impact political messages delivered through non-news outlets may have on the political communication ...view middle of the document...

The first television broadcast by a President was Franklin D. Roosevelt's opening speech to the 1939 World Fair. But it would be another decade before television became an effective tool for mass communication. In 1956 Dwight Eisenhower won an Emmy his “use and encouragement of television” which included his 1952 campaign commercial, along with a pre-filmed opening for The Colgate Comedy Hour's 1955 broadcast in support of Armed Forces Week.5 Furthermore, Eisenhower also had a pre-filmed appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1958, demonstrating the rapid acknowledgement of the value in mixing entertainment with political messaging. And since Eisenhower, every president has increasingly used entertainment media as a means of communication, although only recently has is been constantly employed as something other than a campaign tool in order to connect with citizens on a more personal, non-policy based, level. From Richard Nixon's 1963 appearance on “The Tonight Show”, during which he played his original piano concerto #16, to Bill Clinton's saxophone appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show and the “boxers or briefs” question asked while he was President on MTV,7 there is clearly a long and interesting relationship between politics and entertainment. And this relationship can be explained by Zaller's assertion that average citizens are seeking entertainment while networks are seeking high ratings. So while the shift to mix political messaging and entertainment seems to benefit politicians and entertainers the most, while also satisfying the desires of citizens, journalists, especially those in competitive marketplaces, are increasingly being forced to choose between producing quality news-based programming or a hybrid of news and entertainment. This places additional pressure on journalists since they are no longer only competing against other journalists, but they are now also competing against an entertainment industry that is willing to allow political messaging to come through unobstructed since there is little or no conflict between the desires of the politician and those of the entertainer. The public is becoming more and more accustomed to receiving political messaging thorough uncritical outlets. As Gilens, Vavreck, and Cohen point out, not only has paid political advertising has been replacing both print and television news media as a source of political information, but the quality of news media has been steadily declining. Therefore, it also seems reasonable to consider the recent rise in non-news based entertainment as an additional factor in these declines.
So while this is not the first time a President has appeared on an entertainment show, it should be seen as a significant step in the blurring of mass political communication and entertainment that solidifies the importance of entertainers as a new group of actors in media politics which significantly alters the way politicians achieve their primary goal of using mass communication...

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