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Political Pressures And Presidential Newsworthiness

By Author: Arsenalo
Total Articles: 116

Anthony Smith reports that "during the Carter Administration, government was spending $ 1 billion a year on its own information services (the Pentagon alone had 1,500 press officers, spending $25 million a year)."That expenditure reflects the magnitude of the government effort to influence what Tag Heuer Replica and how information is disseminated. But the government has resources far more important than money.

The president is always newsworthy and has great power to influence press coverage through such means as leaks, exclusive interviews, pseudo-events (like White House Rose Garden activities), and appeals to national security. Some of the ways that campaigners manipulate the press are treated in later chapters. Here we consider the political pressure created by the federal government, particularly the executive branch.


The president is always able to make news, by calling a press conference, announcing a forthcoming event (an agreement or future summit meeting), or scheduling a ritual (awarding a medal, for instance). The New York Times former White House correspondent John Herbers notes:

No other institution can demand space and attention throughout the media when there is no news there. The White House does every day. The President can demand front-page coverage by holding a press conference in which he says nothing that has not been said before. He can command prime television time by granting an exclusive interview to one of the networks, and newspapers feel compelled to write about it at length because millions saw it on television.

Facts that would not be newsworthy about anyone else become newsworthy when tied to the president. For example, network television as well as newspapers carried major stories on George Bush's declaration, "I do not like broccoli and I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it and I'm president of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli." By providing a moment of comic relief in an otherwise serious day, the comment humanized Bush. To laughter, he then added, "Wait a minute. For the broccoli vote out there, Barbara Breitling Replica Watches loves broccoli. She's tried to make me eat it; she eats it all the time herself. So she can go out and meet the caravan of [trucks bringing] broccoli." With that as a tease, the story continued. On March 26, 1990, Barbara Bush's picture appeared in newspapers. In front of her was a table of broccoli.

A focus on "the human side" of the White House can displace other forms of coverage. Inviting such coverage is itself a form of manipulation of the news agenda. By early 1990, the Bushes' dog, Millie, had entered the annals of U.S. history, joining Franklin Roosevelt's Fala and Richard Nixon's Checkers. When Millie delivered puppies, network stories followed. A survey for the Center for the Media and Public Affairs concluded that from Bush's first day as president until November 30, 1989, Millie had appeared more frequently on network news than Bush's education secretary, his agricultural secretary, or his secretary for veterans' affairs. "Let me give you a little serious, political, inside advice," Bush told a Republican fundraiser. "One single word. 'Puppies' Worth ten points [in the polls], believe me."60 Although the subject of much coverage the Clinton's offspring less cat, Socks, and neutered dog, Buddy, did not garner the level of attention devoted to Millie's litter.

The Reagan administration proved highly adept at managing presidential press contacts. As one reporter noted:

The President delivers the good news, usually in situations that insulate him from questions, while aides deal with controversial matters. . . . Few White House teams have exhibited such expertise in associating an executive only with the popular decisions and dramatic moments of his Presidency.

Such control maintains the president's personal popularity, reduces situations in which gaffes might be made, and allows the anger generated by unpopular decisions to be deflected onto presidential assistants. Given such control of access, press coverage is inevitably limited and manipulated. More readily than any other politician or citizen, the president also can take to the airwaves to speak directly to the American people.

When the networks judge a topic to be newsworthy, the president is granted what amounts to automatic access. After former House Democratic leader Tip O'Neill denied Ronald Reagan's June 1986 request to address the House on the issue of aid to the Contras in Nicaragua, Reagan asked for network time to speak directly to the American people. The three major networks declined on the grounds that the president's speech would not make news. CNN, which carries news twenty-four hours a day, aired the speech.

However, when the White House indicated that President Clinton wished to address the nation about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky at 10:00 P.M. on Monday, August 17, 1998, ABC, NBC, and CBS all provided access.

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