According to Joseph Capella and Kathleen Jamieson, the political climate in the United States has come to resemble a traveling circus, full of glitter and hype, yet dreadfully short on content or real-life relevance. This perception has led to an unprecedented level of cynicism by the populace and a general mistrust of politicians and their motives. In Spiral of Cynicism: The Press and the Public Good
, the authors hold the media accountable for much of the public's apathy because of the manner in which it perpetuates the style over substance approach, emphasizing sound-bites and flash rather than an objective study of the issues. Relying heavily on copious statistics gleaned from three in-depth experiments, the authors use complex charts and graphs to trace the origin and rise of voter cynicism. By comparing citizens' reaction to strategy talk versus balanced coverage of pertinent issues and facts, the authors conclude that the media should look closely at its methods of coverage and take responsibility for contributing to this pervasive negativity.
Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and a frequent TV news guest expert, and Cappella, a professor at the school as well, focus on "news frames," particularly the "strategic news frame" central to much political reporting: "an organized set of assumptions that imply and often explicitly state that leaders are self-interested to the exclusion of the public good, that their votes can be swayed by monied or special interests that do not serve their constituents' ends, and that they are dishonest about what they are trying to accomplish and driven privately by a desire to stay in power." The authors tested the effect of this frame (versus an issue-oriented one) in a Philadelphia mayoral election and in the national debate over health-care reform: in Philly, the strategic frame increased cynicism about both the candidates and the media; in the health-care debate, the media's strategic frame defined the surveyed voters' understanding of why reform failed. Mary Carroll
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