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"Media Effects" Paradigms for the Analysis of Local Television News - page 6 / 7





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1997). Race-based news coverage of crime primed racial stereotypes. Of course (as the use of the Horton ad by the Bush campaign itself reveals), the audience's exquisite sensitivity to matters of race is grist for vote-seeking public officials. We can only anticipate that racial appeals -- either explicit or coded -- will become even more frequent during political campaigns. In short, the prominence of local news makes race an even more central component of American public life.


The political implications of agenda-setting and framing effects with respect to crime are all too clear. Elected officials must, of course, take heed of their constituents’ political concerns. In response to the media-induced public outcry over crime, elected officials -- Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative, running for executive and legislative office -- have endorsed "law and order" as an immediate policy goal. Heightened attention to the issue of crime necessarily means reduced attention to other pressing problems. In California, for instance, the annual budget for the Department of Corrections has increased at a significantly faster rate than the annual budget for the Department of Education.

The frequent association of crime with race in the news also means that exposure to the news will trigger racial identity and the resulting "in-group" bias (e.g., Tajfel and Turner, 1986). It is well-documented that people categorize themselves into groups instinctively and that group identity exerts powerful attitudinal consequences including the expression of discriminatory affect for in-group and out-group members. The current journalistic paradigm thus does not bode well for the state of race relations; white viewers of the news will only become more likely to stigmatize black Americans, while black viewers will increasingly malign the motives of a "hostile" media.

The psychological implications of agenda-setting and framing effects are no less significant. The fact that a mere three second insertion of a photograph into a fifteen minute news segment significantly alters viewers' racial attitudes and their views about the appropriate means of controlling crime suggests that there is much more to race relations and political attitudes than acculturation and one's formative experiences. No doubt racial prejudice is deeply rooted in American culture, and there is considerable evidence suggesting that racial and other group-related sentiments are acquired early in life. Moreover, core values such as individualism and the work ethic encourage citizens to hold individuals rather than societal factors responsible for issues such as poverty or crime. The research summarized above, however, suggests that despite the "drag" provided by such life-long socialization processes, the daily flow of news can provide significant added value. People seem to resort to a more dynamic process of reasoning about racial groups in which the frequency of particular actions by individual group members is taken as revealing about the group as a whole. In this sense, people are Bayesian, "updating" their stereotypes to correspond to the latest round of "evidence." Therefore, models of racial attitudes that grant dominant status to stable personal influences (most notably, party identification and political ideology) must be revised to allow for circumstantial influence.


Entman, R. M. 1992. "Blacks in the news: television, modern racism, and cultural change," Journalism Quarterly, 69, 341-62.

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