Masaryk university faculty of education

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Mass Media

The corpus spans over 150 years and covers the existence of newspaper and printed media and the onset of the radio, television and finally the Internet social networks Twitter and Facebook. When looking back into the times of Puritans and their lifestyle, it is worth noting that their scripture commanded them to have a close and in-depth knowledge of the Bible to be able to supply all of the answers they might have about their existence. Being opposed to the Catholic Church, their religious independence was the very core of their faith, with Bible study being their daily bread. Such practice enabled them not only closeness to their God but also to their language. In the first half of the nineteenth century, a favorite pastime for a family was reading books in parlors. (Foster) Though this audience was lighting with candles and traveling by carriage, they were well versed, being able to understand rhetorical expressions, vivid metaphors or complex analogies. With technological progress came the invention of the gas light in the late 19th century, which gave way to a new leisure activity for many Americans, a political debate. The gas light provided lighting in public places and Americans were able, for the first time, to go and meet in public place, in the evenings and listen to what others had to say. There were frequent speeches and debates available for anyone to join or just to listen. The audience became skilled in rhetoric and also debating. This audience was also able understand the meaning of Abraham Lincoln’s words, when he worried:

It forces us to ask: "Is there, in all republics, this inherent and fatal weakness?" "Must a government, of necessity, be too strong for the liberties of its own people, or too weak to maintain its own existence?"

In the latter part of the century, notes one historian, "the reading public did not have the same leisure to devote to books." (Foster) When people no longer had enough time for interest in books, then magazines, with their concise, information-packed articles, began shaping public opinion. Normatively speaking, more information was offered in a quicker, more appealing way, while the audience had less and less time to devote to an in-depth, quality read. The onset of radio, television and the Internet has only exacerbated this development. And thus began the everlasting paradigm between politics, the audience and the mass media, hypothetically leading up towards the decline of the standards of the audience and the “standards of presidential discourse”, which has been variously described as "a linguistic struggle, rarely an occasion for original thought," like "dogs barking idiotically through endless nights," bordering on "demagogy" and "pontification cum anecdotalism." (Lim, p. 328)

While the role of the mass media in politics varies over time and circumstance, it is safe to say that “the political process is more likely to have an influence on news media than the news media are on the political process.” (Wolfsfeld, p. 5-22) That said, the relationship should be classified as symbiotic. In general, various news media compete among themselves to broadcast presidential messages and the presidents are nonetheless obliged to “accommodate the press”, as the press helps them “to promote their image and their policies.” This symbiosis can be extended to the third part – the audience – as well, as media provides quick access to simplified information from the political arena while the audience happily pays the monthly cable bill or for a subscription to the New Yorker.

For illustration, Table 4.1 from Baum and Groeling is a snapshot from the years 2006-2007 of a typical daily audience for various mass media, ranging from on-line editions of printed media, news web sites to TV news. The daily audience figures confirm just how important media is for reaching the maximum possible audience, particularly in times of crisis.

Table 4.1

While the actual impact of the media on the discourse and on the audience is definitive in terms of force, it is mixed in terms of concrete implications. Chilton is convinced that “rhetorical practice, in the form of public relations and ‘spin’, fueled by the media explosion, is now more centre stage than ever.” (ix) Lim claims that “recent developments in the postwar period (such as television and the increased usage of direct primaries) have fostered a heightened reverence of the opinion, judgment, and rhetoric of the common man,” suggesting that what audience thinks, on what level and under what assumption, matters more thanks to the media. (Lim, p. 333) This thesis will track signs of audience involvement strategies as well as linguistic level to confirm possible correlation with the statements above.

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