Political Scandals as a Democratic Challenge: From Important Revelations to Provocations, Trivialities, and Neglect Introductionons



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Allern and Sikorski (2018) Political Scandals as a Democratic Challenge

Articles in this Special Section
In their article, Blunders, Scandals, and Strategic Communication in US. Foreign Policy Benghazi vs. 9/11,” Robert Entman and Sarah Stonbely address a topic that has drawn little attention from scholars the role of media scandals in US. foreign policy discourse. To illuminate politicians strategic communication, the authors analyze media content, not leaders behaviors. The article suggests that journalists treatment of foreign policy failures as scandalous bears little relationship to the nature or effects of the malfeasance. Scandalized news coverage is instead more fruitfully viewed through the lens of skilled strategic framing. Contrasting the news about two terrorist attacks on Americans—the large-scale 9/11 attack in 2001 and the limited attack on the US. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in reveals how politicians can successfully promote or deflect potential foreign policy scandals without much regard for evidence. The Benghazi case suggests that unsubstantiated or minor failings can spawn major scandals. Conversely, 9/11 shows how and why well-documented and massive miscues may not ignite a scandal. Much depends on the strategic communication choices of party elites. The authors conclude with a clear normative point Inconsistencies and asymmetries in the politics of scandal weaken leaders incentives to learn from mistakes and act with prudence and reasonable transparency in the management of national security and foreign policy. In his article, Political Scandals Under Responsive Authoritarianism The Case of the Bo Xilai Trial in China Francis L. F. Lee examines the corruption scandal and trial of Chinese political leader Bo Xilai in

International Journal of Communication 12(2018) Political Scandals 3019 2012 and 2013, and analyzes the discourses associated with the scandal in the years that followed. In political communication literature, scandals are mostly seen as a phenomenon in liberal democracies, but as the author points out, most contemporary societies are neither full-fledged democracies nor extreme dictatorships. In the case of contemporary China, the concept responsive authoritarianism is used to characterize a system that has developed a limited degree of responsiveness to public opinion. The article focuses on how mainstream media portrayed the trial of Bo Xilai, discussed the problem of official corruption, and articulated the notion of the rule of law in the context of responsive authoritarianism. The case illustrated how political scandals in contemporary China can be occasions for those in power to present an image of willingness to address public concerns and social problems. The analysis also suggests that political scandals can provide opportunities for the articulation and propagation of the power-holders’ preferred concepts of social and political reform. However, the author highlights that the Bo Xilai case suggests that in an authoritarian system, political leaders are expected to maintain certain norms, and the violation of these moral or political norms can lead to public disapproval. In his article, Assassination Campaigns Corruption Scandals and News Media
Instrumentalization,” Paolo Mancini offers a different view of mediated corruption scandals than the one prevalent in Western liberal democracies. Revelations of corruption are, according to the liberal model of journalism, important for democracy, and can at the same time be characterized as a competitive resource, strengthening and legitimizing the role of professional news media. However, in many countries (and partially also in the West, corruption scandals respond mainly to a logic of instrumentalization: They come to light and occupy the front pages of newspapers and privileged slots on television news because they are occasions and tools to attack political and business competitors. In this analysis, based on findings from a series of studies on media corruption in Hungary, Latvia, Slovakia, Romania, and Italy, the author explores how instrumentalization drives the coverage of corruption cases in new and transitional democracies compared with the established democracies in France and the UK. In transitional democracies, media corruption scandals serve as instruments for those seeking power in business and politics. The logic of instrumentalization is especially strong in countries characterized by political instability, weak social and political organizations, and where clientelism is commonplace. A few decades ago, liberal democracies like Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland were regarded as relatively scandal-free areas. This is no longer the case. In The New Normal Scandals as a Standard Feature of Political Life in Nordic Countries authors Ester Pollack, Sigurd Allern, Ana Kantola, and Mark
Blach-Ørsten examine the incidence of mediated political scandals and analyze the types and consequences of scandalization. The article is based on 101 political scandals in the four countries from 2010–16, and a study of political scandals in the wake of the #MeToo movement in 2017‒18. Compared with the sands, there has after the millennium been an exponential rise in the number of scandals. Offenses related to economic affairs, including corruption, and personal behavior scandals, such as accusations of sexual harassment, constitute the most prominent scandal types. In today’s competitive media climate, a wide range of actions can be treated as scandalous media events, including minor legal offenses and personal moral transgressions by politicians. The distinction between the important and the trivial is blurred. The authors point to several factors that explain this development these include changes in societal norms and laws, and an increasingly competitive media climate, leading to a lower threshold for scandalization.


3020 Sigurd Allern and Christian von Sikorski International Journal of Communication 12(2018) Christian von Sikorski’s article, The Aftermath of Political Scandals A Meta-Analysis,” represents the first attempt to examine the effects of political scandals via meta-analysis. Seventy-four studies, including more than 54,000 participants, were identified and examined. A quantitative analysis revealed that the majority of research originates in North America and Europe, and studies have mostly been published in political psychology, political science, and psychology journals. Communication journals play only a minor role. Aspects that are relevant to the field of communication, like content-related factors and specific types of scandals and actors, are frequently neglected. A qualitative analysis shows that two central outcome variables, evaluation of politicians and electoral consequences, are frequently studied. Overall, studies reveal negative evaluative effects for politicians. However, five central moderators (candidate characteristics and behaviors, prior attitudes, context, and scandal type) significantly influence the effects of scandals. The results about electoral consequences of scandals are less clear and the effects on voter turnout are inconsistent. Research has largely neglected to precisely conceptualize the major independent variable in studies about the effects of scandals news coverage and its intensity. This maybe an important factor in explaining the inconsistent findings, including findings on the electoral consequences of scandals. In the last part of the article, central research gaps are identified, and avenues for future research are discussed. In their article, Powerful and Powerless Psychological Reactions of Norwegian Politicians Exposed in Media Scandals Kim Edgar Karlsen and Fanny Duckert examine how politicians who have been involved in mediated scandals have experienced, reacted to, and coped with the media exposure. The study is qualitative and explorative, and is based on interviews with 14 Norwegian politicians. The interviewees expressed deep feelings of injustice and powerlessness related to the proportion of the coverage, the journalistic practices, and the use of anonymous statements. Most significant triggers for negative reactions were the extent of the exposure, attacks on personal and moral attributes, harmful effects on significant others, and perceived betrayal by political colleagues. They also found it difficult to correct dubious assertions. The politicians experienced stress during direct encounters with media as well as stress related to reactions of family members, friends, and colleagues. Long-term effects were loss of trust in others and avoidance of public exposure. Media coping strategies included approaching personal media contacts, counterattacks, and attempts to keep a low public profile. Emotion-focused coping strategies involved conducting business as usual and following self-control instructions. The study concludes with an important ethical point the need for the media to be cautious and accurate when covering scandals, particularly when politicians abilities or personal lives are criticized, or their personal integrity is at stake. In his commentary, Hidden Traps An Essay on Scandals Hans Mathias Kepplinger provides an informed reflection on scandals and scandal research. The article summarizes a number of characteristics that scandals share, and points to hidden traps that scandals may contain. During scandals, observers relying on media coverage tend to attribute their perception of triggering events not to their depiction by the media but to the events depicted. This leads to insufficient distinctions between grievances and scandals. One consequence is erroneous conclusions from the number of scandals to the number of grievances—and vice versa. A second consequence is false notions about the likelihood that the framing of grievances as scandals really trigger scandals. A third consequence is—because the media seldom report negative side effects of scandals—biased balances of the costs and benefits of scandals. Distinctions of four levels of actions are necessary the levels of depicted events, of media depictions of events, of perceptions of events

International Journal of Communication 12(2018) Political Scandals 3021 by the public, and of the impact of these factors on related behavior of decision makers. Ina critical assessment of the functional scandal theory, the author opposes the idea that political scandals generally have positive political and social functions. He further concludes that the less democratic a country is, the more worthwhile it is to report on violations as scandals, because there is no other possibility for reform, so the ends may justify the means. The more democratic a state is, the more questionable it becomes to report on such events as scandals because there are political and administrative alternatives for seeking solutions. In summary, the articles in this Special Section offer new and innovative perspectives on political scandals, drawing on international research. This Special Section is intended as an inspiration for scholars around the world to advance the collective understanding of political scandals and their effects in countries with various political systems and media traditions.

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