Explain why the media is so influential in influencing public opinion. Discuss the positive and negative effects of this bias.

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

The most negative aspect of the media is that it controls what the public perceives and hears about.  European and Asian exchange students in my area, for instance, often ask why Americans receive little or no real world news.  There is a major network that has an evening program that is supposed to deal with world news, but little other than the mid-East is discussed. The magazine that is named for world news also gives only a select report on select parts of the world. 

Major newspapers in the United States are owned by certain people who control the slant of the news, again.  One need only look at the treatment of presidents such as Richard Nixon whose conduct was throughout his life constantly under the miscroscope and compare it to the investigations on other congressmen and presidents who have had less than ethical careers themselves. One such example is the senator from and Eastern state who undoubtedly committed murder as a young man, yet he was lauded throughout the media after his death.

The presidential elections are perfect examples of the bias of the media.  In fact, Time magazine's editors even admitted to having influence the past election because of their front covers that presented one particular candidate a multitude of times. In another example of news bias, when citizens went to Washington to protest the proposed health care bill, it was reported to the public that a few thousand attended when later it was revealed that actually millions of citizens had gone.

Photographs are good at creating bias, also.  Depending upon the angle of the camera, a small group can seem like more people, or many people's picture can be cropped to appear smaller.  So often, programs that are decidedly conservative invite prominent guests whose views are conservative, as do liberal programs. Frequently, people of one side or another watch programs that reinforce their beliefs so that they feel justified in what they believe.  Regular television shows even affect people's ideas about human relationships, race relationships, and morality.  "Sex and the City" and like shows condone behavior heretofore scorned in the America of earlier days.

There are groups that work behind the scenes to expose these biases of the media.  Judicial Watch is one such group that prints information withheld by mainstream media. Currently, they are working on an issue that may go before the Supreme Court before it is over.

To read a University of Pennsyvania report on "The Effect of the News Media Environment on Citizen Knowledge of State Politics" see the site listed below.


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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

There are classes, seminars, workshops, and books devoted to this subject.  Be prepared to engage in a process of reflection about this topic.  The media is so influential in shaping public opinion in a variety of ways.  One way is because individuals feel that they receive more information from media outlets than on their own and in this process, there is a level of trust that the public places in the media.  It is this element of trust that allows influence to become evident. We see this we hear, "I trust CNN because..." or "I trust MSNBC because..." At these moments, individuals place their trust in an organization, and this allows shaping and molding of opinion to happen.  Another reason why the media is so influential is because the public feels that the media is "the fourth branch "of government which helps to keep institutions honest and more accountable.  If there is a distrust of business institutions or authority figures, the media is seen as a public watchdog, whose primary function is to shed light on that which transpires in darkness.  On a more sinister level, one can argue that individuals' trust in the media might be due to ignorance, and the belief that the media can be "enlightening" because they are "representing the truth."  Within each of these contain positive and negative elements.  However, one overwhelming negative element could be that the images, iconography, and bias of media organizations might be able to enter the viewer or reader without a sense of filter.  If the public is so trusting of the media, then it might not be able to discern the political agendas, predispositions, and points of view that temper everything, including media coverage.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The media has so much influence over our opinions because we know essentially nothing other than what we hear from them.  For example, I have never seen President Obama nor do I know anyone who has.  So my only knowledge of his existence, let alone what his policies are, comes from the media.  Because I only know what they tell me, of course they affect my opinion.

The only possible positive effect of bias in the media is that it makes it easier for people to know which news outlets they want to listen to.  Assuming you know what your biases are, you can look for outlets that tell you what you want to hear. This may make people more likely to listen to news (if they are listening to people who agree with them).  This is a stretch, but you asked for positive effects...

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drmonica | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted on

The ubiquity of television and telephones, and soon the internet, have contributed to the power of the media to influence consumers. Virtually every citizen in every developed country has access to a television and a cell phone. Pervasive access to television has led to the rise of 24-hour programming. When I was a child in the early 1960s in the United States, we had three network channels and PBS. Cable was not yet available in the rural are where I lived. My own children, who were born in the late 1980s, have had cable and satellite television access since birth. They have never known what it is like without cell phones. They interact with peers via cell phones, internet, and social media like Facebook. The media pervades every aspect of their lives.

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readerofbooks | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The media is so influential for various reasons. First, there is the sheer amount of media presence that one needs to consider. For example advertising is everywhere - TV, Radio, Internet, Billboards, etc. Second, there is great amount of research that goes into media presentation. They know the people's tastes, desires, and fears and they manipulate it. Now for the question about whether it is positive or negative. I would say that it is mostly negative, because in the end it is all about money and not about the welfare of people. So, if it is about money, then they will tweak the truth and have an angle for the sake profit.

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lrwilliams | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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Media is the everyday persons only source of information from around the country or the world. If you live in a rural area you are dependent upon television, newspapers, radio or internet to keep up with all that goes on in the country. You have to be careful what outlets you listen to because they all seem to put their own spin on the story. The best way to avoid these biases is to get information from multiple sources and try to find the truth for yourself through those multiple sources.

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The media sometimes influences public opinion by reporting public opinion. One of my mom's favorite stories involves the first election she planned to vote. She had never been politically active, and my father had finally talked her into it. On the way to the polling place, the results were announced. At least that's the way she tells it. They lived in California, so what she heard was actually the eastern poll projections. Still, she never voted again.
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besure77 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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The media is the basis upon which we hear news regarding most everything that is going on in the world. There are many ways that the news is presented to the public such as television, internet, etc. We are really only hearing the point of view that the media presents to us. Unfortunately, sometimes it is biased.

User Comments

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mchandrea | Student, College Junior | (Level 1) Salutatorian

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I think the media is very influential with public opinion because the media is a very powerful tool that can dictate what is good and what is bad, what can be the norm, what's in and what's not. Society absorbs whatever the media depicts. For example, fat shaming is a very current issue and I think it was brought about by  the media. Depicting only slim and sexy as pretty would make every other fat girl in the planet feel ugly and therefore lose weight. In other words, the people would follow whatever trend the media sets.

The media is the main source of information for us common people and it can make us believe whatever it wants us to. I think this is a bad thing because there are powerful people who can control the media. They can censor even news and and juggle facts with opinions and make true stories false by making it more interesting to the audience. If this happens, we will never know what is really the truth and we will still believe in what the media tells us.

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robyn-bird96 | Student, College Freshman | (Level 1) Salutatorian

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I heard an interesting lecture (if you can call it that, very informal) from Bill Ayers when he visited my school.  He told us that we should be very suspicious of the media.  We should question what message or agenda they are trying to convey and what they are hiding.  

I don't know how much of your question I am answering, but for me, reflecting on the role of the media calls for a reflection on us as consumers and a reflection on the role of the industries.  Our lives have become dictated by outside influences: what we see, what we hear, what we believe we know.  How much do we really know about the oil industry and the Middle East, besides what CNN tells us?  How much do we really know about the food that we are eating, besides what is available at the supermarket?  

Adolf Hitler (I know, I know) said that he needed a big lie to draw attention away from his true intentions/from what is going on.  What is our big lie?  Hollywood.  What is really happening in the US?  Who knows.

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clyoon | Student, Grade 12 | (Level 1) Salutatorian

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The media influences the population so much because the media always revolves around our fantasies. We wish to look better, to be a certain way, to be considered successful, to make good money, to be happy, etc etc. The media takes these popular desires and makes its own images out of them. We see these images that root from our desires and we somehow fall into the media's images and think that we need to follow those images in order for us to achieve our desires.

Some positive effects of the media's influence:

There are images of productivity and fitness that influence us to try to maybe start to work out or eat better or to be more efficient when at the desk. When you go on sites like Tumblr or Pinterest, there are many images of fitness people in the middle of their workouts or them with healthier meals. These images encourage people to eat healthier and to be more active, improving their lifestyles and health.

Some negative effects of the media's influence:

I think this one is an easy one to address. Everyone agrees that fast food chains and cosmetic brands have a negative influence on the public. They burden people by telling them that this is what beauty looks like or that you should eat this junk food because it tastes good while you just get fat and unhealthy. They tempt people into buying their products that ultimately  harm them. The cosmetics have chemicals in them that harm your body and are carcinogenic. Yet they tell you it doesn't matter because you should look "beautiful" and "flawless." The junk foods tell you that you'll taste the best burger of your life and that you won't regret it. When in the end, you're just destroying your health by feeding your body toxins and crap.

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acompanioninthetardis | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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As much as i hate to say this, humans love anything that interests them, this tends to be mostly harsh things like news about a violent death or a fight etc... im not saying that other news topics that are positive are not influential im just saying that its almost like were looking for it. and the media is the only communication/information we have with celebrities, ongoing events, etc.. so we tent to rely on the information readily sometimes without checking the facts. The positive is that this can be used to influence a lot of people, and to gather them up on one thing i.e. to donate. the bad thing is that almost always the media has harmed people in their private lives, not to mention it has also given us misunderstandings with the facts.

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mkcapen1 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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The media has changed significantly in the past years.  Because of the availability of television and radio all populations and classes have been exposed to various types of media.  The Internet has provided an even newer media resource. The majority of people live in a very fast paced society.  They have very little time for reading and exploring the truth of information.  The producers of media publication are aware of this and use the media to influence public choice and opinion.  The problem lies in that many people are gullible and society as a whole is easily influenced by the media representations. The media also responds to public demand and provides the information that the public craves.  Unfortunately the public knows and desires more information about movies stars and politicians vices than they do about political developments.  The reason for this is because the public is more likely to watch shows with the first type of information.

A positive aspect of the media’s bias has been that it has facilitated change in people’s perception of races in a positive manner, exposed people to other cultures, made people aware of environmental needs, and the needs of people far away.  While there can also be negative implications the media also has to reflect the public’s point of view.  With the growing representation of Hispanics, African Americans, and other minority groups, the media is under pressure to present them in a more positive light.