Have you ever noticed how whatever the major political parties are arguing about at the moment is also an ongoing issue in the news? Gun violence in America and media coverage of Sandy Hook, the 2017 Las Vegas shootings, and perhaps the most recent incidence of gun violence in American at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, when a former student murdered 17 of his peers, playing across all major news outlets near constantly. These events are a sad and unfortunate reality in America today, and when they occur, the media grabs hold of them and plays nonstop coverage of the carnage. Sprinkled in, very deliberately and thoughtfully, are the political views associated with the events. If you watch Fox News, you see the arguments of those who are steadfast in their support of second amendment rights. If you watch CNN, you see the arguments of those who support stauncher gun control. As a result, Americans are debating about gun control and making it a primary concern. This media coverage that sways what Americans focus on is called agenda setting (Schneider, Gruman, and Coutts, 2012).
Who is the driving force behind the agenda? Who is involved? The answer is, everyone, really. Public agenda revolve around issues that the public places the most importance on, policy agenda concerns the issues that drive political and governmental outlets, and the media agenda are those issues that the media are picking and choosing to cover and playing on a loop (Schneider et al., 2012). Research has shown that these three agendas are actually intertwined and can influence one another (Schneider et al., 2012). Policy agendas, those agendas that political parties are focused on, actually have the power to influence what it is that the media chooses to focus on (Schneider et al., 2012). In recent years, much of this policy/media agenda, and therefore public agenda, has been gun violence. In the past, drug abuse was the focus (Schneider et al, 2012). Remember President Ronald Reagan’s war on drugs in the 80s?
While policy agenda can influence the media, it is media coverage that tends to hold the power over public opinion. It is the media through television, radio, newspaper, social media, news apps, etc. that has the power to push issues and make them salient, or of principal focus (Schneider et al., 2012). When an issues becomes salient, and is pushed front and center, becoming what we regularly see in all of our social outlets, it is easy to then understand how the media agenda then gets into our heads and helps to influence what it is that we think about. It makes perfect sense if you think about it. If we are subjected to the same subject matter, especially matter concerning our society, and when it is the only thing that we are given to focus on, what else are we supposed to concern ourselves with? We are coerced to think that the issue is huge, maybe even larger than it really is, and of the utmost importance, which is not to say that these issues aren’t important, because they totally are, but they are not the only important things going on in the world.
It is probably safe to say that most of us are not walking up to the Capitol Building or our local police agencies and city halls to obtain the news. We are getting the going ons from Facebook, and the cable news outlets, and even celebrity twitter feeds! Of course, those same celebrities are getting their information from the very same sources that we get ours from. To put it shortly, the media is a force to be reckoned with, however, it is important to also consider which policy agendas that media outlets are subscribing to.
Schneider, Frank W., Gruman, Jamie A., and Coutts, Larry M. (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems. Second Edition. Sage.