Lesson Plans

Government in America: People, Politics, and Policy

by Edwards, Wattenberg, and Lineberry ©2000 by Addison-Wesley Longman Publishers, Inc.

Chapter 7 Focus Lesson: "The Mass Media and the Political Agenda"


AP* Course Description

  1. Political Parties, Interest Groups, and Mass Media
    1. The mass media
      1. The functions and structures of the media
      2. The impacts of media on politics

Key Components

  • Instructor's Manual: pp. 125–141
  • Study Guide: pp. 126–141
  • Test Bank: pp. 221–254

Key Web Sites

Given the changing nature of the Internet, you may wish to preview these sites. Always check the Online Companion Web site for updated Web references.

Key Words and Terms

  • high-tech politics
  • print media
  • sound bites
  • mass media
  • broadcast media
  • talking head
  • media event
  • newspaper chains
  • policy agenda
  • press conferences
  • narrowcasting
  • policy entrepreneurs
  • investigative journalism
  • trial balloons

Suggested Pacing

Allow two class periods on a 45-minute traditional bell schedule and one class period on a 90-minute block schedule. You might incorporate material from Chapter 9, "The High-Tech Media Campaign," pp. 288–292.

Test Strategy

Encourage students to read multiple-choice question stems carefully. If they jump too quickly into reading the choices, they may be easily confused by "distracters." These distracters are wrong answers and may include some true points of information, but if read carefully, they do not answer the specific question. Suggest that students begin to underline, bracket, or circle the important words in question stems so that they focus more carefully on what they are being asked.

Key Concepts

  • The role of the media
    The media constitutes a key linkage institution. Technology is increasingly shaping the behavior of citizens and policymakers, as well as the policy agenda itself. Television, radio, newspapers, magazines, and now the Internet are called mass media because they reach and profoundly influence not only the elite (elite and class theory of democracy), but also the general population, or masses. The influence of the media is so great that it is sometimes referred to as the "fourth branch" of government.

    The media has contributed to candidate-centered presidential campaigns in many ways, notably by de-emphasizing party ties; publicizing candidates' backgrounds and records; focusing on sound bites rather than in-depth analysis; highlighting image, gaffes, and scandals; and reporting constantly who is leading in the polls. Candidates have contributed to the media frenzy by using negative advertising, hiring professional media consultants, creating information leaks, mudslinging, and making appearances at public events that get the most media attention.

  • Shaping the agenda
    An important concept that students need to take from this chapter is the agenda-setting function of the media. Which issues or candidates the media chooses to highlight and what they report are significant factors in both how voters view elections and which issues the government decides to tackle. In turn, the media can be influenced by political activists.

    Political activists are also known as political entrepreneurs because they invest their political "capital" in seeing that certain issues are on the national policy agenda. Throughout the discussion of public policy and the functioning of government, students should pay close attention to how government officials and their close associates on the outside respond to the public will and the problems the people expect government to solve.

Summing Up Student Understanding

Students may find a question or two on the AP* test that relates to cartoons. Ask them to practice for the test with the cartoon on p. 234. Among the questions you might ask are:

  • What facts are given or implied?
  • What do the people represent?
  • How is caricature or exaggeration used?
  • What stereotype is used?
  • What symbol is used?
  • Does the cartoonist have a point of view? What is it?
  • Does the cartoon reflect your point of view?
  • Can you suggest an alternative medium to present the message?

Use the same series of questions to help students analyze other cartoons as they work through the course. As an alternative to a class discussion, use this cartoon and series of questions for a timed essay to simulate the essay-writing portion of the AP* test.