The Watergate Scandal: Success of the American Media in Fulfilling Its Democratic Functions Today

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To assess how successfully the American media is fulfilling its democratic function today we must look at what the media’s democratic function is from promoting democracy to political socialisation. Secondly, one must a look at whether the United States media has fulfilled its democratic functions in the past and if the same is still true today. Moreover, looking at more current events and the relationship between Trump and the media. Julia Azari and Hunt Allcott provide some insight into how the media impacted the 2016 presidential election. Lastly, how the American media does not fulfill its democratic functions. Furthermore, it is important to note how the role of the media has changed and the impact of the rise of social media, and how that relates to the media and its democratic functions.

Para 1

It is important to note the role between the media and the constitution. The First Amendment grants Americans free speech and throughout American history, it has limited censorship to almost none. However, one example was during the Nixon Administration with New York Times vs United States in 1971. This was also known as the Pentagon Papers case which banned the New York times to publish these papers and risk exposing government actions during the Vietnam War. Ultimately the Supreme Court said that preventing the publication of the report about the Vietnam war would be prior restraint. The United States is on the whole, unencumbered by government censorship, however, there is some limits to what the media put out. Moreover, for commercial reasons, there are often limitations on what is printed, especially with local news. Local news prevent offending their audience and the people watching and reading are more likely to support what the news is offering or writing about. Issues arise when political or commercial tensions stop free speech. In the 1950s, this occurred during the ‘witch hunts’ during the McCarthyite period, this was when liberal papers and TV channels did not argue against the damning of workers who did not sign loyalty oaths or those who were jailed for being associated with communism.

The media has many democratic functions today. Firstly to promote democracy and to provide the two way communicate between politicians and people. Next, to educate the voting people and inform them on the news and give them insight into how the government operates. Then agenda setting which entails defining what is news. The media operates as a watchdog and can hold the government accountable by investigative journalism and muckraking if they need to search for and expose certain politicians’ scandals. Furthermore, the media also is involved in political mobilisation, which includes parties and interest groups using media to get the message across and mobilise voters and activists. Lastly, socialise people into the regime by political socialisation and regime legitimization.

Para 2

In order to assess how successfully the American media is fulfilling its democratic functions today one must see how America has done so in the past. Firstly, the Watergate scandal showcased that the media could perform its democratic functions. Doris Graber explains how Watergate was an example of the media fulfilling its democratic functions. The media saw Watergate as a election campaign tale and that it was a partisan issue. The media, with the help of congress were able to present the scandal as a misconduct and deceit at the largest levels of government which caused upset. Penances for those who were involved in Watergate and the president himself would not have been agreed to. In order for the public to understand the issues in a comprehensible way it was important for the media to be coherent. When news reporters and people in politics changed the Watergate narrative from a ‘bugging incident’ to a scandal people started to take this issue very seriously. The media and the sources they choose for story telling prove to be essential. Depending on where media get their sources from, skewing can occur. When thinking about major public policy issues sources are an indication for media audiences as to whether a certain subject is deserving of reward. Therefore, Watergate quickly turned into a political crisis as media highlighted Republicans and members of the judicial system who recognised the severity of the Watergate scandal. Overall, the media acted democratically and made sure the Watergate scandal was investigated and the appropriate people were aware of it.

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Para 3

Before the 2016 presidential election, concerns increased about the impact of fake news spreading on social media. Some data was collected about the impact social media had on fake news. Firstly, 62% of adults get news on social media meaning easier access to fake news. Also, Facebook was a large portal for fake news and the most well received fake news were more shared than the non- fake news articles. Those who read these fake news articles tended to believe them. Many argue that the fake news about Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton ultimately led to Trump’s win in the 2016 presidential election. Data on fake news was collected and the results were fascinating. Firstly, they took all the Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton articles on Snopes and then all the articles from the 2016 election from PolitiFact. 156 fake news articles were found and also they could see how many times all these fake news articles were shared on facebook and then separated the articles as pro- Clinton and then pro-Trump. Furthermore, people were reading more pro-Trump fake news articles. Albeit this, Allcott notes that whether this actually affected the election outcome depends on how convincing the fake news was in impacting voters. However, the rough calculations about how much impact fake news had is conservative in other words an overstatement of the relevance of fake news. Allcott stresses the importance of how many people read the fake news articles rather than whether people bought into the stories. Moreover, the articles may not reach that many people in the first place, the fake news stories may reach a little portion of voters but they may see a high volume of stories. Furthermore, these unrefined findings does not acknowledge the fact that people who are more inclined to vote for Trump in the 2016 election would have probably shared Trump favoured fake news in the first place. Ultimately, this would not have much impact on the votes for Trump due to these people already being supporters of his.

Julia Azari discusses how political institutions relate to the media in the United States of America. The 2016 election story is related to the media dismissing the institutional structure, instead saying that large media reports meant Trump gained more supporters. Azari presents how the media affects presidential elections by working within political institutions. On entering the presidential race in 2016, Donald Trump was a very contentious runner in the Republican party. Trump had success in the primaries, winning a large majority in the primary votes and was very popular in the polls during this stage of the presidential race. Trump coordinated the Republican party by getting his message out there which in turn got enough voters on his side which led to him receiving the Republican nomination. Therefore, the media and news were vital in gaining Trump the nomination. The media is involved in the Republican Party and perhaps their network. In the last few years, Azari notes that a theory has been adopted by political scientists whereby parties are made up of interest groups. The two institutional outlooks create an interesting contradiction. The media spread Trump’s message whilst the conservative media failed to stop Trump from gaining the Republican candidate position. The media had an important role in the 2016 election by portraying a constant message. The media reported what Trump would do as president and therefore the media was pivotal in 2016 in carrying out institutional functions. Furthermore, the media has also solidified the principles and representations of the presidency. Azari notes it is hard to know whether the media really did impact on Trump getting the Republican nomination. Moreover, the media key organised job to repeat messages rather than argue with them. The media and the assumptions with it could be trialed using lab and practical experiments. These investigations, mentoring speeches and other media products, might explain how certain factors are related to the presidency in comparison to other people of political importance. In order to understand the media’s part to play in presidential elections one must understand that the media works with voters, and removes other institutions when doing so. However, in the 2016 election assessing the media’s role gives a different perspective. News media’s goal is to help put out the nominee’s message, a vital part of coordination within the party. The media can strengthen people's comprehension about the way institutions operate and as one can see, they have achieved this at the cost of people looking for power and questions about it.

Para 4

One must examine how the American media does not fulfill its democratic functions. David McKay discusses some of the issues surrounding the media and American democracy is that the media in the US are obsessed with profits which can distort the functions it is supposed to perform. As well as profit, the media in America are very focused on ratings, as in their numbers for readers and audiences that the American media are very commercial on a world stage. Another issue is with public broadcasting which does not seem to be fulfilling its democratic functions today. The role of public broadcasting or news is to meet the needs and cater to the concerns of the public, however, instead it is not very developed and does not cover much of the media output. The media in America is also guilty of distorting certain news and some of the biggest misconceptions are American news giving superiority over foreign news, even when American forces get involved in overseas military action this oversights other foreign news. Another misconception would be finding away to have a consensus position that damages ratings or upset advertisers the least. One example of something offensive occurring was in 2004, when Janet Jackson’s nipple was caught on camera at the Super-bowl halftime show, this led the CBS network to make a public apology. There has also been accounts of the networks failing to responds to political issues such as the Iraq War. Moreover, the media making light of the news and making it simpler and distorting complicated political and public issues by putting ‘soundbite’ clips. The last distortion in the American media is the issue of Fox News, Fox News is unique to the American media as there is no similar platform on the left. This contributes to the increasing political polarisation in America. Fox News and political knowledge have an interesting relationship. Fox News viewers have less political knowledge than those who do not view Fox News. Albeit this, Cassino notes that those who tune into Fox News don’t necessarily are less informed about politics than the average population but that they would be more educated if they were following another news channel. The impact on political knowledge that Fox News has does not harm conservative watchers, but only more moderate and liberal viewers. Furthermore, the issue is not that those who watch Fox News have a lesser general scope about politics, but rather they are not informed on relevant information. Moreover, Cassino says the most comprehensible way to describe the consequences is that Fox news viewers focus on issues that are not shown on other news channels so they are not given the same political information that the rest of the population are getting and therefore are not aware of the questions arising in political knowledge realms. During the Trump administration, Fox News has been an integral part of the presidency. For example, Trump watches TV all the time, especially Fox News. Fox News presenters have also been important to Trump’s presidency, notably, Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro who are both Trump fans. Trump is informed by the media and gets a lot of information from watching Fox News.

The role of the media has changed in America, in the 21st century specifically the media’s role has changed despite there being a sales decline this hasn’t stopped traditional media maintaining their relevance in newspapers or news channels showing to relevant spectators. Between 2007 and 2011, newspapers have had a dramatic decrease in sales and have been called America’s ‘fastest shrinking industry’, going down by 28.4 percent. Their also has been an expansion in online publishing, with an increase of 24.3 percent and a 24.6 percent increase in the internet industry. Not only do these rising platforms replace daily newspapers but also have caused a revised media. Traditional media has been somewhat adaptable, some taking the initiative to include new forms of media amongst their organisation, while some increased their influence as crucial channels to relevant wider audiences and mostly maintaining positions of complex journalism whether local or national news.

In conclusion, the media’s democratic functions does not look like it once did. To assess how successfully the American media is fulfilling its democratic function today, one must define what the democratic function is. Furthermore, it is important to look at how has the media has fulfilled its democratic functions in the past and if the same is still true today. Moreover, the Watergate scandal proved the media fulfilled its democratic functions in getting justice and making sure there was an investigation into the Watergate scandal and that it was taken seriously by the highest government order. In addressing whether the American media is fulfilling its democratic functions today, one must look at Trump and the media and more specifically, the 2016 election and the role the media had in that. Azari and Allcott both agree that the media may have had a part to play in Trump gaining his nomination and eventual presidency and the significance of this. Additionally Allcott assesses the role fake news and the media had on the 2016 presidential election. Finally, assessing how the media does not fulfill its democratic functions and how the role of the media has changed. The impact fox news had on the media and perhaps hindering its democratic function. Overall,

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The Watergate Scandal: Success of the American Media in Fulfilling Its Democratic Functions Today. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 20, 2024, from
“The Watergate Scandal: Success of the American Media in Fulfilling Its Democratic Functions Today.” Edubirdie, 12 Aug. 2022,
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