October 9, 2008

Bloomberg & the Strength of the Media

by Brian Chang

It's been ages since the days when the news media worked as conveyors of balanced information, not the corporate profit maximizers they are today. As the news media began to emerge a powerful machine, they started wielding ever-growing influence throughout society, especially in the field of politics. Now, the news media generally work to best preserve their interests in government by relaying convincing, subjective information to the public and directly playing a hand in politics.

The regulation of information revealed to the public has worked wonders for the agendas of news media executives. News networks are powerful in the sense that they possess a wealth of information. With this wealth however, they limit some information while stressing other information. By doing so, these news networks possess the power to manipulate and misinform the public. The effects of this ability to sway the public have been observed from the large public support for an invasion of Iraq prior to the war. Many citizens seriously believed that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 terror attacks, while others were sure Saddam was a close ally of Osama Bin Laden.

The media's involvement in politics isn't new. According to Mediachannel.org, "media companies are among the highest donors to political campaigns" and "make up some of the most powerful lobbying interests in the capitol, leveraging their power as opinion-shapers." With strong influence and ties to the government, media corporations are directly able to shape policy views and push for laws and policies that favor the industry. Given the media industry's influence in politics, however, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's recent undertakings behind his search for a third term further questions whether the news media have become too strong.

Mayors in New York City by law are only allowed to serve two terms. Mayor Bloomberg, citing his skills in economic and business, desires a third term to take on the economic crisis in New York City. He has tried to persuade city council officials to allow for a temporary third term without the consent of the voting public. As unsettling as this sounds, this wasn't the most shocking news. According to The New York Times, to gain legitimacy and support for his third term, Bloomberg privately met with Rupert Murdoch (owner of The New York Post), Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of The New York Times, and Mortimer B. Zuckerman (owner of The New York Daily News). These three media moguls, alongside other business leaders, have recently shown their support for the mayor in his candidacy.

The image is startling. Wait, a politician, a mayor, going before news media executives to ask for support? Isn't it the media corporations that traditionally go before government to ask for favors and support? How powerful have the news media become that politicians must (ironically) keep media executives satisfied and content?

The news media have always been seen as the middleman between politics and the public. This no longer seems the case. With the media so embedded in the world of politics, how do we keep media and politics in their respective roles? This leads to the question, have the news media gone too far beyond their role?

(The photo of Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City is from 2007; the photo is by laurence.thurion of Paris, France via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

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