The Mueller Report: An Election Exercise

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In this paper I will review the polar news coverage of the “Mueller report” from two established outlets. In critiquing these texts, I will represent how as Herman and Chomsky (1994, p. xii) state: “most biased choices in the media arise from the pre-selection of right-thinking people, internalized preconceptions and the adaptation of personnel to the constraints of ownership”. To that end I will comment on media effects of ownership, the media as a political actor and how articles can set agendas beyond their primary content.

First, I will note the broadcast segment provided by the Fox News Channel (2019) titled: The Reckoning of the Liberal Media, delivered by reporter Laura Ingraham. Second, I will assess the article provided by The Guardian (2019) titled: Donald Trump rails against ‘greatest hoax’ at first rally since Mueller report, written by Tom Perkins. Finally, I will comment on how both texts refer towards the future election in 2020.

In critically assessing any text, particularly from the Fox News Network, it is salient to note the ownership, in this case Rupert Murdoch. As covered by Street (2011, p. 167-175) Rupert Murdoch is renowned as one of the last media moguls’ and distinctly of a right-wing political mindset. Street goes on to provide that throughout the duration of his involvement and ownership of the media, Murdoch was credited (accurately or not is another matter) with the rise and fall of politicians and being involved in political decisions. Murdoch’s affiliation with this text inherently represents the institutional preference created by Murdoch of supporting right-wing candidates. Institutional values of media outlets are noted as a leading tool in the formation of content or, as Asp (2014 p. 259) says: “provide an overall structure that shapes the behaviour of both the news organizations and individual news journalists”. Historically, Murdoch-owned media outlets have shown an unprecedented uniformity of content across outlets (Street, 2011) and at the time of writing, the Fox News Channel’s affiliation, through other outlets (Fox & Friends) and the representation of Donald Trump is clearly supportive of the President. Shown through the text is not only the static support of the present but extended to represent the political stance that Donald Trump should be re-elected in 2020. In a present notion of support, the broadcast takes advantage of the Mueller Report to indicate a full exoneration of all allegations towards Russian collusion. The entirety of the script is not only a perception on what the Mueller Report supplied but an opportunity for Fox News to “name and shame”, as Laura Ingraham put it, other political opponents. Each democratic political member mentioned was treated to a personalized and defamatory nickname and given the opportunity for Ingraham to visually react in exaggerated incredulity at their comments. So too as the text goes on does the language turn to the future of “starting again” and ongoing victories, representing a priming towards the audience that Trump should be elected, if not explicitly but indirectly.

To contrast the dynamism of Fox’s broadcast report, delivered by the theatrical Laura Ingraham, The Guardian enacts its own performance of facts. Despite offering a more grounded account of the Mueller Report and the implications it represents for Donald Trump, the language use to describe the President are indicative of alternative political support. The Guardian, unlike Fox News is not owned by a singular media mogul but rather owned by the Scott Trust which labels itself as “part of a unique ownership structure for the Guardian that ensure editorial interests remain free of commercial pressures” (The Guardian, 2019).The Guardian is proudly positioned on the political left, with historic affirmations available to all through their website and particularly their “History of The Guardian” page which proudly reminds of contributions towards undermining “the sleazy conservatives” (The Guardian, 2019). The priming and political support is far more subtle in this written article but no less present. The text provides an illustration of an aggressive and opposed individual with the initial sentence stating: “Donald Trump continued his assault on the media and Democrats”. This language has already primed the reader of the tone of the article. So too does the language turn to the future election; “Trump may face a struggle to win the state” and “a strong majority of Michigan voters – including independents – don’t plan to vote for Trump in 2020”. These comments and others permeate the text with disapproval and are indicative of The Guardian’s view on Trump.

In both texts the outlets have provided a perception of the Mueller Report and the impact of such on the current President. However, these words of exoneration or condemnation all lead towards future tidings of the 2020 election. A frequently used, but eternally relevant quote about the media is that it: “may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about” (Cohen 1963, p. 13). Through the current topic of the Mueller Report both outlets are reflecting the institutional political preference beyond the present to allude to what the outlet reinforces for presidential candidacy in 2020. This represents self-beneficial agenda setting as: with Fox, if re-elected, they can continue their mutually beneficial relationship of prestige and coverage with Donald Trump. The Guardian can ideally start representing a Democrat that would (in general political terms) reflect their own political agenda and as Shaw and Weaver (2006) reported, there is correlation between positive candidate representation and polling benefits.

This paper has only been a brief opportunity to reflect how two established media outlets can perform as political actors. Of note it should be addressed that these texts are only a single snapshot of their information network. In recognizing the entirety of their media output, the effect of subtle, or not so subtle in Fox News’ case, political priming and commentary be seen and reinforced to the consumer. Perhaps the most important result of this analysis is that the content is never simple, it is reflective of the political context of the story, the institutional and hierarchal pressures with the method of distribution affecting the impact. Thus, more than ever in consuming media, a comprehension or media literacy should be present to enable empowerment of knowledge to the reader rather than indoctrination.

Word Count: 1053

Bibliography:

Asp, K 2014, ‘News media logic in a New Institutional perspective’, Journalism Studies, vol. 15, no. 3, pp. 256–270, viewed 10 April 2019, <https://search-ebscohost-com.ezp.lib.unimelb.edu.au/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ufh&AN=94987501&site=eds-live&scope=site>.

Cohen, B. ( 1963). The press and foreign policy. Princeton University Press ,Princeton, NJ.

Herman, E & Chomsky, N. 1994. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of  the Mass Media. Vintage, London.

Perkins, T 2019, Donald Trump rails against ‘greatest hoax’ at first rally since Mueller report The Guardian, viewed 9 April 2019,<https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/mar/29/donald-trump-michigan-rally-mueller-report>

Son, Y & Weaver, D 2006. Another look at what moves public opinion: Media agenda setting and polls in the 2000 US election, International Journal of Public Opinion Research, vol. 18, no. 2, pp. 174–197.

Street, J 2011, ‘Conglomerate control: Media moguls and media power’, in Mass media, politics and democracy, Palgrave Macmillan, England pp. 159–184.

The Guardian 2019, History of the Guardian, The Guardian, viewed 9 April 2019,<https://www.theguardian.com/gnm-archive/2002/jun/06/1>

The Guardian 2019, The Scott Trust: Values and History, The Guardian, viewed 9 April 2019,<https://www.theguardian.com/the-scott-trust/2015/jul/26/the-scott-trust>

The Reckoning of the Liberal Media 2019, video segment, Fox News Channel, Laura Ingraham. Viewed 9 April 2019 <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UqjLS9fPa7o>

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