Date of Award

5-2010

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Communication

Advisor

Paul Grosswiler

Second Committee Member

Nathan Stormer

Third Committee Member

Michael Socolow

Abstract

This thesis argues that objectivity and the news paradigm that accompanies it implicitly undermines the public interest responsibilities of the press. Reliance on official news sources privileges those within the establishment viewed as more accessible and informed. Ideally, the media should act as a subversive counterweight to those in power, holding public officials accountable and providing a public platform for disenfranchised viewpoints. The journalistic paradigm helps perpetuate the status quo by providing an opportunity for those in power to mold the public debate. This thesis examines objectivity through a case study of coverage of President George W. Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech on May 1, 2003, in five major daily newspapers over a two week time span. The major questions being examined were whether official sources were quoted significantly more than unofficial sources and what were the most common news frames used in news coverage. The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and Atlanta Journal-Constitution from April 24, 2003 to May 8, 2003 were examined for news stories pertaining to the speech. The data set was analyzed qualitatively through a framing analysis and quantitatively through use of a chi-square and frequencies. The chi-square found that reporters had a statistically significant preference for official sources. The framing analysis revealed four common news frames: The U.S. as reluctant savior, The Middle East as dangerous, the trappings of the speech, and the speech juxtaposed with domestic issues. There are several conclusions that may be drawn from these results. Objectivity privileges sources from the very entities the press is meant to provide checks and balances on, crowding out minority and antagonistic viewpoints in the process. It shows the ability of those in positions of power to frame the public debate through unfettered access and status. One discovers that often the media does not critique the status quo unless it takes its cue from the establishment. In this case, official sources were almost always critical of ancillary elements rather than the substance of the speech. Passive establishment based sources coupled with an aversion to unofficial sources contributes to a media that helps to narrow the public discussion. The significance of this thesis stems from its effort to examine an old problem from a new angle. Scholars have been arguing about the existence of objectivity for decades, and debating the corresponding biases that accompany it. This case study argues that the infrastructure of the journalistic profession is flawed creating an elitist paradigm by the nature of its professional rituals that largely ignores the larger public interest. In order to create a more open and inclusive media system the public must increase its media literacy and support alternative media sources. Journalists must work to better convey the complex and long-ranging elements of the news, better understand the Other, and provide a platform for views outside the mainstream.

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