Democracy without Citizens

Democracy without Citizens : Media and the Decay of American Politics

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"The free press cannot be free," Robert Entman asserts. "Inevitably, it is dependent." In this penetrating critique of American journalism and the political process, Entman identifies a "vicious circle of interdependence" as the key dilemma facing reporters and editors. To become sophisticated citizens, he argues, Americans need high-quality, independent political journalism; yet, to stay in business while producing such journalism, news organizations would need an audience of sophisticated citizens. As Entman shows, there is no easy way out of this dilemma, which has encouraged the decay of democratic citizenship as well as the media's continuing failure to live up to their own highest ideals. Addressing widespread despair over the degeneration of presidential campaigns, Entman argues that the media system virtually compels politicians to practice demagoguery.
Entman confronts a provocative array of issues: how the media's reliance on elite groups and individuals for information inevitably slants the news, despite adherence to objectivity standards; why the media hold government accountable for its worst errors--such as scandals and foreign misadventures--only after it's too late to prevent them; how the interdependence of the media and their audience molds public opinion in ways neither group alone can control; why greater media competition does not necessarily mean better journalism; why the abolition of the FCC's Fairness Doctrine could make things worse. Entman sheds fascinating light on important news events of the past decade. He compares, for example, coverage of the failed hostage rescue in 1980, which subjected President Carter to a barrage of criticism, with coverage of the 1983 bombing that killed 241 Marines in Lebanon, an incident in which President Reagan largely escaped blame. He shows how various factors unrelated to the reality of the events themselves--the apparent popularity of Reagan and unpopularity of Carter, differences in the way the Presidents publicly framed the incidents, the potent symbols skillfully manipulated by Reagan's but not by Carter's news managers--produced two very different kinds of reportage.
Entman concludes with some thoughtful suggestions for improvement. Chiefly, he proposes the creation of subsidized, party-based news outlets as a way of promoting new modes of news gathering and analysis, of spurring the established media to more innovative coverage, and of increasing political awareness and participation. Such suggestions, along with the author's probing media criticisms, make this book essential reading for anyone concerned about the state of democracy in America.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 244 pages
  • 134.9 x 201.4 x 12.7mm | 258.78g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • tables throughout
  • 019506576X
  • 9780195065763
  • 1,727,979

Review quote

Entman contributes some original criticism to the old debate, constructing arguments that will be more difficult to dismiss, for they avoid scapegoating politicians, media managers as greedy, or readers and viewers as apathetic... Democracy Without Citizens is, on the whole, an unusual departure from an often partisan and predictable body of literature. * Philadelphia Inquirer * Entman's study shows how media-fed demagogy robs citizens of essential information. It also provides a guide through - and possibly out of - the contemporary dilemma of American democracy. * George Gerbner, Dean Annenburg School of Communications, University of Penn. * An important contribution to our understanding of both the role and limitations of the press in advancing the democratic agenda. * Marvin Kalb, Harvard University *
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Back cover copy

In this penetrating analysis, Robert Entman identifies a 'vicious circle of interdependence' as the key dilemma facing American journalism. He argues that the mass media cannot provide consistently high-quality, independent political journalism, because selling such a product--which might create a sophisticated citizenry--requires an audience that is already sophisticated. Entman offers provocative observations on the real biases of the media, presidents' management of news 'spin, ' and much more.
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