Distraction from Important Issues in Mass Media
Table of Contents
The connection between politics and mass media is obvious. The latter is the instrument for the creating, shaping and conducting of the former. However, it often occurs that some highly interested social topics are substituted by less significant issues. Thus, social attention is distracted, and the problem is concealed (Besley, Burgess, & Pratt, 2002). This paper aims to analyze why trifles imposed by policy-makers become top-discussed while crucial issues stay suppressed. After having come to power, nobody is willing to lose it. Therefore, to maintain one’s reputation and not to be overturned, it is essential to control opinions of masses. The only thing that can reasonably explain the substitution of meaningful informing is that politicians cannot reveal their failures.
As a background of the research, the film Wag the Dog (Levinson & De Niro, 1997) and television series ‘House of Cards’ (Fincher, 2013) were considered. Both have high political content and political intent according to types of political films suggested by dimensions of content and intent (Christensen, Haas, & Haas, 2015).
The key words mentioned in the abstract above give an implicit notion of the key points of the paper. First of all, the political influence over the mass media during the electoral campaign is to be examined. The connections between politicians and ‘big businesses,’ as well as the profit of both sides are the second key point. The last but not the least is the issue of diversion from the day-to-day problems, which politicians are unwilling or unable to solve, to nonsenses, which are meaningless in comparison to suppressed news. Neglecting of urgent pretensions may result in undermining the authority of some high-ranking officials.
Pursuit to Be Elected
Politicians are afraid to lose popular support thus the opportunity to be (re-)elected. Behavior in this situation is stipulated by relentless pursuit to be powerful. Thus, all endeavors are directed to save authority by all means, and all threats, which may inhibit remaining in power, must be eliminated.
The whole plot of Wag the Dog spins around the efforts of the President’s team of advisors, PR-managers, and other stuff to hide and suppress scandalous affair with a young girl scout in the Oval Office. Tensions are strengthened by the fact that events take place a few weeks before Election Day. The ‘saving team’ decides that the best way to cover the indecent story is to play a fake war on the screen. The result is that the scandal is suppressed although the President is displayed in the mass media as the protector of the nation, which for certain raises the ratings before the elections. Therefore, in the end, the ‘war plan’ works and the President is re-elected (Levinson & De Niro, 1997).
The same story about saving and gaining popular support is depicted in the series of House of Cards. The main storyline of the season 3 of the show is about election race. The fight spikes not between the leading political parties – the Democratic and the Republican – but inside of them. The sitting President Francis Underwood, the United States Solicitor General Heather Dunbar, and the House Deputy Minority Whip Jacqueline Sharp are the major opponents inside the Democratic Party. Frank Underwood who appropriates money from FEMA to fund one of his projects is under attack of Dunbar who emphasizes the unlawfulness of such President’s decision and speaks out about other shady Underwood’s deeds. Thus, he is forced to undertake serious actions to remove Dunbar from the race and to suppress the dangerous leak, which could undermine the popular support (Fincher, 2013).
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Comparing the reasons that created a need for substitution and suppression of news, two of them can be singled out. The first necessity arose from the personal flaws that harm the public morality (Levinson & De Niro, 1997). It may be classified as suppression purely for personal gain. On the other hand, Underwood’s project was coined for people because his goal as a president is to do something significant and not to be just a placeholder. Notwithstanding the fact of unlawfulness, Frank Underwood’s actions may be justified because of his pure intentions, and may be classified as suppression for public benefit (Fincher, 2013).
In such a way, keeping in mind that politicians first and foremost are interested in saving or upgrading their posts, drawing of public’s attention away from some failures, improper conduct and deeds aim at holding high positions in different rankings, which show popular support, satisfaction with their work, among others. This method is used in situations when flaws are already highlighted and when it is undesirable to reveal them. However, it should be also noted that some suppression is done for public benefit. In the mentioned case, it is better not to reveal it because the end justifies the means; otherwise, there is no way of fulfillment of a kind intention.
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Accordingly, politicians are unwilling to show their failures because the popular opinion may feasibly result in voting not in their favor. In addition, if these politicians aim at doing something good, it will be a mistake of the society to remove them from governing. Thus, the officials choose suppression either for its personal sake or the public good. However, sometimes, politicians use the trick of revealing their mistakes as a confession to influence public opinion before decisive events.
Nevertheless, the control over mass media is not the answer because public figures should control themselves and behave in a proper way. According to Francis Underwood, ‘After all we are nothing more or less that we choose to reveal’ (Fincher, 2013).
A Mutually Beneficial Shield
Lobbying the ‘big business’ interests does not let the policy makers speak out against them. The pattern is extremely simple. The politicians receive money for their campaigns, projects, and other expenses. In return, businesses have protection from the government, which may be seen in trade policy, tax policy, labor policy, environmental policy and even foreign policy. Hence, if the politician does not want to be excluded from regular or perhaps on-demand financial support, he must follow the interests of the source of income. If the revelation of some information is disadvantageous for the last, whether the politician wants it or not, he must suppress the unwanted information to receive further financial and influential backing (Harstad & Svensson, 2011).
Wag the Dog does not concentrate on interests of ‘big businesses’ in governmental circles. However, it is understood that the stay of the President on his current post serves somebody’s interests. Otherwise, the strong efforts of producing a war with all related consequences would not be taken (Levinson & De Niro, 1997).
On the other hand, House of Cards brightly shows the involvement of business interests in politics from different perspectives. Lobbying is represented by Remy Danton who promotes the interests of SanCorps, a natural gas provider company, and provides substantial sums of money to various political campaigns under Frank Underwood’s lead. In return, SanCorp expects assistance in passing legislation that is of use to the company. Direct ‘politics – business’ ties are represented by Xander Feng – Raymond Tusk – Garrett Walker triangle where Tusk, a billionaire industrialist, uses friendly relations with Walker for his own profit, for example, the promotion of the bridge project. Being in opposition to Underwood, Tusk also redirects campaign donations from the Democrats to the Republicans to oppose Underwood during the 2014 midterm elections. The last fact shows direct involvement of business in politics, in particular, electoral race. In Chapter 28 of the season 3, there is a scene where Francis Underwood makes several calls to persuade potential contributors to give money as a donation to the campaign in 2016. This scene is also an example of ‘politics – business’ ties (Fincher, 2013).
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Despite the fact that in Wag the Dog, there is nothing said about money transfer or businesses’ support as in ‘House of Cards’, the described actions are steps in the same process, the objective of which is saving or gaining the influence by businesses through politicians. While asking for money is the bottom of the scale, in other words, the first step in the staircase to the fulfillment of the goal. The diversion of attention, suppression, concealment of something that may damage the businesses’ interests are further indications on the scale.
Hence, to retain power, politicians need some source of income and it should financially maintain their ideas. If this source is controlled by someone else, the politician has to yield to the demands of the sponsor and sometimes betray his or her own beliefs. Otherwise, the politician will not be able to fulfill the promises given to the constituents. Yet, the politician who is backed by businesses loses his independence in decisions. As a result, here is a vicious circle. If the politician ‘sells’ himself to businesses, he becomes dependent on them and in cases when the interests of constituents contradict to the interests of backers, the priority belongs to the last. When the politician does not ‘sell’ himself, he has no money to fulfill the promises. Therefore, in most cases, the politicians have no other way but to compromise with the backers.
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A ‘sold’ politician does not sound well to promote the raising of rankings and popular support. Thus, connections with businesses are concealed as well as actions for their profits.
Distraction because of Failure
Disability to solve one problem entails the urgent necessity to deal with something else. Otherwise, the society may inquire what elected officials are busy with. The most inquisitive observers may finally find out something not meant for them. Thus, the durable media fuss begins and the result is totally uncontrollable.
The uncontrolled newly emerged problem in Wag the Dog is fondling a twelve-year-old girl scout in the closet. As a method for suppressing the obscene news, the specialists use the series of distractive pieces of news. The message ‘the President has stomach flu’ calls for sympathy and pity. Though there is no such a bomber, B-2 Bomber aims to underline that the country deals with serious issues if the military power is used and the safety of society is the priority of the government. After all, an external enemy is far more important than anything else, and it should unite the nation that may be split into supporters and opponents of the President (Levinson & De Niro, 1997).
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In season 3, Frank Underwood is trying to push for a jobs program called “America Works” to gain backing before the election in 2016. When the ‘AmWorks’ fails and many people are left jobless, President Underwood changes the direction of its politics and mass media headings from domestic to international issue. The situation in Jordan Valley escalates, and the Middle East crisis is in the spotlight. Hence, the problem of unemployment is substituted by clashes with the Russians (Fincher, 2013).
It might be concluded from the both plots summarized above that the best way to make people think not about domestic problems or scandals is to draw their attention to something from beyond. Such policy in international relations is called diversionary foreign policy, and when it comes to war, it is a diversionary war (Haynes, 2015). First of all, it distracts, which is the fulfillment of the principal goal. Second, it unites the nation around the problem and that one who deals with it, which is also a fact that may be used to gather people around its leader. However, all of these advantages depend on success in the diversionary foreign policy. Reverse in these international actions can backfire against the leader’s initial plan and lead to incites against him.
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In the discussed above film and show, a similar thing can be distinguished – tricks with foreign policy prevail for suppression of failed domestic objectives. However, there is also a difference, which is more connected with the methodology of choosing what is going to be discussed instead of the real problem. It can be something either fabricated and invented as in Wag the Dog (Levinson & De Niro, 1997) or real but artificial or far-fetched problem as in House of Cards because tensions with the Russians were provoked (Fincher, 2013).
If the politician and his team do not manage to withdraw attention in time, the consequences can be unpredictable until the very end of the political career. The subject, to which the public’s attention is attracted afterward, is also the issue for discussion because it can be regarded as the tool for raising politician’s popularity. The effectiveness and efficiency of such raising depend on the value of the subject. The most valuable subject usually concentrates on a ‘treat from beyond.’ As it can be seen, the plots of the discussed film and show contain it. For Wag the Dog, such ‘treat’ is Albania (Levinson & De Niro, 1997), and for House of Cards – eternal geopolitical rivalry of the USA – Russia (Fincher, 2013).
The mentioned above facts imply that original problems pose a threat to the officials, and they try to avoid it by suppression trough coining something else or highlighting their activity in the field where they are successful.
It is understood that politicians cannot reveal their failures because they are not interested in showing the mistakes to the society. First of all, they are afraid to lose the elections and to be removed; thus, they do everything to maintain popular support. Second, the necessity of satisfying the interests of both businesses and constituents makes the politicians adjust to both sides will; however, such adjustment is not favored by the electorate and thus needs to be kept in secret or at least not be talked about. Finally, the method of suppression draws attention away by coining something more interesting or presenting other problem as more urgent; plus, the newly emerged problem must be solved.
The reason for concealment of information is understood from above. An important issue for the further studies is the justification for the suppression of information because sometimes, it is rather good than bad. In situations when, for example, state interests come to the fore, the hiding and revealing of something may be pivotal to the national security and lives of thousands. The other example of hiding is the protection of personal life because sometimes, curious journalists who look for sensations intervene into politicians’ personal lives. There is no doubt that being a public person implies facing some inconveniences, but interference with the private life should be punished and privacy should be protected. Nevertheless, there are no excuses for suppression and lying for the own profit, which leads to a blind alley for ordinary people.