Check your References — the Press and Politics

As part of Election 101, we are posting exclusive content from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History on subjects related to Election 2012.

Charles L. Ponce De Leon looks at the surprising history of the press and politics in this lengthy article noting that earlier news outlets avoided domestic politics so as not to offend their patrons. When and how did things changed? How have we arrived at the wary antipathy between politics and press we have today? Here’s a short excerpt:

The press has played a major role in American politics from the founding of the republic. Once subordinate to politicians and the major parties, it has become increasingly independent, compelling politicians and elected officials to develop new strategies to ensure favorable publicity and public support.

Newspapers in the colonial era were few in number and very different from what they would later become. Operated by individual entrepreneurs who produced a variety of printed materials, newspapers included little political news. Instead, their few columns were devoted to foreign news and innocuous correspondence that would not offend colonial officials or the wealthy patrons on whom printers relied for much of their business.

This began to change during the Revolutionary era, when printers were drawn into the escalating conflict with Great Britain.

Fast forward to the 21st century:

But it is an open question whether the welter of often fiercely partisan and ideologically driven sources of political news in America serves— or will ever serve— the larger cause of public enlightenment. Can a mode of discourse that is designed at least in part to entertain, in a popular culture marketplace that is fragmented into increasingly specialized niche markets, ever contribute to inclusive, constructive debate? Or will it reach its logical conclusion and become another species of show biz?


Read the complete article here:


The preceding is an excerpt from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History, edited by Michael Kazin, Rebecca Edwards, and Adam Rothman. To learn more about this book, please visit Copyright © 2011 by Princeton University Press. No part of this text may be distributed, posted, or reproduced in any form by digital or mechanical means without prior written permission of the publisher.