Breath of Clarity

Mass Media Tone and Government Agenda

Whether a condition escalates into a problem is based on mass media’s ability to evoke public passion. Kingdon effectively shows the way a problem image collaborates with a political climate to impact policy-making.1 However, Baumgartner and Jones illustrate his theory is flawed because it underestimates the critical role media serves as the main modern actor who fuels public opinion and essentially determines agenda-setting.2 The theorists offer a framework to understand a lobbyist’s power and limitation in a Congressional member’s office. Agenda- setting is determined by the public tone the media frames under emotional basis, rather than other actors (business, military, lobbyists, academics, scientists) fact-based solution methods.

Yesterday morning, I met with Brandon Gould (Senator Cory Gardner’s Pikes Peak Regional Director) and prompted the team to cosponsor the Food for Peace Reform Act (S. 525). My experience supports Baumgartner and Jone’s theory that agenda-setting is influenced by public opinion and policy-making is determined by institutions and the government.2 Without a problem prioritized by public opinion, strong solutions supported by various supplemental actors’ won’t reach the legislative branch’s conversation.

While U.S. economic and national security self-interests achieved by foreign aid are in complete accordance with Gardner’s existent values, even the most mindful lobbyist cannot override public opinion’s impact on agenda-setting. Specifically, the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition is already in strong alliance with Gardner’s office. Fifty key corporate leaders (i.e. Coca-Cola, IBM, Google, Citi, Cargill, John Deere, Kraft, National Foreign Trade Council) signed onto a letter supporting urgency to bring the International Affairs Budget onto the agenda.3 While the document was stellar supplemental support for a solution to U.S. economic growth via combatting global poverty, it was concerned with increasing the international affairs budget as a solution rather than creating a global poverty or U.S. economic inequality problem image. It didn’t address the necessary prerequisite to initially get attention and consequentially the issue lacked urgency. Furthermore, Charles Jones and Harold Laswell claim “policy-making is the byproduct of a process that was linear and sequential”.4 The inability to acquire attention despite a strong solution supports the proposition that the policy-making process is linear. Baumgartner and Jones assert socioeconomic conditions must change drastically to prompt policy punctuation.4 The theoretically strong global poverty solution cannot fully manifest until its practicality is explored after it rises onto the agenda.

While the nonpartisan stance is crucial for a lobbyist to prove in order to gain respect in the policy-making stage, it can be irrelevant in the initial interest meeting. Lacking partisanship was essential to show both typically conservative corporate business and military leaders support a bill which strives to improve a liberal humanitarian aid concern. Kingdon highlights attaching a solution to a problem as a key factor which increases a proposal’s ability to reach the government’s agenda.1 However, while the values behind cosponsoring Food for Peace Reform Act is much clearer than gun control regulations, the latter concern is prioritized.

A focused-event’s presence is a more impactful factor in effective problem-image creation, compared to unwarranted problem proposals with alternative solutions. Gould expressed speaking with the National Defense Alliance is the chief priority, due to the focused- event which occurred recently in Orlando. Gould confirmed the emotional distress expressed by the public forces the Senate floor to concern themselves with the Orlando issue above all else. However, he assured that in a month or so, the Food for Peace Reform Act holds can potentially be brought into discussion. Stella Theodoulou’s theory concurs “the debate today is not on whether government should intervene but in what areas, in what form, and on whose behalf”.4 The need is not to implement heavy government regulated solutions, but rather to earn the authority’s respect for a given passionate attitude and acknowledge a problem’s worthiness.

The media played a critical role to establish the Orlando victims’ support network immediately following the event. The fact Kingdon wrote his theory before Baumgartner and Jones is evidently demonstrated by their contrasting views about media’s impact on public opinion. While Kingdon’s study indicates “mass media were discussed as being important in only 26 percent of the interviews,” it’s essential to note the study’s methodology.1 The study doesn’t account for interviewees desire to hold an independent uneasily-influenced self-image. The public may think their sources are objective and comprehensive, whereas that is not realistically the case. While it’s democratic Congressional members are attune to the public’s voice, the dramatic concern for a particular issue is due to the opportunity media seizes to create a tone and sell news rather than individual opinion. Baumgartner and Jones assert, “not only must reporters simplify often complex arguments of specialists so that the general reader or viewer may understand them, but they need ultimately to make things interesting enough to maintain sales and viewerships. For these and other reasons, the media reflect most forcefully the intense hopes and fears present in policy”.2 However, the hope and fear which drives agenda- setting is misleading as “media outlets base their stories on a limited number of sources and imitate each other”.2 The decision about which problem to identify as America’s national security root is emotionally based.

It is problematic that the public’s emotional waves determine the policy-agenda instead of the methodology other sources use to identify solutions. Agenda-setting is currently irrational. Political climate is impacted by our nation’s most passionate individuals, rather than the thoroughly educated. Tone is dependent on creative event story manipulation. The media determines the event’s detrimental effect on its people by the degree to which the focus event is featured and the language used to paint its scene. The substance which drives emotional response is carefully constructed by journalists who mastered rhetoric. Since the media depicts the problem-image with a heavy tone and simplified content, the solution is difficult to develop.

Consequentially, without consensus about the problem’s deep causes, it’s impossible to spark a viable solution. Contrary to the actual modern agenda-setting process, concerns with a clear-cut solution are those Congressional officials need to focus on. The parameters which qualify the educated must be modified to fit the modern era. Decisions will be less emotionally- driven if the solution is supported by other institutional actors who must present value-driven support to earn the government’s ear over other competitors. If the media continues not to encounter competition in creating public opinion, other actors can’t reach the agenda. The media’s dominance inhibits individuals’ capability to make decisions based on non-internet based networks and personal experience. Although the information age historically strengthened government’s relationship with the public, i.e. Franklin D. Roosevelt, it’s currently detrimental.

The media is a relevant issue in itself that the government urgently needs to acknowledge. The media currently holds more power than the government and is motivated by principles not grounded in our constitution. Even with a solution attached to large-scale global issues, senators must first respond to the public’s gun control concern because the media effectively unified the people under a dramatic problem-image.


1 Kingdon, John W. Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies. Boston: Little, Brown, 1984.

2 Baumgartner, Frank R., and Bryan D. Jones. Agendas and Instability in American Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

3 “Support a Strong and Effective International Affairs Budget.” U.S. Global Leadership Coalition to Congress Member. July 18, 2012. Accessed July 2, 2016.

4 Theodoulou, Stella Z., and Matthew Alan Cahn. Public Policy: The Essential Readings. 2nd ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1995.