GOVT 412 Politics and the Media

An introduction to the role and impact of the media in American politics.

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Course Overview

Like it or not, the media sits at the heart of democratic politics. Ancient political philosophers and America’s Founders alike believed that a free press was essential for a healthy public debate and effective policy. Today, however, it is clear that faith in the press is in decline even as the marketplace of ideas comes under attack from every direction. Many are deeply suspicious of the media’s ability to faithfully convey truth, and worry about its outsized influence on society.

With this tension between theory and practice as a backdrop, the broad objective of this course is to understand the modern critiques of the media and to assess how well journalism lives up to its idealized role, especially during the 2020 presidential election. This course will cover many of the most contentious issues of recent years: the tension between education and infotainment, partisan news, “fake” content and “alternate facts,” and the media as a tool of disinformation and manipulation.


reporter, camera, journalist
social, media, board

After this course you will be able to


How political news and information are produced and disseminated


The major debates about the impact of the media on the quality of the American political system


How news and information affect public opinion and political behavior


Content analysis for political communication research

Download syllabus

laptop, computer, browser

Course Information

Course Materials

All of the required readings, videos, etc., are available on the course Blackboard site, which should show up as “Politics and Media” on your Courses list in Blackboard.


·      Attendance and Participation 10%

·      Hot takes discussion posts 10%

·      Campaign 2020 Project 40%

·      Midterm 20%

·      Final Exam 20%

I use the following non-curved grading system:


98-100   A+

87-89:   B+

77-79:   C+

67-69:   D+

<60:   F

94-97     A

84-86:   B

74-76:   C

64-66:   D


90-93     A-

80-83:   B-

70-73:   C-

60-63:   D-


Note: There are no opportunities for earning extra credit in this course. If you know you have to miss an exam you must notify me at least two days prior to the exam. Make up exams will happen at my discretion and are granted only in extraordinary circumstances, such as a verified illness or family emergency (be prepared to provide documentation).


Attendance and Participation

This will be a pretty small class, which is great because it will let me get to know everyone by name and give everyone a chance to contribute a lot to our discussions.


Online Discussion (“Hot Takes”)

This is Washington, D.C., folks; everyone needs to be ready with a hot take! Roughly each week I will post a provocation on the discussion board – usually in the form of a link to something and a related question – and you will post a sizzling response.


Campaign 2020 Project

The project folder on Blackboard will have the details, but in short, we will be collaborating on a research project in which each student will be responsible for tracking campaign news and candidate actions throughout the term and then writing a final report.


Midterm and Final Exam

Exams will feature essay questions based on both the readings and the lectures.

Format and Protocol

We will start each session with a quick round up of relevant news and events. I expect students to monitor at least one news media site throughout the term for politics and media related issues so that we can discuss and dissect them in class as part of our broader exploration of the course concepts.


We will also have weekly hot takes discussions. Hot takes will require students to engage some news or other content before class and then respond with their “hot take” on the discussion board. We will then discuss your hot takes in class. These discussions will be great preparation for blogging, bloviating, and generally annoying people you know. It’s great preparation for a career in the D.C. area.


After we get warmed up I will typically provide some sort of lecture. I will ask lots of questions and I will expect lots of discussion. Students should feel free to ask questions or make a comment at any point if anything is unclear or they are suddenly moved by an important insight or question.


Course Schedule


Section I: Frameworks and Debates


Jan 22 Welcome and Course Overview

  • No readings yet!

Jan 27 The Marketplace of Ideas


  • Ingber, “The Marketplace of Ideas,” pp. 1-15 (15)
  • Mill, On Liberty, Ch. 2 (20)
  • Class Project > Website Assignment Handed Out


Jan 29 The Marketplace of Values



Feb 3 The Market Under Fire


  • Rand Corporation, Truth Decay, pp. ix-xx and Chapter 2 (40)
  • Class Project > Website Assignment Due by Class Today

Section II: Making News, Information Flow, & Information Quality in the MOI


Feb 5 Class Project Introduction: Monitoring 2020 Election Coverage


Feb 10 Making News: The Struggle for Control


  • Bennett et al, Chapter 2, from When the Press Fails (35)


Feb 12 Making News: How Political Actors Make News

  • Bennett, Ch. 4, News: The Politics of Illusion, (37)
  • Class Project > Twitter Assignment Handed Out


Feb 17 News Flow 1: Algorithms, Bots, and Social Media (Guest lecturer)


  • Allcott and Gentzkow, “Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election (23)
  • Howard and Kollanyi, “Bots and Brexit,” (6)
  • Pariser, “Beware Online Filter Bubbles,” TED Talk (9 minutes)


Feb 19 News Flow 2: Spreading the (Mostly Bad) News (Guest lecturer)


  • Howard, et al, “What Were Michigan Voters Sharing Over Twitter?” (6)
  • Conover et al, “Political Polarization on Twitter,” (8)
  • Sunstein, “On Rumors” (10)


Feb 24 Neutral Gatekeepers? Objectivity and Bias in the News



Section III: The Marketplace’s Impact on the Public


Feb 26 News Consumption and Learning from the News



Mar 2 The Public: Motivated, But Not by the Search for Truth

  • Iyengar and Hahn, “Red Media, Blue Media,” (24)
  • Iyengar and Westwood, “Fear and Loathing Across Party Lines,” (18)
  • Class Project > Campaign Ad Assignment Handed Out


Mar 4 How News Influences Public Opinion


  • Zaller, Chs. 2-3 from The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion (45)


Mar 9 and 11 Spring Break 

Mar 16 Agenda Setting & Priming: How the News Tells Us What to Think About


  • Iyengar and Kinder, Chs. 1, 3, 7 from News That Matters (30)


Mar 18 The Power of Images: How the News Tells Us How to Feel


  • Strobel, “The CNN Effect,” (10)
  • Gadarian, “Scary Pictures: How Terrorism Imagery Affects Voter Evaluations,” (20)
  • Class Project > Campaign Ad Assignment Due By Class
  • Class Project > Final Paper Assignment Handed Out



Mar 25 Framing: How the News Tells Us How to Think (Guest lecturer)

  • Entman, “Framing U.S. Coverage of International News…” (22)
  • Lakoff, “Why It Matters How We Frame the Environment,” (13)


Mar 30 You Can’t Tell Me That: Messages and Their Messengers (Guest lecturer)


  • Kuklinski and Hurley, “On Hearing and Interpreting Political Messages” (25)
  • Vallone, Ross, and Lepper, “The Hostile Media Phenomenon,” (9)


Section IV: The Mass Media Election

 Apr 1 Mass Media Election Basics


  • Patterson, Out of Order, pp. TBD
  • Class Project > Data Collection Assignment Due by Class


Apr 6 Campaign Strategy 101: How to Get Elected


  • Vote choice piece TBD
  • Iyengar, “Campaigns That Matter (32)


Apr 8 The “Boys on the Bus:” Covering the Campaigns


  • Harvard Kennedy School Case Study, “Al Gore and the Embellishment Issue” (27)
  • Note: you must purchase the Gore case for $3.95 here.


Apr 13 Crafting the Candidate’s Image: The Perfect President…


  • McGinniss, Chs. 1-2, “The Selling of the President,” (30)


Apr 15 Campaign Ads, Part 1



Apr 20 Campaign Ads, Part 2


  • Brader, “Striking a Responsive Chord: How Political Ads Motivate and Persuade Voters by Appealing to Emotions,” (18)


Apr 22 The Digital Campaign


Apr 27 Bear Market? The Influence of Foreign Voices on the Campaign


  • Mayer, “How Russia Helped Swing the Election for Trump,” (19)
  • Thrall and Armstrong, “Bear Market? Grizzly Steppe and the Marketplace of Ideas,” (25)


Apr 29 Class Project Results Discussion

  • No readings: finish your paper!
  • Class Project > Final Paper Due by Class


May 4 Wrapping Up: How Are We Doing?

  • Strömback, “In Search of a Standard: Four Models of Democracy and Their Normative Implications for Journalism,” (16)


May 6 FINAL EXAM 10:30 AM – 1:15 PM

Questions about the course?