POLS 306: The Mass Media and Politics


Dr. Rebecca J. Hannagan

406 Zulauf Hall – 753-9675


Office Hours:


Course Objective: 

In this class we will broadly examine media-based politics in the United States both among citizens and between political elites and the public.  We will pay special attention to the presence (or absence) of gender and race and consider the implications for American democracy.


Media-based Politics for Citizens:  In the year 2008 it seems like you are nobody if you are not on television or have a web presence (i.e. consider the current fascination with reality t.v., online social networks such as MySpace and Facebook, and the explosion of YouTube).  Image and images are everything.  In this class we will talk about the political implications of an image-based media environment.  Instant and continuous connectivity are an important feature of internet-based forms of media as well, and this also has political implications.  Once considered a promising new frontier, we will examine whether e-democracy is living up to democratic ideals.


Media-based Politics for Leaders:  No longer confined to elections and campaigns, media appeals have become standard fare in the day-to-day conduct of government.  Such appeals are used by private interests as well as by official decision makers to further partisan and self-serving objectives.  Most politicians have a web presence and regularly appear on popular talk shows to “spin” issues in an attempt to appeal to the public.  In short, the use and misuse of media by political elites for political purposes has transformed the practice of leadership and governance and raises questions about democratic process and policy outcomes. 


Course Materials:  


  • “Media Politics: A Citizen’s Guide” by Shanto Iyengar and Jennifer A. McGrady
  • Articles posted on Blackboard


You are expected to have your reading done each day before you come to class.  It is important that you come to class prepared to discuss the material. 


Calculation of Grades: 

Your grade in this course will consist of your performance on three exams, a blog you will create and maintain, and a research paper.  The following is a breakdown of how the grades will be weighted:


Exam 1                        20%                 Blog                            20%                

Exam 2                        20%                 Research Paper            20%

Exam 3                        20%                                                                                                    



I will adhere to the following grading scale:

100-97% = A+

89-87% = B+

79-77% = C+

69-67% = D+

59% < = F

96-93% = A

86-83% = B

76-73% = C

66-63% = D


92-90% = A-

82-80% = B-

72-70% = C-

62-60% = D-



General Information: 

Blackboard is your friend.  Check it often for announcements.  I reserve the right to modify the schedule in the interest of time or due to the difficulty of the material.  If I decide to modify the schedule I will notify the class immediately upon my decision and post an announcement on Blackboard.  If changes are made and you are not aware of them because you do not regularly attend class or choose to sleep during class there will be no exceptions made to accommodate you.  It is in your best interest to attend every class and pay attention to the material being covered.


No cell phone use during class (including text messaging).  Please turn your cell phones off (and not just on vibrate).  No laptop or pda use during class.  Do not text message, read the newspaper or sleep during class.  Do not come late or leave early.  These are inappropriate behaviors for a university class and are disruptive to your peers.  Be respectful of those who are interested in being active participants in their education. 


This syllabus is a contract between me (the professor) and you (the student).  The syllabus will be available on Blackboard throughout the semester for your reference.  If you have any questions about the policies set forth in the syllabus, I highly recommend that you talk to me during the first week of classes.  It is at that time that any significant changes can be made.  After that, if you choose to remain in the class I assume that you agree to the policies and procedures I have set forth in the syllabus. 


Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, NIU is committed to making reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities.  Those students with disabilities that may have some impact on their coursework and for which they may require accommodations should notify the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR) on the fourth floor of the Health Services Building.  CAAR will assist students in making appropriate accommodations with course instructors.  It is important that CAAR and instructors be informed of any disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester.


For important information on the Department of Political Science, please visit: http://polisci.niu.edu/


Academic Dishonesty:  

The maintenance of academic honesty and integrity is of vital concern to the Department of Political Science and the University community. Any student found guilty of academic dishonesty shall be subject to both academic and disciplinary sanctions.  If I find that you have plagiarized your academic work, you will receive an F on the assignment – no exceptions.  If you are caught cheating, falsifying, or otherwise misrepresenting your work twice you will fail the class.  In addition, if I suspect academic dishonesty your name will be turned over to the Chair of the Political Science Department who will make a determination as to further disciplinary action which may include academic probation or expulsion.


Academic dishonesty includes, but is not limited to, the following: cheating, fabrication and falsification, plagiarism, and misrepresentation to avoid academic work. 



Tentative Schedule:


August 26:  Introduction and course overview


August 28:  No Class (I will be attending the American Political Science Association Conference)


I.          Democratic Foundations, the Rise of New Media, and the Behavior of the Press


September 2:  The Press and Democratic Process

  • Read Iyengar and McGrady pp. 17-44


September 4:  The Media Marketplace

  • Read Iyengar and McGrady pp. 48-81


September 9:  The Media Marketplace

  • Read Iyengar and McGrady pp. 48-81


September 11:  The Rise of New Media

  • Read Iyengar and McGrady pp. 105-124


September 16:  The Rise of New Media

  • Read Iyengar and McGrady pp. 105-124


September 18:  The Rise of New Media

  • Read Iyengar and McGrady pp. 105-124


September 23:  Reporters, Official Sources, and the Decline of Adversarial Journalism

  • Read Iyengar and McGrady pp. 85-102


September 25:  Film – “Good Night and Good Luck”


September 30:  The Decline of Adversarial Journalism

  • Baum, Matthew A. 2002.  “Sex, Lies, and War:  How Soft News Brings Foreign Policy to the Inattentive Public.”  American Political Science Review  96: 91-109.  (pdf on Blackboard)


October 2:  Exam 1


II.        Shaping the News:  Candidates, Advocacy Groups, and Elected Officials


October 7:  Campaigning Through the Media

  • Read Iyengar and McGrady pp. 127-163


October 9:  Campaigning Through the Media

  • Read Iyengar and McGrady pp. 127-163


October 14:  Campaigning Through the Media

  • Read Iyengar and McGrady pp. 127-163


October 16:  Going Public

  • Read Iyengar and McGrady pp. 167-193


October 21:  Going Public

  • Read Iyengar and McGrady pp. 167-193


October 23:  Exam 2


III.       Media Effects


October 28:  Television Effects

  • Mutz, Diana.  2007.  “Effects of “In-Your-Face” Television Discourse on Perceptions of a Legitimate Opposition.”  American Political Science Review 101: 621-636.  (pdf on Blackboard)


October 30:  Television Effects

  • Fowler, James.  2008.  “The Colbert Bump in Campaign Donations:  More Truthful than Truthy.”  PS Online.  (pdf on Blackboard)


November 4:  Newspaper Effects

  • Barrett, Andrew and Lowell Barrington.  2005.  “Bias in Newspaper Photograph Selection.”  Political Research Quarterly, 59: 609-618.  (pdf on Blackboard)


November 6:  Gender and Media:  Television, Film and Advertising


November 11:  Gender and Media:  Campaigns


November 13:  Film – “Mad as Hell”


November 18:  Race, Gender and Framing in Elections

  • McDermott, Monika.  “Race and Gender Cues in Low-Information Elections.”  Political Research Quarterly, 51: 895-918.  (pdf on Blackboard)


November 20:  Race and Media:  Television, Film and Advertising


November 25:  Race and Media:  Campaigns


November 27:  No Class (Thanksgiving Holiday)


December 2:  News and Public Opinion

  • Read Iyengar and McGrady pp. 197-227


December 4:  Campaigns that Matter

  • Read Iyengar and McGrady pp. 237-266
  • Research Paper Due


December 9:  Campaigns that Matter

  • Read Iyengar and McGrady pp. 237-266


December 11:  Exam 3