POLS 306:  The Mass Media and Politics

Online for distance education


Dr. Rebecca J. Hannagan



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 racial diversity in media-based politics 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 examine the political implications of an image-based media environment.  Instant and continuous connectivity are important features of internet-based forms of media as well.  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. 


Note:  This course is designed for online delivery.  Everything you need to complete the course, beyond the books to be obtained from the University Bookstore, will be posted on Blackboard.  Your ability to use web-based technology is required for this class (i.e. use search engines such as Google to find information, visit websites, and download video clips, etc.).  I highly recommend that you have access to high-speed internet.  Dial-up internet access may prove incredibly frustrating for accessing course material. 


Course Materials: 

“Media Politics: A Citizen’s Guide” with DVD by Shanto Iyengar and Jennifer A. McGrady

“Featuring Females: Feminist Analyses of Media” by Ellen Cole and Jessica Henderson Daniel

The books are available from the University Bookstore.


I will also post a series of Power Point slides for each section and links to videos that you will have to view in tandem with each set of readings and Power Point slides.  The Iyengar and McGrady book comes with a DVD that you will also need for viewing videos.  All power points and video links will be listed in order under “Course Documents on Blackboard.


Calculation of Grades: 

Your grade in this course will consist of your performance on three exams (one following each section), and class “participation” via the Blackboard discussion board.  You will be asked to answer a question following each substantive section of readings, etc.  You will need to provide your own response as well as respond to 3 of 4 of your classmates responses to each discussion.

The following is a breakdown of how the grades will be weighted:


Exam 1                        25%                                        

Exam 2                        25%                 Participation    25%

Exam 3                        25%                                                                                                    


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: 

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 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/



Schedule of Readings and Assignments:


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


The Press and Democratic Process

  • Read Iyengar and McGrady pp. 17-44
  • Power Point 1


Discussion Board:  Does the news actually educate the public?  Cite examples for your responses.


The Rise of New Media

  • Read Iyengar and McGrady pp. 105-124
  • Power Point 2
  • View Jon Stewart on Crossfire
  • Power Point 5


Discussion Board:  Can political satire be political news?  Explain your response.


The Media Marketplace

  • Read Iyengar and McGrady pp. 48-81
  • Power Point 3
  • View Reporter refusing to cover Paris Hilton
  • View video 3.1
  • View video 3.2
  • View Howard Dean’s scream
  • View John Edwards “I feel pretty”


Discussion Board:  In light of the theoretical democratic role of the press, and free-market principles, should media outlets be free to entertain the public? 


Alternative Media – Political Music

  • Power Point 4
  • Listen to MP3s of music


Discussion Board:  Is music a form of political speech or is it just entertainment?  Explain your response.


Reporters, Official Sources, and the Decline of Adversarial Journalism

  • Read Iyengar and McGrady pp. 85-102
  • Power Point 6
  • View Video 4.1
  • View Video 4.2


Discussion Board:  Should news networks even worry about providing detailed political news since the really interested people find it elsewhere anyway?


Take Exam 1


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


Campaigning Through the Media

  • Read Iyengar and McGrady pp. 127-163
  • Power Point 7
  • View Video 6.2
  • View Video 6.3
  • View Video 6.4
  • View Video 6.5
  • View Video 6.6
  • View Video 6.7


Discussion Board:  Based on your mini-content analysis, how were the candidates “framed”?


Going Public

  • Read Iyengar and McGrady pp. 167-193
  • Power Point 8
  • View Video 6.11
  • View Video 6.12
  • View Video 6.13
  • View SNL debate
  • View Kennedy-Nixon debate
  • View YouTube-CNN debate
  • View Video 6.14
  • Power Point 9
  • View Video 7.1
  • View Video 7.2
  • View Video 7.3


Discussion Board:  Is media relations and public popularity getting in the way of governing?  Cite examples in your response.


Take Exam 2


III.       Media Effects


Gender and Media: Television and Film

  • Read Cole and Daniel pp. 59-83 and 199-208 and 131-139 and 169-182
  • Power Point 10
  • Optional:  If you have not already seen them, rent “Anchorman” and “Zoolander” for terrific examples of satire with gender role messages.  Yes, these movies are stupidly funny, but they can actually teach us something!


Discussion Board:  Although there are many reasons (historical, personal choices, etc.), do you think there is any relationship between the relatively few women serving in high-level political office in the U.S. and the depiction of women in the media?  Explain your answer.


Gender and Media:  Advertising

  • Read Cole and Daniel pp. 85-97 and 185-197
  • View Dove ad


Discussion Board:  Using the analysis discussed in your book, give an example of a recent ad you have seen and the gender or racial “narrative” in the ad.



  • Power Point 11


Take Exam 3