Monday, February 14, 2011

Agenda-setting and the Obama budget

We'll soon be discussing the agenda-setting functions of the media - how the stories the media cover and the ways in which they choose to report on them can set the agenda for politicians and the public at large. An interesting way to start thinking about this is to look at two different stories out today on President Obama's new budget proposal.

The New York Times story starts by highlighting the shift in Obama's priorities, from stimulating the economy through spending projects to the new emphasis on budget cutting and deficit reduction. Jackie Calmes writes, "The budget reflects Mr. Obama’s cut-and-invest agenda: It creates winners and big losers as he proposes to slash spending in some domestic programs to both reduce deficits and make room for increases in education, infrastructure, clean energy, innovation and research to promote long-term economic growth and global competitiveness." So based on this story, we would assume that the issues at stake are where to cut and how much.

But look at how the Washington Post reports on the same event: "President Obama drew fire Sunday from congressional Republicans and independent budget experts for his reluctance to advance a plan that would tackle the nation's biggest budget problems in the spending blueprint he will submit to Congress on Monday." Lori Montgomery has already pressed you into a corner by arguing that Obama hasn't faced up to the big issues at stake. Her version begins by biasing you against his plan - before you have read one single fact about it.

The power of the media here is demonstrated by their ability to set the terms of debate. In this case, the Times and the Post are providing their readers two completely different versions of this event, and each set of readers will therefore start their day with different beliefs about what the president is trying to do.


  1. CNN's take was the following " The plan wasn't even officially out before the criticism started rolling in.President Obama's proposed $3.7 trillion budget was slammed by the left and the right Monday. Outraged liberals called it a callous assault on the poor; dismissive conservatives labeled it a debt-riddled assault on future generations."
    It is evident that CNN is reporting a negative angle on the Obama deficit plan.

  2. We argued in class that the Washington Post certainly had a bias by presenting the information in a negative tone. We also touched upon the issue that perhaps the New York Times piece also had a bias because it did not mention the other side of the story, but rather only reported the facts on its own side. I'm not so certain that that constitutes a bias. In my opinion the New York Times article reported the facts as they should have been reported: just as facts. The New York Times staid away from including a negative or positive tone to its article and by keeping it neutral achieved an unbiased article.