February 27, 2007

Thoughts: Drudge, Hypodermic Needle Theory & 'The Drip'

Indulge me some media notes/noodlings here, good padawans. Fell free to chime in.

There's a case to be made the Drudge helped tank the markets today, particularly when thinking about information/news sensitive environments like the market floors.

Interesting if you're one of those types who believes the "hypodermic needle (strong effects)" theory of communications - namely, that the transmission of a message on a widely read and relied-upon source (usually a news source) will have a strong impact on the receivers of that message.

By the same token, the overall MSM coverage of the war in Iraq has had a negative net impact on the opinions and perceptions of many Americans regarding the daily events taking place there. Individual stories are not enough to do it alone. This is not to say that covering the markets is exactly like covering a war, but I would surmise that market reporters at least report positive developments in the markets from time to time without hesitation. So in terms of general news practice and protocol, there is an imbalance coming out of Iraq in the coverage.

The aggregation of the drip-drip-drip is what killed the public support of the war. The negative effect was not as instantaneously felt or as potent this time as it was when TV nightly news was in its "Uncle Walter" infancy (and before 24-7 repetition of newspaper headlines news networks) during Vietnam era. It is also inevitably true that bureaucratic and political mismanagement from all sides of the aisles has prevented the war from being executed in a more precise and efficient manner, but you go to war with the "slam dunk" Intel agencies, "Peace Dividend" military and Marx-lite Political Parties you have, not the ones you want.

A balanced drip, with positive (or even the seemingly mundane "everyday Iraqi/American troop interactions" angle reported with equal ferocity and breathlessness as the bad news), would perhaps have yielded a more moderate divergence on the collective public perceptions of the war. Fweh. Childish fantasy.

Instapunk had a great post on this sort of thing all the way back last May, dubbing it the "water torture" effect of negative media coverage. He also asserted that (for better or worse) the MSM were winning. In many ways, he was right. Here's the nut:

It doesn't have to be true, it doesn't have to be fair, it doesn't have to be consistent in its terms. All that matters is that it is repeated with uniform constancy: drip, drip, drip. George W. Bush is no good. George W. Bush is no good. George W. Bush is no good. Change the headlines, seem to change the subject. Abu Ghraib. European disdain. Tom Delay. Katrina. Deficits. Valerie Plame. Gas prices. Karl Rove. Death in Iraq. Angry mothers. NSA wiretaps. Drip, drip, drip, drip, drip, the lede is always the same. George W. Bush is no good. George W. Bush is no good. George W. Bush is no good. George W. Bush is no good. George W. Bush is no good. George W. Bush is no good. Forget the good news, bury the accomplishments or ignore them altogether. Drip, drip, George W. Bush is no good, George W. Bush is no good, George W. Bush is no good.

Cross-posted at Mein BlogoVault.

It took the MSM three years to bring George W. Bush's approval ratings down from their post 9/11 high to 52 percent on election day 2004. It's taken them just 18 months [corr. per Tim] to bring him down another 20 to 25 points. They never forgot their mission. While the princeling bloggers pissed and moaned about Harriet Miers, and immigration, and federal spending, the MSM kept on dripping out its one story, and now they are within reach of their goal -- Democrats restored to the majority in both houses of Congress and the stage set for the vengeful impeachment and dismissal from office of the most courageous president in modern times.
The hypodermic needle theory in effect requires a somewhat passive audience to be completely relevant, but it is just something interesting to think about. Instapunk made that call six months out from the elections. The only part of that dire scenario that has not yet materialized are the impeachment hearings (and the lack of total Democrat control of the Senate).

It is here, perhaps, that an "echo chamber" or an alternative "hypodermic needle" theory can be explored - the aggregate effects of negative media coverage on long-term and complex stories, can have strong effects on active audiences when given enough time and freedom to do so. It doesn't have to be intentional - it is simply a daily routine of one news organ (the NYT) leading another (WaPo), which in turn both lead the tone and content of other main players (CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, FOX, etc.). By the time you see it on the news, it has already undergone revisions, filtering and editing by staffs of editors; pardon this media specialist if he asserts that pertinent information is often lost in the transfer between formats. Every day.

The dextrosphere can claim scalps of the more obviously biased and unprofessional here and there - even big fish like Dan Rather and Eason Jordan - but most Americans don't read blogs. Old media dies hard.

A finer man once said that "[a] lie can run around the world six times while the truth is still trying to put on its pants." Man, was he ahead of his time.

By Good Lt. at 11:44 PM | Comments |