Saturday, March 14, 2009

Una tarĂ¡ntula en un plato de nata

And how does a rewrite of a small 2-day-old inside story from the FiTimes become the Third Most Super-Important Story in the Universe? Welcome to the wonderful world of agenda-setting!

Like most fun theories, agenda-setting is about a fairly simple correlation: When a topic is important on the media agenda, it looks important on the public agenda as well. So if the front page* tends to go economy-crime-drugs-war, opinion polls will look a lot like economy-crime-drugs-war too.

The Fox agenda is distinctive not because Fox makes stuff up (though it's good at that) but because Fox builds and emphasizes particular categories, whether the stories in them are true or not. It's the national clearinghouse for stories about random episodic danger to children and pregnant moms. Fox scours the British tabloid press for stories about Muslim efforts to stamp out Barbie, Valentine's Day and the Three Little Pigs so you don't have to! Fox's agenda keeps you up to speed on the War On Christmas, the ACLU's efforts to turn your kids into socialist zombie apostles of sex, drugs and treason, and the doings of various unrepentant terrorists.**

So the idea of a Wal-Mart calling itself a supermercado isn't an example of the inanimate genius of the free market. It goes into a separate category of Threats to the American Way of Life. Those People won't learn our language, they won't eat our junk food, and now they want their own Wal-Marts too.

All news agendas are socially constructed; there is no hidden Rosetta stone of news value. But Fox is -- oh, how should one put this? Not quite as inconspicuous as it might like to think?

* The original agenda-setting study (McCombs & Shaw, 1972) was about the 1968 election and the media available in Chapel Hill; life was easier when "the media" could be measured by two morning dailies and two TV stations.
** That's an example of the "agenda of attributes" used in what's called the second level of agenda-setting. Tune in next week.

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1 Comments:

Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

OMG. Isn't Wal-Mart the ne plus ultra of Fox's brand of American? And here Wal-Mart is catering to Those People! This must make a lot of people's heads hurt... assuming they realize that this is Wal-Mart's Free Market Capitalistic (TM) doing.

(Ever catch Lewis Black's rant on racism, ending with the most perfect use of the "X is the new black" eggcorn ever - "yes, when it comes to bigotry, Mexican is the new black.")

8:53 AM, March 15, 2009  

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