Scheduled maintenance: Wednesday, February 8 from 10PM to 11PM PST
Only $35.99/year

Terms in this set (11)

Close media scrutiny of government plays an indispensable role in governance. The news media also report aggressively on scandals in private business, yet they appear to place more emphasis on scrutiny of government. Government is often more accessible, and it is more appropriate to watch it carefully, because government spends the taxpayers' money. In cities around the country, local news reporters regularly chase down stories about governmental waste or abuse. For example, in some cities they have searched the parking lots of bars and restaurants during normal working hours to take pictures of the license tags of any government vehicles parked there. In one city a television station carried stories about the high costs of the furniture in the office of one of the county commissioners. Major television networks have news segments and special series that regularly broadcast allegations of government waste.

Instances in which unfavorable press coverage damages a person, program, or agency make concern about media coverage part of the lore of government (Linsky, 1986). Officials and experts from Washington speak of managing in a "goldfish bowl" (Allison, 1983; Cohen and Eimicke, 1995; IBM Endowment for the Business of Government, 2002), with media attention playing a stronger role in government than it does in business management (Blumenthal, 1983). For years observers have worried that some federal executives devote more time to creating a splash in the media than to performing well as managers (Lynn, 1981). Many public employees appear to feel that they will not get into much trouble for poor performance but will get into a lot of trouble for creating bad publicity (Downs, 1967; Lynn, 1981; Warwick, 1975). City and county officials will pack an auditorium to listen to consultants speak on how to handle media relations, and they regularly complain about unfair media coverage

This apparent power of the media has mysterious qualities. The potential damage from bad coverage is often unclear. Ronald Reagan earned a reputation as the "Teflon president" by maintaining popularity in spite of sharp criticism in the media. As an additional irony, much of the worry over press coverage amounts to worrying over an entity in which the general public expresses little confidence. Public opinion polls find that public confidence in journalists and the news media is lower than public confidence in many other institutions and has been declining in recent decades (Patterson, 2001). For a long time, many experts argued that the media exercise little influence over public voting patterns and attitudes about specific issues. Some experts on the news media now argue that the media exert a powerful influence on public attitudes, but in a diffuse way. Media coverage develops a climate that pervades the informational environment, and this in turn influences public opinion (Lichter, Rothman, and Lichter, 1986; Murray, Schwartz, and Lichter, 2001). In addition, some experts conclude that journalists develop a shared view of what constitutes news, and this leads to a version of the news that is generally shared by the different news organizations (Patterson, 2001).
Media attention also varies. Some agencies regularly get more media attention than others. Hood and Dunsire (1981) found that the foreign affairs office and the treasury get particularly high levels of press coverage in Britain, whereas other central government departments get relatively little attention. The media often seriously neglect administrative issues. Yet public officials also know that media attention can shift unpredictably. In one large state, where the department of administration ordinarily received little public attention, the director decided to change the set of private health insurance plans from which the state's employees chose their coverage. Many employees disliked the new set of plans. An outburst of complaints from state employees caused a sudden wave of coverage in the newspapers and television news around the state. A legislative committee soon called the director before special hearings about the changes.
Officials at higher levels and in political centers (capitals and large cities) often pay a great deal of attention to media strategies. Many city governments issue newsletters, televise city council meetings, and use other methods of public communication. Some federal and state agencies invest heavily in issuing public information. Even so, many public managers resist suggestions that they should devote time to media relations, regarding themselves as professionals rather than as "politicians." More active approaches, however, usually prove to be the most effective (Graber, 2003). Various experts have offered advice on how to deal with the media.
What kind of group support bolsters an agency? Apparently, the most effective support comes from well-organized, cohesive groups that are strongly committed to the agency and its programs. Conversely, capture of an agency by a constituency can damage the agency and bias it toward the self-interested priorities of that group (Rourke, 1984; Wilson, 1989). Critics have accused some regulatory agencies of being captives of the industries or professions they supposedly regulate, and they complain that other agencies are captured by the clientele who receive their services (allegedly, the Forest Service has been captured by timber interests and the Bureau of Mines by mining interests). Agencies appear to have the most flexibility when they have the support of multiple groups; they can then satisfy some groups, if not all, and even have them confront one another about their conflicting demands (Chase and Reveal, 1983; Meier and Bothe, 2007; Rourke, 1984).

When groups do exert influence, they often provide useful information about policy issues and group positions (Abney and Lauth, 1986; Brudney and Hebert, 1987; Elling, 1983). Abney and Lauth (1986) found additional evidence that agency managers at the urban level see interest-group involvement as appropriate when it focuses directly on the agency and inappropriate when it is channeled through the city council or the mayor. The managers may be too forgiving of interest-group influences, but the findings also suggest a more positive or at least necessary side of interest groups. Experienced public managers see maintaining relations with these groups as a necessary part of their work, often frustrating but also challenging and sometimes helpful. Public managers have to be accessible to such groups, seriously attentive to what they have to say, patient and self-controlled when the groups are harshly critical, and honest (Chase and Reveal, 1983; Cohen and Eimicke, 1995).