IMPACT: How the Press Affects Federal Policymaking by Martin Linsky

IMPACT: How the Press Affects Federal Policymaking

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In 1959, Douglass Cater's The Fourth Branch of Government examined the extent to which the conduct of national affairs can be affected by the symbiotic relationship of Washington's press corps and its principal sources. In this tradition, Linsky offers a thoughtful, contemporary appreciation of interaction between the two ""estates ""which provides valuable insights on some current realities of the political process. A professor at Harvard's JFK School of Government and a sometime journalist (whose career included a stint as editor of The Real Paper), the author drew upon a wealth of research material, it encompasses a poll of 500 senior policymakers who have held office during the past two decades and six case studies (prepared by Linsky and colleagues at Harvard's Institute of Politics), plus one-on-one interviews with media heavyweights and former policymakers--Henry Kissinger, Robert McNamara, Elliot Richardson, et al. The individual analyses, which are to be published in full in a separate volume (reviewed below), cover: the resignation of Vice President Agnew; the 1969 reorganization of the Postal Department; President Carter's decision not to deploy the neutron bomb; the relocation of 700 families from the toxic Love Canal area in upper New York State; retention of a tax exemption by Bob Jones University; and suspension of disability reviews by the Social Security Administration. Linsky employs this material in workmanlike fashion. With relatively few exceptions, he observes, press attention can accelerate action or otherwise affect the process, but not the substantive content, of policymaking. In addition, the media has become demonstrably more adversarial in its approach to news-gathering since the mid-1960's, the author argues, citing the emergence of TV as a new forum for debating public-policy issues, albeit in somewhat abbreviated form. He also notes most journalists view leaks, even so-called trial balloons, as indispensable to their work. At any rate, Linsky contends that, as the role of political parties wanes, the influence of the press in determining how Americans govern themselves increases. In this context, he concludes federal policymakers who wish to set their own agendas must take the initiative and court rather than react to the press. Lucid, up-to-date commentary on a subject the media, by and large, keeps off the record.

Pub Date: Oct. 13th, 1986
Publisher: Norton