Clinton And Lewinsky Scandal In Terms Of Agenda Setting Theory

The media has the power to influence how the public perceives issues.

It has the ability to tell the public what issues are important and can also create issues the public can believe are more important than other critical ones. This is what is called agenda setting in the media. It has the ability to set the agenda for discussion amongst the communities the media is intending to send the message to. Agenda takes place when there is a story that is to be reported on, it can alter, spin, and turn the story into something other than what it truly was in the first place. The media however, is a place where most people’s information and knowledge is coming from. It is a place where most people turn to when they want more information on whether the politician they are voting for is someone they should trust. Fenton explains, “the news media’s job is supposed to be unscrambling that spin, separating the truth from the lies,”(Fenton, pg. 82). So it is safe to assume that the press does not mirror the reality, because it filters and shapes in a way it is able to gain the public’s interest. It can also be assumed that when the media focuses on one issue, it can create an echo chamber of issues the public can perceive to be are important, but in reality there are far more important issues going on around the world. Agenda setting filters information that we are spoon fed to and it then becomes a choice of ours in whether we take that message that was given to us or deny it as a whole. The “Clinton and Lewinsky scandal”, is one of the many media scandals that can be analyzed from an agenda setting perspective. The agenda setting theory centers on the audience’s motivations and needs. Media does not tell us what to think, rather it tells us what to think about. I believe that agenda setting, which is one form of spinning the truth, has changed to become one of the issues why our society has come to not trusting everything the media says today.

As far back as 1922, agenda setting was also prevalent.

A newspaper columnist Walter Lippman was concerned with the media had the power to present images to the public. Two men named McCombs and Shaw investigated presidential campaigns in 1968, 1972 and 1976. In the research done in 1968 they focused on two elements: awareness and information. Investigating the agenda-setting function of the mass media, they attempted to assess the relationship between what voters in one community said were important issues and the actual content of the media messages used during the campaign. McCombs and Shaw concluded that the mass media exerted a significant influence on what voters considered to be the major issues of the campaign.

Clinton’s successes over his term as President were plenty. In general, during his term, he balanced the US budget and left office with a surplus instead of a deficit under his administration, 22 million jobs were created while unemployment was at its lowest in three decades, increased the median income for all Americans and reduce the poverty rate to its lowest in over 20 years. Clinton was seen as a family man, a kind loving father and husband. His charisma with the public was well, and he was amongst the presidents who were greatly favored. (Sonner & Wilcox, 1999). He had great ratings amongst the public and most people would agree he was very successful in office. The president however, was indulged in many scandals during his presidency, but this mainly focuses on one of the most infamous scandals that occurred, his affair with Monica Lewinksy.

On January 21st, 1998, the media exploded with the stories and news of President Clinton and his alleged affair with his White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Clinton initially denies these allegations as the scandal erupts. However, he later admitted that he did indeed have an affair with Lewinski. Clinton’s denial and lies to the grand jury halted the investigation, it then turned into the Senate debating whether or not Clinton should be removed from office, (Sonner & Wilcox, 1999). Clinton did lie in front of a jury and lied about his affair, but that doesn’t seem to be the most alarming part. The most alarming part of it all is how throughout all the scandals Clinton has been through, and this one being one of the most prominent ones, his ratings and his view as a as a President and most importantly as a person, barely changed in the eyes of the public. Clinton’s popularity suffered little during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and impeachment proceedings, (Fenton, 86). The way the media portrayed Clinton during the scandal had a lot to do with how the public’s viewpoints on him really did not change.

In Stuart Hall’s Encoding/Decoding, he explains how the media produces to us information and we as the consumer can decode this information in a multitude of ways. We can either completely oppose, misunderstand, or reinforce, (Hall,1973). In the case of Clinton during the Lewinksy scandal, it seemed that the media has framed him as a hero. A man who was helped America in a time of need, (Kiosis, 2003). The media portrayed all the successes Clinton has done throughout his term as President instead of emphasizing the sexual allegations that have imploded the news at the time. The media worked very well in filtering the information and to make affirm that Clinton was still the man he was before the scandal erupted. Not only did the media depicts Clinton as a “cool guy,” but also highlighted Americans in a happy state with slightly higher incomes, lower mortgage payments, retirement savings, and outstanding job security because of Clinton (Sonner & Wilcox, 1999). During Clinton’s term, the economy was doing pretty well. It was According to Molly W. Andolina and Clyde Wilcox, authors of “Public Opinion: The Paradoxes of Clinton’s Popularity”, there are five major reasons for why Clinton’s job approval remained so high. One of the strongest indicators of presidential popularity is the economy: “presidents are generally more popular when the economy is strong and must less popular when the economy is weak.” Because of how the media displayed Clinton, he was still seen as a generally good guy due to all his successes, and his Lewinsky scandal barely had an affect on him. Fenton says, “Americans get a partial view of a partial view — and even that they often choose to discount”(Fenton, 2005). I believe what Fenton is saying here is that even though we know what the underlying message is here, we still continue to only partake in what the media chooses for us to see. Spin in general has triumphed in the worst way possible, by confusing the public’s very ability or even inclination to recognize the truth. (Fenton, 2005).

During the Clinton Administration, the public had become so used to scandals and the constant stories of Clinton indulged in activity that he should not have been and as a result, the public expectations of Clinton’s integrity were never high. The plethora of scandals Clinton faced, desensitized the public to some degree. The desentRepetition can take the edge of the affective capacities of a certain thing. After repeated becomes less real, (Sontag, ). Another scandal involving Bill Clinton did not and would not surprise anyone. Moreover, the severity of the Lewinsky scandal was lessened because Clinton was involved in so many scandals. A scandal of this magnitude and nature normally ruins the career of a politician. If some politician has a seemingly perfect track record and espoused moral views, a scandal of this type would reek of hypocrisy and indignation. But with President Clinton, the public knew Clinton and his personal shortcomings. Because of his past, the public was in some ways apathetic to the new scandal. The public was familiar with “his involvement in scandal politics and allegations of womanizing.” A scandal involving Clinton and sex, remarkably, did not have significant shock value. The media’s increasing attention to scandals fed the public’s appetite for salacious scandals but, at the same time, began to lose its credibility in the eyes of many Americans. As Fenton says, “the triumph of spin is largely the news media’s own fault. Certainly the industry got caught in a pincer from both flanks, politicians on the one hand and owners on the other. But we took sides with them, and allowed them to influence our judgement; indeed they became part of our business, and we theirs.

Many people, including the media still did distrust Clinton because of the fact he was involved in so many scandals. Clinton did well in continually pleading his commitment to the national agenda. By doing so, he catered to the public and this helped him deflect his wrongdoings from the media. The media holds a crucial role in depicting the scandal to the public. The media did well in trying to filter certain issues because they were taboo. For example, it was much of an awkward thing to openly speak about the President’s sexual affairs and his personal life. The media’s response to the Lewinsky affair can be best described as a conflict between interest and revulsion. A major problem in reporting the scandal was its sexual nature. The media did not know how to openly speak about the sexual intimacy of their very own President. The media, therefore, was hesitant to investigate deeply into the scandal of the President for several reasons: disinterest in the president’s private life; peers and standards; a feeling that discussion of sexual nature demeaned the commentators’ professionalism. The media’s response to the Lewinsky scandal can also be explained through Clinton scandal-ridden past. As stated before, the previous scandals created a serious rift between the media and President Clinton. Clinton was constantly evasive and antagonistic towards the press.

The media’s response to the Lewinsky scandal, in many ways, demonstrates the self-appointed role many in the media feel as the watchdog of the government: While these five reasons for Clinton’s popularity are certainly relevant and seem true, I think that the public’s support for Clinton is best explained by Clinton’s history of scandals. At the heart of the Lewinsky Scandal was one thing– a choice. The public was forced to choose between strong approval of Clinton’s performance as President and a belief that this behavior was sufficiently immoral to remove him from office. To many Republicans and media, this choice could be debated, fought over. The public could be won over if enough evidence emerged showing Clinton lied and cheated. Similarly, Clinton also believed that this choice could be won if he could deny the affair and explain the scandal as a partisan attack. Both sides, I believe, are wrong; the choice had already been made by the public long before.