Interest Groups and Mass Media

Interest Groups

Historical Background of Interest Groups

Interest groups have often been viewed with suspicion. In Federalist #10, James Madison warned against the dangers of "factions." Although Madison was opposed to the elimination of factions, he believed that the separation of powers under the Constitution would moderate their effect.

Functions of Interest Groups

Interest groups serve several important functions. They:

  • raise awareness and stimulate interest in public affairs by educating their members and the public
  • represent their membership, serving as a link between members and government
  • provide information to government, especially data and testimony useful in making public policy
  • provide channels for political participation that enable citizens to work together to achieve a common goal

Types of Interest Groups

Economic Interest Groups

Most interest groups are formed on the basis of economic interests.

  • Labor groups promote and protect the interest of organized labor. Examples include the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters Union.
  • Business groups promote and protect business interests in general. The Chamber of Commerce of the United States and the National Association of Manufacturers are examples.
  • Professional groups maintain standards of the profession, hold professional meetings, and publish journals. Some examples are the National Education Association (NEA), the American Medical Association (AMA), and the American Bar Association (ABA).
  • Agricultural groups, such as the National Grange and the National Farmers' Union, promote general agricultural interests.

Groups That Promote Causes

  • specific causes
  • — American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

    — National Rifle Association (NRA)

  • welfare of specific groups of individuals
  • — American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)

    —National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

    — Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW)

  • religion-related causes
  • — National Council of Churches

    — American Jewish Congress

Public Interest Groups

Public interest groups are concerned with issues such as the environment, consumer protection,crime, and civil rights.

  • public interests
  • — Common Cause

    — League of Women Voters

    — Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)

INTEREST GROUPS - Cram for the Exam

Strategies of Interest Groups

  • influencing elections—encouraging members to vote for candidates who support their views, influencing party platforms and the nomination of candidates, campaigning and contributing money to parties and candidates through political action committees (PACs)
  • lobbying—attempting to influence policymakers, often by supplying data to government officials and their staffs to convince these policymakers that their case is more deserving than another's
  • —direct lobbying—using personal contacts between lobbyists and policymakers

    grassroots lobbying—interested group members and others outside the organization write letters, send telegrams, e-mails, and faxes, and make telephone calls to influence policymakers

    —coalition lobbying—several interest groups with common goals join together to influence policymakers

  • litigation—groups often take an issue to court if they are unsuccessful in gaining the support of Congress; this strategy was used successfully by the NAACP to argue against segregation during the 1950s
  • going public—appealing to the public for support by bringing attention to an issue or using public relations to gain support for the image of the interest group itself
Pin It to Win It - Interest Groups

Political Action Committees (PACs)

The campaign finance reforms of the 1970s prohibited corporations and labor unions from making direct contributions to candidates running for federal office. Political action committees (PACs) were formed as political arms of interest groups. Federal law regulates PACs; they must register with the federal government, raise money from multiple contributors, donate to several candidates, and follow strict accounting rules.

10. AP60X - PACs

Mass Media

Mass media refers to all forms of communication that transmit information to the general public. Although the mass media are not the only means of communication between citizens and government (political parties, interest groups, and voting are other means), they are the only linkage mechanism that specializes in communication.

Roles of the Media

The media perform several important functions:

  • informing the public
  • shaping public opinion
  • providing a link between citizens and government
  • serving as a watchdog that investigates and examines personalities and government policies.
  • agenda setting by influencing what subjects become national political issues; protests against the Vietnam Conflict are an example
Mass Media - A Love/Hate Relationship

Development of the Modern Media


The earliest American newspapers, operating during colonial times, were expensive, had small circulations, and were often prepared or financed by political organs or those advocating a particular cause. Improvements in printing, the telegraph, and the rotary press led to the growth of newspapers and newspaper circulations. By the 1890s almost every major city in the United States had one or more daily papers. Circulation wars led to "yellow journalism" and political consequences resulted. Since the 1950s newspaper competition has decreased. By 2009, many newspapers in the United States had gone out of business and the very future of the newspaper was being called into question.


Magazines tended to have smaller circulations with less frequent publication. The earliest public affairs magazines were published in the mid-1800s. They often exposed political corruption and business exploitation with the writings of muckrakers such as Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, and Sinclair Lewis. In the 1920s and 1930s, three weekly news magazines, Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report attracted mass readership. Today, they often substitute for daily newspapers. Liberal and conservative magazines have smaller circulations but are read by supporters on both sides.


The wide use of radio began in the 1920s and made celebrities of news personalities. Franklin Roosevelt successfully used radio to broadcast his "fireside chats" to the American people.


Today, television claims the largest audience of the mass media. After World War II television increased the visibility of broadcast journalists, making them celebrities. Television promoted the careers of politicians such as Joe McCarthy, during hearings of the House Unamerican Activities Committee, and John Kennedy, during his campaign debates against Richard Nixon. The recent growth of cable TV news and the 24/7 news cycle have greatly changed the coverage of the American political system.

Internet as Media

The rapid growth of Internet usage has led to media organizations using the Internet as a way to convey information. Newspapers, magazines, blogs, and radio and television stations have sites on the World Wide Web. More and more Americans are receiving their news from the Internet.

Media Ownership and Government Regulation

The mass media are privately owned in the United States, giving them more political freedom than in most other countries, where they are publicly owned, but also making them more dependent on advertising profits. Government regulation of the media affects the broadcast media (radio and television) more than the print media (newspapers and magazines) and the Internet. Government regulation of the broadcast media falls into three categories:

  • technical regulations—The Federal Communications Act of 1934 created the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as an independent regulatory agency to regulate interstate and foreign communication by radio, television, telephone, telegraph, cable, and satellite.
  • structural regulations—These control the organization and ownership of broadcasting companies; in 1996 the Telecommunications Act broadened competition.
  • content regulations—although the mass media are protected by the First Amendment, the broadcast media have been subject to regulation of content.

Media and the President

The major news organizations maintain journalists in major cities and government centers to report political events firsthand. Washington, D.C., has the largest press corps of any city in the United States, with one-third of the press assigned to cover the White House. News events may be staged as media events. The White House allows special access to the president, with the press receiving information through the Office of the Press Secretary.

Some ways that journalists receive information are:

  • news releases—prepared texts to be used exactly as written
  • news briefings—announcements and daily questioning of the press secretary about news releases
  • news conferences—questioning of high-level officials, often rehearsed
  • leaks—information released by officials who are guaranteed anonymity; may be intentional to interfere with the opposition or to "float" an idea and measure reaction Reporters are expected to observe "rules" when talking to officials:
  • on the record—the official may be quoted by name
  • off the record—what the official says cannot be printed
  • on background—what the official says can be printed but may not be attributed to the official by name
  • on deep background—what the official says can be printed, but it cannot be attributed to anybody

Biases in the Media

Critics of the media contend the media are biased in reporting. Reporters are said to have a liberal bias, while media owners, publishers, and editors are said to be more conservative. Studies confirm that reporters have a liberal orientation; however, the bias tends to be against incumbents and frontrunners. There is also a tendency for "pack journalism," with journalists adopting the viewpoints of other journalists with whom they spend time and exchange information.