Front Page Titles (by Subject) Presidential Power vs. the Press - Literature of Liberty, Summer 1981, vol. 4, No. 2
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Presidential Power vs. the Press - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Summer 1981, vol. 4, No. 2 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Presidential Power vs. the Press
“Presidents, Power, and the Press.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 10 (Summer 1980): 416–426.
In the continuing contest for power between the American press and the executive branch of government, the president would seem to enjoy distinct advantages over his journalistic adversaries. With a large staff of media manipulators, an ability to grant, limit, or deny access to reporters, powers of secrecy, carefully timed press releases, and his domination of news conferences, the president wields an impressive array of weapons which are uniquely his own.
Nevertheless, Profs. Paletz and Entman view these advantages as distinctly limited. Ultimately, the media succeed in undermining the chief executive's power. In their article, Paletz and Entman trace the broad outlines of this undermining process.
Given their political and propaganda advantages, presidents might be expected to reign from the heights of public enthusiasm, party acclaim, and legislative subservience. In actuality, presidential power slowly erodes under the influence of four factors.
First of all, presidents are frequently bedeviled by untoward events which they can do little or nothing to control—the Scylla of inflation and the Charybdis of unemployment, hostages in Iran, disastrous undertakings such as Vietnam or Watergate, etc. In the face of such intractable situations, a president will inevitably appear impotent.
These problems will be augmented by institutional strains inherent in the American political system. Every president suffers from his constant and intermittent critics and antagonists: leaders of the opposition party, ambitious rivals in his own party, and interest group leaders. These explicit or covert enemies will seize upon and magnify any presidential ineptitude.
Thirdly, a president may never acquire the knack of media management or may develop it in one office and lose it in another. Journalists treat different political institutions and their members in varying ways. President Johnson, for example, mistakenly expected the same intimate relationship with White House reporters as he had enjoyed with Congressional journalists when he was Senate majority leader. He never completely managed the transition from cloister to fish bowl.
Lastly, while the president's aura of authority can lend prestige to any policy he endorses, much of this influence is reduced when journalists report on presidential forays into opinion management. These reports strip away the aura by placing the president's actions firmly in the context of the political. As a result, he is viewed, not as a special leader, but as just another politician seeking to retain and enhance his power.
During the Carter administration, the euphoric honeymoon period engineered by the press and the government's own media wizards led inevitably to a chorus of dismay and disillusion when the president's performance fell short of overblown expectations. The lowering of living standards, the raising of oil prices, and rampant inflation highlighted Carter's supposed incompetence.
Efforts by advertising specialist Gerald Rafshoon to shore up decling Carter standings in opinion polls were greeted by headlines such as “Adman Called in to Polish Carter's Tarnished Image.” After initial “patriotic” support for Carter's handling of the Iran hostage situation, the press began to depict the predicament (somewhat simplemindedly) as proof of a world-wide decline of American power.
Profs. Paletz and Entman regard this cyclical sabotage of U.S. presidents as largely unintentional. They feel, however, that this process threatens the paralysis of the innovative capacities of the presidency, which they believe can achieve domestic reforms against the forces of private interests.
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