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Tufts OpenCourseware
Author: Kathleen Merrigan, Ph.D.

The Fourth Branch?

Field Trip to the Boston Herald (

Sometimes referred to as the fourth branch of government, the press plays a huge role in determining policy outcomes. In this final class, we will examine the impact of the media in placing items on the policy agenda and in determining their success. We will tour the news room at the Boston Herald, tour the newsroom, and meet with a political reporter for some real life insights.

Quote for media class:

Jim Hightower is a radio commentator and author of numerous books. He served as Texas Agriculture Commissioner for two terms. I worked for Hightower and always marveled at his wit and ability to attract media attention.

"In politics, television has more than changed us, it has become our reality, more real in fact than life itself.

This was brought home to me in 1989 when I began my reelection campaign for state agriculture commissioner and was in the West Texas hamlet of Paducah for a little fundraiser thrown by some area farmers, lawyers, merchants and such. Thirty or so folks gathered in the home of one of the farmers, chatting amiably, enjoying a couple of beers and grazing on the usual Texas campaign spread of chips and hot sauce, queso and tamales. Then, around 6-ish, the hostess asked us all to convene in the living room, presumably to hear me offer a few thousand well-chosen words and show myself witty, wonderful, and wise, well worthy of their $25-a-head contribution to my political prosperity.

But no! As I shuffled into the living room behind the group, pondering just the right snappy line to open my comments, I hear the hostess saying, "Rather than hear Jim speak, we were able to tape the show that 60 Minutes ran on him recently, and we're going to play it for you." So there I stood, the actual candidate, live and in person, cooling my heels for fifteen minutes, while my supporters turned their backs on me and gaped at my electronic image, far more impressed by it than by me in the flesh."

From: p. 137, "Tales of the Tube"
"There's Nothing in the Middle of the Road But Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos", by Jim Hightower, 1977, HarperCollins

Discussion Questions

How do you think the media has transformed politics? Have you ever watched congressional proceedings on CSPAN or CNN? What do you think Hightower is trying to tell us in this story?


  • Timothy Cook. Chap. 1, Making the Connections, Making Laws and Making News: Media Strategies in the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • Robert Lichter and Daniel Amundson, Less News is Worse News: Television News Coverage of Congress, 1972-92 and Stephen Hess, The Decline and Fall of Congressional News, from Congress, the Press, and the Public, Mann ed., Brookings 1994.
  • Michael Dimock and Samuel Popkin, Political Knowledge in Comparative Perspective, in Do the Media Govern? edited by Iyengar and Reeves.
  • Steven Livingston, Beyond the "CNN Effect": The Media-Foreign Policy Dynamic, in Politics and the Press: The News Media and Their Influences, Pippa Norris ed., 1997.
  • Michael McCurry. The Background on Background, Harvard International Journal of Press and Politics, 1996.


  • The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press -
    • The Center is an independent opinion research group that studies attitudes toward the press, politics and public policy issues.
    • Read public survey reports (the Pew Global Attitudes Project) and access datasets.
    • Access other polls (recent Gallup polls, for example)
  • "Covering Politics" on, a project of Columbia University -
    • A primer on understanding polling
    • Making the political meaningful
    • Broadening your source base
    • ...and many more skills-based briefings
  • Voice of America -
    • VOA is a multimedia international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. government through the Broadcasting Board of Governors. VOA broadcasts more than 1,000 hours of news, information, educational, and cultural programming every week to an estimated worldwide audience of more than 100 million people.
    • News offered in dozens of languages
    • A-Z list of VOA programs around the world
    • U.S. government's international broadcasting bureau (IBB) schedules (under "Schedules - TV Schedule"
    • How to correctly pronounce the names of 100s of current names in the news (under "Press Room - Pronunciation guide")
  • The Associated Press -
    • The largest and oldest news organization in the world, serving as a source of news, photos, graphics, audio and video for more than one billion people a day. AP is there to help radio and television stations get the essential ingredients of the story for on air and online use.
    • Check out "AP News Tickers," ("delivers hard news and entertaining information in real-time headlines directly to television and computer screens") under "AP Broadcast."
    • AP Photo Archive has some famous pictures that have illustrated the news.
  • Reuters -
    • Primarily geared toward providing news and market data to professionals in financial services and corporate markets, Reuters also supplies news to businesses outside financial services as well as direct to consumers.
    • Information source on investing
    • News on business, US, international, politics, etc. (Be sure to look at "Oddly enough" for funny, strange news articles!)
  • Today's front pages -
    • 407 of today's front pages from 42 countries presented alphabetically.