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Reading 9: The Lobbying Game Today Jonathan D. Salant

Reading 9: The Lobbying Game Today Jonathan D. Salant

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Chapter 9: Interest Groups: Organizing for Influence

“It’s an investment strategy,” former

House Appropriations Committee Democratic spokesman David Sirora said. “We

shouldn’t blame companies for spending a

lot of money on lobbying because it’s an

investment strategy. We should blame those

lawmakers who we the public empower to

spend our dollars for selling off that power

in exchange for campaign cash. That’s the


Lawmakers say they approve government

spending on the merits, not on who’s doing

the lobbying. “For every one [project] that we

will agree to, you’ll find two or three we do

not agree to,” said Representative C.W. (Bill)

Young (R-Fla.), the chairman of the House

Appropriations defense subcommittee. “I

don’t deal with the lobbyist. What I tell the

lobbyist to do is bring in the CEO or the

project manager so I can deal directly with

the people involved.”

When they’re not trying to influence

lawmakers, lobbyists are helping them raise

money. Lobbyists serve as treasurers of

campaign committees or political action

committee for almost 80 lawmakers, according to the Center for Public Integrity, a

watchdog group. They also host fundraisers

for lawmakers; in one week in April, while

House committees drafted lobbying legislation, there were at least four fundraisers

sponsored by lobbyists.

Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff

(who pleaded guilty in January to conspiring to corrupt public officials), his associates, and Indian tribal clients contributed

$1.4 million to 171 lawmakers between

2001 and 2004, two-thirds to Republicants.

During his time at the lobbying firm of

Greenberg Traurig LLP, the firm’s political

action committee donations rose form

$183,851 in 2000 to $360,185.

Overall, campaign donations from lobbyists rose to $18.5 million in 2006 from

$7.5 million in 1996. Federal Election

Commission records show.

“Because campaign donations are the

way that lobbyists believe they can get

access, the campaign fianance system keeps

rolling along untouched,” said Rogan

Kersh, a political science professor (now

scrving as associate dean at New York

University) who teaches courses on lobbying.

“Members of Congress are terrified they’re

going to be knocked off by a challenger. The

lobbyists fuel the process and give money to

those already in office”. . . .

Lobbyists also play prominent roles

in obtaining earmarks—local projects

inserted into legislation—for clients.

The number of earmarks has increased

from 4,126 in 1994, the last year the

Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, to 15,569 in 2006, according to the

Congressional Research Service.

At least 46 former House Appropriations Committee aides registered as lobbyists after leaving their congressional jobs

since 1998, according to records compiled

by the Center for Public Integrity. That

compared with 36 for the House Ways and

Means Committee and 34 for the House

Energy and Commerce panel.

One lobbying firm that has hired former

appropriations staff members is PMA

Group of Arlington, Virginia, whose

founder, Paul Magliocchetti, and six other

employees once worked for the committee.

The firm got 66 special projects worth $119

million for its clients inserted into defense

spending legislation for the fiscal year that

began Oct. 1, according to Taxpayers for

Common Sense, an advocacy group that

favors less government spending.

The Washington-based firm Van Scoyoc

Associates Inc. employed three former

appropriations staff members and got 18

special projects worth $66 million in the

defense measure, according to Taxpayers

for Common Sense records.

“The revolving door allows these lobbyists to exploit the relationships they have

with lawmakers that can hand out billions

and billions of dollars,” said Alex Knott,

political editor for the Center for Public


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Chapter 9: Interest Groups: Organizing for Influence

Stu Van Scoyoe, president of the firm

that bears his name, said former congressional aides give his clients the technical

knowledge they need, such as the proper

format for a funding request, and can

anticipate objections and address them to

prevent an allocation from being rejected.

“The appropriations staffers tend to be

very much into the details, very much green

eyeshades type of people,” Van Scoyoc said.

“Having people who are currently knowledgeable in programs and in the details of

programs is always an advantage.”

Former top-level staff members can lawfully lobby their former committee after a

one-year waiting period. Lower-level staff

members can lobby immediately after

leaving their congressional job.

One lawmaker who writes spending legislation said former appropriations aides

have an advantage in securing funds because

they know the process.

“Obviously, they’re more knowledgeable

because of their experience, but they don’t

have any undue influence,” said Representative Harold Rogers, a Kentucky Republican

who chairs the appropriations homeland

security subcommittee. “If you know your

subject, you’re usually more successful.”

The Appropriations Committee’s top two

staff members had left the congressional

payroll and worked as lobbyists before joining staff of panel Chairman Jerry Lewis of

California. Committee staff director Frank

Cushing left the panel in 2003 to lobby for

defense contractors, and rejoined it in 2005.

Jeffrey Shockey initially worked for

Lewis from 1991 to 1999, and later worked


for a lobbying firm in which Lewis’s longtime friend, former Republican Representative Bill Lowery of California, is a partner.

Shockey became deputy director of the

Appropriations Committee staff in 2005.

Appropriations Committee spokesman

John Scofield said Cushing and Shockey

returned to the Appropriations Committee

because they wanted to work for Lewis.

“These guys gave up good situations and

high-paying jobs to do public service,”

Scofield said.

The House this year passed new rules to

identify the lawmakers who request catmarks. The rules expire at the end of the


That was the only ethics reform passed.

When Congress considered stronger legislation, some lobbyists began lobbying against

the measure.

“No matter how well-intentioned a

reform effort may be, it will be meaningless

to the American people if we first don’t

begin by talking about enforcement of the

current rules,” said Paul Miller, president of

the American League of Lobbyists, in testimony to the Senate Homeland Security and

Government Affairs Committee in January.

On Election Day 2006, three House

Republicans with ties to Reppublican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty to

conspiring to corrupting public officials, lost

their reelection campaigns. Three seats

vacated by Republicans who resigned

because of ethical problems also fell to the

Democrats. A CNN exit poll found 42 percent of voters saying ethics were an

“extremely important” factor in their vote.

What’s Your Opinion?

What limits, if any, would you place on lobbying? Would you change, for

example, “the revolving door” restrictions governing lobbying by

individuals that have worked in Congress? Do you think such changes

would substantially or only slightly diminish the influence of lobbyists?

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The News Media:

Communicating Political


The press in America . . . determines what people will think and talk about—an

authority that in other nations is reserved for tyrants, priests, parties, and



Theodore H. White1

he news from Iraq was horrific. Day after day, the headlines told of

suicide bombings, roadside explosions, kidnappings, and beheadings.

Almost no day passed without a U.S. soldier being reported killed, and no

day passed without reports of Iraqi civilians being killed. More than two

thousand Iraqis a month were dying in the conflict, and U.S. troops were

being killed and maimed at a rate of more than one hundred a month.

Yet the situation in Iraq was not all blood and violence. Iraqi soldiers

and police were being trained and equipped, schools were being built and





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Chapter 10: The News Media: Communicating Political Images

opened, roadways were being fixed, and basic services were being

restored. The United States was spending billions of dollars a month on

the rebuilding of Iraq, a point that Bush administration officials made

repeatedly at press briefings. Nevertheless, the news from Iraq only occasionally addressed the reconstruction effort and instead focused on the

fighting and dying.

Although the news has been compared to a mirror held up to society, it is a highly selective portrayal of reality. The news is mainly an

account of obtruding events, particularly those that are timely (new or

unfolding developments rather than old or static ones), dramatic (striking developments rather than commonplace ones), and compelling (developments that arouse people’s emotions).2 These tendencies have their

origin in a number of factors, not the least of which is that the news

organizations seek to make a profit, which leads them to prefer news

stories that will attract and hold an audience. Thus, compared with the

fighting in Iraq, the reconstruction effort was less newsworthy. As a

gradual process, it did not lend itself to vivid storytelling in the way the

fighting did. The fighting was also the easier story for journalists to tell

because it fit with the news audience’s conception of war—war is about

killing, not rebuilding.

News organizations and journalists are referred to collectively as the

press or the news media. The press includes broadcast networks (such

as ABC and NPR), cable networks (such as CNN and Fox), newspapers

(such as the Chicago Tribune and Dallas Morning News), news magazines

(such as Time and Newsweek), and Internet sites that provide news and

commentary (such as Instapundit and the Drudge Report). The U.S. news

system has been undergoing substantial changes. For decades, it was virtually controlled by local daily newspapers and broadcast television.

Though still the dominant players, during the past quarter-century these

news outlets have lost much of their audience and influence to cable news,

talk radio, and the Internet, a point that will be addressed in detail later

in the chapter.

The news media hold a privileged position in the United States. In

many democracies, the press operates under substantial legal constraints.

In Great Britain, for example, the news media are barred from reporting on subjects that have been designated “official secrets” by the

government, and tough libel laws inhibit the media from publishing

weakly substantiated claims that could damage a person’s reputation. U.S.

libel laws, on the other hand, favor the press (see Chapter 4). It is almost

impossible for a public official to meet the U.S. legal standard for a libel

judgment: that a news organization was both false in its accusations and




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Chapter 10: The News Media: Communicating Political Images


After Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq was toppled, the United States began the task of

reconstructing Iraq’s oil operations, schools, hospitals, roads, and other facilities. The

reconstruction was of secondary interest to the news media. The fighting in Iraq was the

main story.

knowingly or recklessly careless in its effort to reach the truth. The

American press is also free to cover politics in nearly any way it chooses.

The press is protected from government interference by the First

Amendment, which the Supreme Court has interpreted as a broad grant

of immunity (see Chapter 4). The government is prohibited, for example,

from blocking the publication of national-security information unless the

government can prove to a court that its release would pose a serious

danger to the United States.

The American press has another advantage: an ongoing daily relationship with the public. Like the political party and the interest group, the

press is a political intermediary in the sense that it links citizens with their

government. Yet the press alone has daily contact with a broad cross section of the American people.

This chapter examines the news media’s role in the American political

system. The chapter will argue that the press is a key intermediary

between Americans and their leaders but also that the press is a different





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Chapter 10: The News Media: Communicating Political Images

kind of intermediary than either the political party or the interest group.3

News organizations, unlike political parties or interest groups, generally

do not aim to represent particular interests. While news organizations do

claim, with some justification, to serve the public interest by keeping people

informed about public affairs, their news coverage is driven as much by a

need to tell stories that will get people’s attention as it is by the goal of

keeping people informed. The news media need an audience in order to

sell advertising, which finances their operations. News coverage therefore

tends to focus on sensational events that will catch and hold people’s

attention rather than on ordinary developments that can be far more

important in people’s lives. This chapter explores this and other aspects

of the press and its coverage of the news. The main ideas presented in

the chapter are these:

★ The American press initially was tied to the nation’s political party system

(the partisan press) but gradually developed an independent position (the

objective press). In the process, the news shifted from a political orientation, which emphasizes political values and ideas, to a journalistic

orientation, which stresses newsworthy information and events.

★ In recent years, traditional news organizations have faced increased competition for people’s attention. Cable and the Internet have contributed to a

fragmenting of the news audience and, to a lesser extent, to the rise of

opinionated journalism.

★ In fulfilling their responsibility to the public, the news media play several roles:

the signaling role (the press brings relevant events and problems into public

view), the common-carrier role (the press serves as a channel through which

leaders and citizens can communicate), the watchdog role (the press scrutinizes

official behavior for evidence of deceitful, careless, or corrupt acts), and the

representative role (the press promotes particular interests and values). The

American press is better equipped to handle the first three of these

roles than the last one.

Historical Development: From

Partisanship to Objective Journalism

Democracy thrives on a free flow of information. Communication enables

a free people to keep in touch with one another and with officials, a fact

not lost on America’s early leaders. Alexander Hamilton persuaded John

Fenno to start a newspaper, the Gazette of the United States, in order to

publicize the policies of George Washington’s administration. In return,




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Chapter 10: The News Media: Communicating Political Images


Hamilton, as secretary of the treasury, granted Treasury Department

printing contracts to Fenno’s newspaper. Hamilton’s political adversary,

Thomas Jefferson, dismissed the Gazette’s reporting as “pure Toryism”

and convinced Philip Freneau to start the National Gazette as an opposition paper. Jefferson, who was secretary of state, gave Freneau the

authority to print State Department documents.

Early newspapers were printed on flat presses, a process that limited

production and kept the cost of each copy beyond the reach of ordinary

citizens—many of whom were illiterate anyway. Leading papers such as

the Gazette of the United States had fewer than fifteen hundred subscribers

and could not have survived without party support. Not surprisingly, the

“news” they printed was a form of party propaganda.4 In this era of the

partisan press, publishers openly backed one party or the other.5

Technological innovation in the early decades of the 1800s helped

bring about the gradual decline of the partisan newspaper. Invention of

the telegraph provided editors with timely information on events outside

the local area, which led them to substitute news stories for opinion commentary.6 Creation of the hand-cranked rotary press was equally important because it enabled publishers to print their newspapers more cheaply

and quickly. The New York Sun was the first paper to pass on the benefit

of higher-speed printing to subscribers by reducing the price of a daily

copy from six cents to a penny. The Sun’s circulation rose to one thousand to ten thousand in less than a year.7 Increased circulation meant

increased advertising revenue, which freed newspapers from their dependence on government printing contracts.

By the late nineteenth century, helped along by the invention of

newsprint and power-driven presses, many American newspapers were

printing fifty thousand or more copies a day, and their large circulations

enabled them to charge high prices for advertising. The period marked

the height of newspapers’ power and the low point in their sense of public

responsibility. A new style of reporting—“yellow journalism”—had

emerged as a way of boosting circulation.8 It was “a shrieking, gaudy,

sensation-loving, devil-may-care kind of journalism which lured the

reader by any possible means.”9 A circulation battle between William

Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World

is believed to have contributed to the outbreak of the Spanish-American

War through sensational (and largely inaccurate) reports on the cruelty

of Spanish rule in Cuba. A young Frederic Remington (who later became

a noted painter and sculptor), working as a news artist for Hearst, planned

to return home because Cuba appeared calm and safe, but Hearst cabled

back: “Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”10





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Chapter 10: The News Media: Communicating Political Images

Yellow journalism was characterized by its sensationalism. William Randolph Hearst’s New

York Journal whipped up public support for a war in Cuba against Spain through inflammatory

reporting on the sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana Harbor in 1898.

The excesses of yellow journalism led some publishers to consider ways

of reporting the news more responsibly. One step was to separate the

newspaper’s advertising department from its news department, thus reducing the influence of advertisers on news content. A second development

was a new model of reporting called objective journalism, which was

based on the reporting of “facts” rather than opinions and was “fair” in

that it presented both sides of partisan debate.11

A chief advocate of this new form of journalism was Adolph Ochs of

the New York Times. Ochs bought the Times in 1896, when its circulation was 9,000; four years later, its readership had grown to 82,000.

Ochs told his reporters that he “wanted as little partisanship as possible

. . . as few judgments as possible.”12 The Times gradually acquired a reputation as the country’s best newspaper. Objective reporting was also

promoted through newly formed journalism schools. Among the first of




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Chapter 10: The News Media: Communicating Political Images


these professional schools were those at Columbia University and the

University of Missouri.

The Politics of America’s News Media

Objective journalism is still the defining norm of American reporting. But

it does not dictate what news organizations and journalists must do, nor

does it govern all news media equally. As the following discussion will

show, its influence varies.


The United States has roughly fifteen hundred daily newspapers.

Although most of them side with one political party or the other on their

editorial and opinion pages, it usually is difficult to tell from their news

pages which party they back editorially. In their news coverage, they tend

to highlight the same national stories each day, and if a high-ranking

public official is caught in a scandal or makes a policy mistake, they will

play it up—whether that official is a Republican or a Democrat. As developments in Iraq soured, President George W. Bush received reams of bad

press in nearly all U.S. newspapers. During low periods of his presidency,

Bill Clinton received the same rough treatment from reporters.

Even the editorial and opinion pages of most American newspapers are

not completely one-sided. They usually include among their regular

columnists at least one columnist who has an opposing opinion. Since the

early 1970s, for example, the New York Times has always had at least one

conservative columnist—William Safire, a Nixon speechwriter, was the

first—to serve as a counterbalance to its liberal columnists.

Of course, America’s newspapers differ in their reporting styles. Some

thrive on sensationalism. The top story on the front page of the staid

Denver Post, for example, normally will compete for readers’ attention

with a half dozen other front-page stories. That same story in the tabloid

Rocky Mountain News might be splashed across the entire front page.

Differences in approach, however, do not disguise the fact that most news

organizations, regardless of their editorial position, tell their various audiences the same top stories each day. U.S. newspapers do not report a

Republican version of the news and an opposing Democratic version.

The evenhandedness of America’s newspapers is buttressed by their

dependence on wire services.13 Most U.S. newspapers lack the resources

to gather substantial amounts of news outside their own localities and

depend for their national coverage on the wire services, particularly the

Associated Press (AP). The AP has three hundred full-time reporters





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Chapter 10: The News Media: Communicating Political Images

stationed throughout the country and the world to gather news stories,

which are relayed to subscribing newspapers. More than 95 percent of the

nation’s dailies (as well as most broadcast stations) are serviced by AP,

which, because it serves the full range of American newspapers, studiously

avoids partisanship.

A few U.S. newspapers—including the New York Times, Wall Street

Journal, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and Chicago Tribune—have

large enough reporting staffs to generate their own national coverage.

Although these papers usually cover the same top stories in pretty much

the same way each day, they diverge in their feature, follow-up, and investigative reporting. This is where their partisan leanings become evident.

For example, the New York Times devotes more news space to America’s

social problems than does the editorially conservative Wall Street Journal.

For its part, the Journal devotes more space to the problems of corporate

America than does the Times. Nevertheless, differences of this kind are a

far cry from the robust partisanship that characterized nineteenth-century

American newspapers and is still found today in some European newspapers

(see “How the United States Compares”).

Broadcast News

Until the early twentieth century, the print media were the only form of

mass communication. Within a few decades, however, hundreds of radio

stations were broadcasting throughout the nation. Broadcasting was the first

truly national mass medium. Newspapers had local readerships, whereas

radio could reach millions of Americans across the country simultaneously.

Television followed radio, and by the late 1950s more than 90 percent

of American homes had a television set. However, television newscasts of

the 1950s were brief, lasting no more than fifteen minutes, and relied on

news gathered by other organizations, particularly the Associated Press

and other wire services. In the early 1960s, the three commercial networks—

CBS, NBC, and ABC—expanded their evening newscasts to thirty minutes,

and their audience ratings increased. Simultaneously, they increased the

size of their news divisions, and television soon became the leading

medium of national politics.

Today, television provides a twenty-four-hour forum of political news

and information. The creation of the Cable News Network (CNN) and

C-SPAN in the late 1970s brought Americans round-the-clock publicaffairs coverage. Television talk shows, such as The O’Reilly Factor and

Larry King Live, have broadened the range of choices available to politically interested viewers. A parallel development is the emergence of radio

talk shows. Nearly a sixth of the American public claim to listen regularly

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