Agenda Setting Theory

Explanation of Theory:

The Agenda-Setting Theory says the media (mainly the news media) aren’t always successful at telling us what to think, but they are quite successful at telling us what to think about.
Theorist: Maxwell McCombs and Donald L. Shaw

Date:  1972/1973

Primary Article:

  McCombs, M., & Shaw, D.L. (1972). The agenda-setting function of the mass media. Public Opinion Quarterly, 36, 176-185.

Who is the boss?

Who owns the media may be controlling the message. And he who owns the media, and, in turn, its content, brings us a worldview—one could argue. Let us utilize the agenda-setting theory as a framework to understand this a bit deeper. Today, a handful of composite firms happen to own all of corporate media. Moreover, corporatism seems to be the dominant ideology here and in much of the rest of the planet, thanks to Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, Milton Friedman, et. Al., IMF, World Bank, and the quad (i.e., USA, Japan, Canada, and the EU) along with China, India and Brazil, ushering in and implementing the project of Globalization under the ideological umbrella of neoliberalism (i.e., free-market fundamentalism aka, corporatism).

Let us expand the boundaries of the agenda-setting theory a bit.

  1. The corporate media set the agenda; telling us what to think about
  2. The corporate media teach us that we NEED to read and evaluate the different items on the agenda
  3. Audiences pay close attention to the topics on the agenda, because these are stressed around the clock by the corporate media via TV, Radio, Newspapers, and the Internet
  4. The corporate media also provide pundits, “experts,” and other talking heads to give us various “informed and educated” analyses of topics. In turn, they teach us a kind of evaluative language with its own set of easy to digest lexicon
  5. The pedagogy of corporate media is effective, as they are aware of the effectiveness of emotion-provoking images and repetition of easy to digest talking points

So, not only do they set the agenda, but they seem to manage to make many of us into automatons who will evaluate the topics in same or similar terms as they do. In other words, monkey see, monkey do!

We seem to be chained in the proverbial Platonic cave set up by what media critic Thomas Frank calls “the culture trust” (i.e., conglomerate owners of corporate media) and their agents of implementation. The conglomeration juggernaut will—and does—censor their news vehicles, watering down political issues and so on.

Tools such as Youtube seem to have turned the table on the agenda setters, whereby now the citizens can set their own agenda. Can this condition last?