Media and its Limitations on Leadership

Influence in Political Discourse Constrains Governmental Functions

by Zachary Borodkin

A leader can talk about getting things done, but a good leader knows that, despite the majesty of their position, there are constrains on their power. These constrains are both internal and external and can impact the decisions that are made once said leader assumes power. According to Majone’s discussion of constraints, everyone, including very powerful figures and organizations, are subject to them. These constraints include prior polices and inertia, stakeholders and their demands, and time and resources. However, one constraint that is greatly overlooked, but very effective, is the media. Yes, the clandestine hand of the media can, with enough influence, change the perception of the leader or an entire body of government. Whether it is the media we call “mainstream” (Fox News, MSNBC, CNN) or independent sources (Democracy Now!, The Intercept, The Daily Kos), every source has an agenda. These sources inform people and contribute to, if not determine, the political discourse. The downside to these channels of information is that they can be reinterpreted depending on the perspective of the viewers. When put together, they form the viewers’ thoughts and words. This media-derived dialogue can determine the course of leadership in the future and the new leadership that has assumed power will not be immune from it.

I experienced this constraint a week before the election while watching a segment of The Young Turks on YouTube.  The segment was titled “Bernie [Sanders] Plans to Fight Against Hillary’s Corporatist Cabinet Picks.” The segment was about Hillary’s picks for certain posts like Secretary of the Treasury and Energy Secretary. These people would have enormous influence on the direction of her economic and environmental policies. Sanders and other progressives have vowed to fight them if they do not match the progressive narrative. The host of The Young Turks, Cenk Uyger, said when summing up the segment, “I don’t have to get you to be progressive if you’re already one. If you’re not, then we have to fight you.” An earlier article from the Washington Post was titled “Sanders Plans to be Liberal Thorn in Hillary’s Side”. Hillary has been under constant scrutiny for being a moderate, but moderate can also mean having an incremental approach to policy, and the term “Liberal Thorn” along with Cenk’s words are what people heard. Through unlimited sources, the media will again put pressure on the new Republican majority to make Trump’s biggest promises a reality. If these promises – building a wall, mass deportations – are not kept, the media will force their hand as the clock ticks to the mid-terms. This constraint will affect other limitations, especially time and resources, and might lead to a 2018 blowback like in 2010, when the Republican took over of Congress in a way not seen since the 1940’s.

With the powerful influence of the media continuing to grow, this constraint must be accounted for when discussing the limitations that future leaders will encounter. Many leaders, regardless of their level of experience, enter this powerful role believing that their ideas and abilities to carry them out are nearly limitless. These grand omissions of constrains can be fatal to a leader’s staying power and, unlike the limits to their power, the limits of the media can sometimes feel nonexistent.

As campaigns become more negative and technology allows for more media channels, the recognition of this constraint will become critical as the presence of the media embodies the discourse and becomes the leader itself.

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