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The Impact of the Media on the Democratic Process

As we said in our last lesson, we live in a media world. The media have an overpowering effect on everything. They shape government, society and culture. They influence beliefs, lifestyles and relationships. They shape our perception of reality. And, of course, they have a tremendous effect on the democratic process.

A Little Media History

homas Paine'famous pamphlet, Common Sense (published in 1776), was read by virtually every literate American. It is widely believed to have brought vast numbers of people to the Revolutionary cause, although Patrick Henry's Give me Liberty or Give me Death speech also played an important role. And when support was needed for ratification of the Constitution, publication of The Federalist Papers in a New York newspaper was what made it happen.

The Founding Fathers firmly believed that democracy could only be achieved with an educated, informed electorate. As Thomas Jefferson said, "A nation which expects to be ignorant and free expects what never was and never will be." During the first century after independence, newspapers boomed, growing from 992 in 1700 to 3,725 in 1860. In the early 1800s, they were instrumental in many election campaigns, although these newspapers were usually not impartial but were directed at individual political parties.