Congress, the Press, and the Public

In recent years Congress has been in a state of siege. The healthy skepticism that had long characterized public attitudes toward Congress degenerated into corrosive cynicism. The reservoir of support among political elites appears to have collapsed as well. Part of the explanation for this growing public hostility lies in objective conditions: stagnant wages, huge budget deficits, sustained divided government, scandals and deadlock on Capitol Hill. But another important factor may be how Congress is presented to and interpreted for the broader public.

This book explores the connections between Congress, the press, and the public. Public opinion scholars analyze historical data to discern trends in and sources of public hostility toward Congress. Media specialists examine patterns of congressional coverage in national print and television news and attitudes toward Congress among producers, editors, and reporters. And students of Congress explore the tools and techniques leaders and rank-and-file members use in presenting themselves and their institution to the public. The book concludes by assessing the role the media plays in presenting Congress to the public and what the media and Congress might do to improve public understanding.

The contributors are Herb Asher and Michael Barr, Ohio State University; Karlyn Bowman and Kimberly Coursen, the American Enterprise Institute; Ronald D. Elving, Congressional Quarterly; Stephen Hess, Brookings; Karl Kurtz, National Conference of State Legislatures; Everett Carll Ladd, The Roper Center; Robert Lichter, Center for Media and Public Policy; and Mark J. Rozell, Mary Washington College.

This book is the third in a series by the Renewing Congress Project, a joint effort of the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution. The previous volumes are Renewing Congress: A First Report and Renewing Congress: A Second Report.

Thomas E. Mann, director of the Governmental Studies program at Brookings, is coeditor of Media Polls in American Politics (Brookings, 1992) and Campaign Finance Reform: A Sourcebook (Brookings, 1990). Norman J. Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is coeditor of The New Congress (AEI, 1981) and Balancing Act: Debt, Deficits, and Taxes (AEI, 1990). They are founders and coeditors of Vital Statistics on Congress.