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Is any old coverage good coverage?

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images The media circus surrounding the upcoming U.S. presidential elections and the candidates’ constant reversion to rehearsed talking points in both the debates and interviews might leave you feeling jaded about the value of media political coverage. But rather than hope for the hoopla to stop, perhaps we should pray that it continues. ...

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Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The media circus surrounding the upcoming U.S. presidential elections and the candidates’ constant reversion to rehearsed talking points in both the debates and interviews might leave you feeling jaded about the value of media political coverage. But rather than hope for the hoopla to stop, perhaps we should pray that it continues.

 

A recent study by political scientists at MIT and IIES, a research institute in Stockholm, suggests that in the long run media attention really does make politicians — or U.S. congressmen, anyway — more accountable:

Congressmen who are less covered by the local press work less for their constituencies: they are less likely to stand witness before congressional hearings, to serve on constituency-oriented committees, and to vote against the party line… Federal spending is lower in areas where there is less press coverage of the local members of congress.

The study set low standards for what counts as press coverage; the researchers simply looked at how often a politician’s name is mentioned in local newspapers, which makes the apparent impact of such coverage all the more surprising. The study also finds that press coverage of local politicians is lower in areas where residents get their news from media sources that cater to multiple political districts. Bad news for local readers of the Washington Post and the New York Times?

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