Date of Award

Spring 5-2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communication and Journalism



Committee Chair

Christopher Campbell

Committee Chair Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

Committee Member 2

David R. Davies

Committee Member 2 Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

Committee Member 3

Cheryl D. Jenkins

Committee Member 3 Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

Committee Member 4

Vanessa Murphree

Committee Member 4 Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

Committee Member 5

Fei Xue

Committee Member 5 Department

Mass Communication and Journalism


Political knowledge has been defined as the individual’s ability to recall candidate names, personal characteristics, and qualifications. Furthermore, it is the ability to identify election issues, current campaign developments, and recognize connections between candidates and issue positions (C. Atkin & Heald, 1976). I posit that political knowledge has become much more…and much less.

I have introduced, in this paper, a number of sources for political learning: ads, newspapers, YouTube, and television news. All hold some interest for investigation as political knowledge sources, but methodology cannot be standardized across all sources. As such, the focus of the qualitative part of this study is television news. Following that discussion, a qualitative study of news stories as well as alternative sources of political knowledge is performed.

Television news is becoming more of a conduit for direct messaging by campaigns because ads produced by campaigns are often included in news coverage.

So, to be clear, this was not a study to determine if learning can take place via television news, as that has been done (C. Atkin & Heald, 1976; C. K. Atkin & Gantz, 1978). This work examines what can be learned. It proposes the question: Is the electorate being given enough information to make an informed, rational decision; or are news sources only informing the audiences through stereotype and bias at the expense of issue coverage?

Mixed methodology was used in an attempt to exhibit the frequency as well as depth the of racial and gender references in news stories, as well as alternate, yet still primary, sources of political knowledge. Textual analysis allows for a close-up examination of the broadcast scripts and context of a story without the constraints of being assigned a definable number or data point (C. P. Campbell, 1995). This same technique is used to examine user-generated content on the Internet that became subjects of news stories.

The sample for the quantitative study was randomly selected from a population of all campaign news stories between October, 2007 and March, 2008. This represents the time prior to the conventions when two candidates from the same party, an African American man and a white female, were beginning to separate themselves from the other candidates for the Democrat Party nomination. The sample for the qualitative section was purposive and taken from the news story population as well as other sources available to the electorate.

The results demonstrate that bias in news stories does exist, but not at the frequency expected. The study also finds that race and gender bias can be both overt as well as subtle. Bias is far more prevalent in internet sources, user-generated content and social media.