Skip to main content
×
×
Home

Scandal Potential: How Political Context and News Congestion Affect the President's Vulnerability to Media Scandal

  • Brendan Nyhan
Abstract

Despite its importance in contemporary American politics, presidential scandal is poorly understood within political science. Scholars typically interpret scandals as resulting from the disclosure of official misbehavior, but the likelihood and intensity of media scandals is also influenced by the political and news context. This article provides a theoretical argument for two independent factors that should increase the president's vulnerability to scandal: low approval among opposition party identifiers and a lack of congestion in the news agenda. Using new data and statistical approaches, I find strong support for both claims. These results suggest that contextual factors shape the occurrence of political events and how such events are interpreted.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Scandal Potential: How Political Context and News Congestion Affect the President's Vulnerability to Media Scandal
      Available formats
      ×
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Scandal Potential: How Political Context and News Congestion Affect the President's Vulnerability to Media Scandal
      Available formats
      ×
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Scandal Potential: How Political Context and News Congestion Affect the President's Vulnerability to Media Scandal
      Available formats
      ×
Copyright
Footnotes
Hide All
*

Department of Government, Dartmouth College (email: nyhan@dartmouth.edu). I thank John Aldrich, Michael Brady, Brian Fogarty, Seth Freedman, James Hamilton, Karen Hoffman, Daniel Lee, Walter Mebane, Jacob Montgomery, Michael Munger, David Rohde, Charles Shipan, Keith Smith, Georg Vanberg and anonymous reviewers for helpful comments. I am also grateful to Marshall Breeding of the Vanderbilt News Archive, Andrew Forcehimes and Brian Newman for sharing data and to Stacy Kim and Gracelin Baskaran for research assistance. Finally, I thank the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for generous support. A supplementary online appendix and replication dataset and code are available at http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1017/S0007123413000458.

Footnotes
References
Hide All
Abramowitz, Alan I. 2008. Forecasting the 2008 Presidential Election With the Time-for-Change Model. PS: Political Science and Politics 41 (4):691695.
Adut, Ari. 2005. A Theory of Scandal: Victorians, Homosexuality, and the Fall of Oscar Wilde. American Journal of Sociology 111 (1):213248.
Agence France Presse. 2000. World's Worst Mass Suicides. Agence France Presse, 18 March.
Allen, Ira R. 1982. July: A Crazy Month in Washington. United Press International, 14 July.
Angrist, Joshua D. Pischke, Jörn-Steffens. 2009. Mostly Harmless Econometrics: An Empiricist's Companion. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Apostolidis, Paul Williams, Juliet A.. 2004. Introduction: Sex Scandals and Discourses of Power. In Public Affairs: Politics in the Age of Sex Scandals, edited by Paul Apostolidis and Juliet A. Williams. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Basinger, Scott J. 2013. Scandals and Congressional Elections in the Post-Watergate Era. Political Research Quarterly 66 (2):385398.
Basinger, Scott Rottinghaus, Brandon. 2012. Stonewalling and Suspicion During Presidential Scandals. Political Research Quarterly 65 (2):290302.
Beck, Neal, Katz, Jonathan N. Tucker, Richard. 1998. Taking Time Seriously: Time-Series-Cross-Section Analysis With a Binary Dependent Variable. American Journal of Political Science 42 (4):12601288.
Bennett, W. Lance. 1990. Toward a Theory of Press-State Relations in the United States. Journal of Communication 40 (2):103127.
Bennett, W. Lance. 2004. Gatekeeping and Press-Government Relations: A Multigated Model of News Construction. In Handbook of Political Communication Research, edited by Lynda Lee Kaid, 283314. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Bennett, W. Lance, Lawrence, Regina G. Livingston, Steven. 2006. None Dare Call it Torture: Indexing and the Limits of Press Independence in the Abu Ghraib Scandal. Journal of Communication 56 (3):467485.
Best, Joel. 1993. But Seriously Folks: The Limitations of the Strict Constructionist Interpretation of Social Problems. In Reconsidering Social Constructionism: Debates in Social Problems Theory, edited by James A. Holstein and Gale Miller, 129147. New Brunswick, NJ: Aldine.
Blais, André, Gidengil, Elisabeth, Fournier, Patrick, Nevitte, Neil, Everitt, Joanna Kim, Jiyoon. 2010. Political Judgments, Perceptions of Facts, and Partisan Effects. Electoral Studies 29 (1):112.
Boehmke, Frederick J., Morey, Daniel S. Shannon, Megan. 2006. Selection Bias and Continuous-Time Duration Models: Consequences and a Proposed Solution. American Journal of Political Science 50 (1):192207.
Bowler, Shaun Karp, Jeffrey A.. 2004. Politicians, Scandals, and Trust in Government. Political Behavior 26 (3):271287.
Box-Steffensmeier, Janet M. Jones, Bradford S.. 1997. Time is of the Essence: Event History Models in Political Science. American Journal of Political Science 41 (4):336383.
Brady, David W., Han, Hahrie Pope, Jeremy C.. 2007. Primary Elections and Candidate Ideology: Out of Step with the Primary Electorate? Legislative Studies Quarterly 32 (1):79105.
Brody, Richard A. 1991. Assessing the President: The Media, Elite Opinion, and Public Support. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Browne, Eric C., Frendreis, John P. Gleiber, Dennis W.. 1986. The Process of Cabinet Dissolution: An Exponential Model of Duration and Stability in Western Democracies. American Journal of Political Science 30 (3):628650.
Cameron, A. Colin, Gelbach, Jonah B. Miller, Douglas L.. 2008. Bootstrap-Based Improvements for Inference with Clustered Errors. The Review of Economics and Statistics 90 (3):414427.
Cameron, A. Colin Trivedi, Pravin K.. 2010. Microeconometrics Using Stata. College Station, TX: Stata Press.
Cameron, Charles M. 2002. Studying the Polarized Presidency. Presidential Studies Quarterly 32 (4):647663.
Cannon, Carl M. 1993. Low Approval Rating in Polls Dogs Clinton. Buffalo News 14 April.
Carter, David B. Signorino, Curtis S.. 2010. Back to the Future: Modeling Time Dependence in Binary Data. Political Analysis 18:271292.
CBSNews.com. 2009. Why We Mourn Intimate Strangers. 7 July.
Clayman, Steven E., Heritage, John, Elliott, Marc N. McDonald, Laurie L.. 2007. When Does the Watchdog Bark? Conditions of Aggressive Questioning in Presidential News Conferences. American Sociological Review 72 (1):2341.
Clinton, Joshua D. 2006. Representation in Congress: Constituents and Roll Calls in the 106th House. Journal of Politics 68 (2):397409.
Cohen, Jeffrey E. 2008. The Presidency in the Era of 24-Hour News. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Cohen, Jeffrey E. 2010. Going Local: Presidential Leadership in the Post-Broadcast Age. New Yok: Cambridge University Press.
Cook, Charles E. 1991. Sununu After Flap: A Kinder, Gentler Chief of Staff? Roll Call 6 May.
Cook, Timothy E. 2005. Governing with the News: The News Media as a Political Institution, Second edition. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Crouse, Timothy. 1973. The Boys on the Bus: Riding with the Campaign Press Corps. New York: Random House.
Dewan, Torun Myatt, David P.. 2007. Scandal, Protection, and Recovery in the Cabinet. American Political Science Review 101 (1):6377.
Dewan, Torun Myatt, David P.. 2010. The Declining Talent Pool of Government. American Journal of Political Science 54 (2):267286.
Doherty, David, Dowling, Conor M. Miller, Michael G.. 2011. Are Financial or Moral Scandals Worse? It Depends. PS: Political Science & Politics 44 (4):749757.
Edwards, George C. 2009. The Strategic President: Persuasion and Opportunity in Presidential Leadership. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Eisensee, Thomas Strömberg, David. 2007. News Droughts, News Floods, and US Disaster Relief. The Quarterly Journal of Economics 122 (2):693728.
Entman, Robert M. 1989. Democracy Without Citizens: Media and the Decay of American Politics. New York: Oxford University Press.
Entman, Robert M. 2004. Projections of Power: Framing News, Public Opinion, and US Foreign Policy. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Entman, Robert M. 2012. Scandal and Silence: Media Responses to Presidential Misconduct. Malden, MA: Polity.
Fackler, Tim Lin, Tse-min. 1995. Political Corruption and Presidential Elections, 1929–1992. Journal of Politics 57 (4):971993.
Farnsworth, Stephen J. 2009. Spinner in Chief: How Presidents Sell Their Policies and Themselves. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.
Farnsworth, Stephen J. Lichter, S. Robert. 2004. Source Material: New Presidents and Network News: Covering the First Year in Office of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. Presidential Studies Quarterly 34 (3):674690.
Farnsworth, Stephen J. Lichter, S. Robert. 2006. The Mediated Presidency: Television News and Presidential Governance. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Fine, Gary A. 1997. Scandal, Social Conditions, and the Creation of Public Attention: Fatty Arbuckle and the ‘Problem of Hollywood’. Social Problems 44 (3):297323.
Fischle, Mark. 2000. Mass Response to the Lewinsky Scandal: Motivated Reasoning or Bayesian Updating? Political Psychology 21 (1):135159.
Fogarty, Brian J. 2008. The Strategy of the Story: Media Monitoring Legislative Activity. Legislative Studies Quarterly 33 (3):445469.
Fogarty, Brian J. 2013. Scandals, News Coverage, and the 2006 Congressional Elections. Political Communication 30 (3):419433.
Fox, Gerald T. 2009. Partisan Divide on War and the Economy: Presidential Approval of G.W. Bush. Journal of Conflict Resolution 53 (6):905933.
Funk, Carolyn L. 1996. The Impact of Scandal on Candidate Evaluations: An Experimental Test of the Role of Candidate Traits. Political Behavior 18 (1):124.
Gentzkow, Matthew Shapiro, Jesse M.. 2010. What Drives Media Slant? Evidence from US Daily Newspapers. Econometrica 78 (1):3571.
Ginsberg, Benjamin Shefter, Martin. 2002. Politics by Other Means: Politicians, Prosecutors, and the Press from Watergate to Whitewater, 3rd edition. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.
Gordon, Sanford C. 2010. Assessing Partisan Bias in Federal Public Corruption Prosecutions. American Political Science Review 103 (4):534554.
Green, Joshua. 2002. The Gate-less Community. Washington Monthly, July/August:8–14.
Groeling, Tim. 2010. When Politicians Attack! Party Cohesion in the Media. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Grynaviski, Jeffrey D. 2010. Partisan Bonds: Political Reputations and Legislative Accountability. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Hamilton, James T. 2004. All the News That's Fit to Sell: How the Market Transforms Information into News. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Holcomb, Jesse, Mitchell, Amy, Rosenstiel, Tom. 2011. The State of the News Media 2011. Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. Available from http://stateofthemedia.org/2011/cable-essay/data-page-2/, accessed 3 January 2013.
Insurance Information Institute. 2011a. Earthquakes. Available from http://www.iii.org/facts_statistics/earthquakes.html, accessed 18 February 2011.
Insurance Information Institute. 2011b. Hurricanes. Available from http://www.iii.org/facts_statistics/hurricanes.html, accessed 18 February 2011.
Jacobson, Gary C. 2003. Partisan Polarization in Presidential Support: The Electoral Connection. Congress & the Presidency 30:136.
Jones, Jeffrey M. 2010. Obama's Approval Most Polarized for First-Year President. Gallup.com, 25 January. Available from http://www.gallup.com/poll/125345/obama-approval-polarized-first-year-president.aspx, accessed 4 May 2013.
Kalb, Martin. 1998. The Rise of the ‘New News’: A Case Study of Two Root Causes of the Modern Scandal Coverage. Cambridge, MA: Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.
King, Gary Zeng, Langche. 2006. The Dangers of Extreme Counterfactuals. Political Analysis 14 (2):131159.
King, Gary, Alt, James E., Burns, Nancy E. Laver, Michael. 1990. A Unified Model of Cabinet Dissolution in Parliamentary Democracies. American Journal of Political Science 34 (3):846871.
Kriner, Douglas Schwartz, Liam. 2008. Divided Government and Congressional Investigations. Legislative Studies Quarterly 33 (2):295321.
Kunda, Ziva. 1990. The Case for Motivated Reasoning. Psychological Bulletin 108 (3):480498.
Kurtz, Howard. 1991. Scandal. Washington Post Magazine, 22 September.
Layman, Geoffrey C., Carsey, Thomas M., Green, John C., Herrera, Richard Cooperman, Rosalyn. 2010. Activists and Conflict Extension in American Party Politics. American Political Science Review 104 (2):324346.
Lebo, Matthew J. Cassino, Daniel. 2007. The Aggregated Consequences of Motivated Reasoning and the Dynamics of Partisan Presidential Approval. Political Psychology 28 (6):719746.
Lupia, Arthur Strøm, Kaare. 1995. Coalition Termination and the Strategic Timing of Parliamentary Elections. American Political Science Review 89 (3):648665.
Markovits, Andrei Silverstein, Mark. 1988. Power and Process in Liberal Democracies. The Politics of Scandal, edited by Andrei Markovits and Mark Silverstein. New York: Holmes and Meier.
Mayhew, David R. 2005. Divided We Govern: Party Control, Lawmaking, and Investigations, 1946–2002, 2nd edition. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Meinke, Scott R. Anderson, William D.. 2001. Influencing from Impaired Administrations: Presidents, White House Scandals, and Legislative Leadership. Legislative Studies Quarterly 26 (4):639659.
Molotch, Harvey Lester, Marilyn. 1974. News as Purposive Behavior: On the Strategic Use of Routine Events, Accidents, and Scandals. American Sociological Review 39 (1):101112.
Newman, Brian Forcehimes, Andrew. 2010. ‘Rally Round the Flag’ Events for Presidential Approval Research. Electoral Studies 29 (1):144154.
Ostrom, Charles W. Simon, Dennis M.. 1985. Promise and Performance: A Dynamic Model of Presidential Popularity. American Political Science Review 79 (2):334358.
Parker, David C. W. Dull, Matthew. 2009. Divided We Quarrel: The Politics of Congressional Investigations, 1947–2004. Legislative Studies Quarterly 34 (3):319345.
Parker, David C. W. Dull, Matthew. 2013. Rooting Out Waste, Fraud, and Abuse: The Politics of House Committee Investigations, 1947 to 2004. Political Research Quarterly 66 (3):630644.
Peters, John G. Welch, Susan. 1980. The Effects of Charges of Corruption on Voting Behavior in Congressional Elections. American Political Science Review 74 (3):697708.
Poole, Keith T. Rosenthal, Howard. 1997. Congress: A Political-Economic History of Roll Call Voting. New York: Oxford University Press.
Poole, Keith T. Rosenthal, Howard. 2007. Ideology and Congress. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
Prentice, R. L., Williams, B. J. Peterson, A. V.. 1981. On the Regression Analysis of Multivariate Failure Time Data. Biometrika 68 (2):373379.
Puglisi, Riccardo Snyder, James M.. 2011. Newspaper Coverage of Political Scandals. Journal of Politics 73 (3):120.
Redlawsk, David P. 2002. Hot Cognition or Cool Consideration? Testing the Effects of Motivated Reasoning on Political Decision Making. Journal of Politics 64 (4):10211044.
Robinson, Michael J. 2007. The News Interest Index, 1986–2007. Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 15 August.
Rosenbaum, David E. 2003. First a Leak, Then a Predictable Pattern. New York Times, 3 October.
Sabato, Larry. 1991. Feeding Frenzy: How Attack Journalism has Transformed American Politics. New York: Free Press.
Shogan, Colleen J. 2006. The Contemporary Presidency: The Sixth Year Curse. Presidential Studies Quarterly 36 (1):89101.
Smith, Craig A. Smith, Kathy B.. 1994. The White House Speaks: Presidential Leadership as Persuasion. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.
Smith, Patrick. 2009. Is Your Pilot Drunk? salon.com. Available from http://www.salon.com/technology/ask_the_pilot/2009/11/12/askthepilot341, accessed 18 February 2011.
Snyder, James M. Ting, Michael M.. 2002. An Informational Rationale for Political Parties. American Journal of Political Science 46:90110.
Staiger, Douglas Stock, James H.. 1997. Instrumental Variables Regression with Weak Instruments. Econometrica 65 (3):557586.
Stimson, James A. 2004. Tides of Consent: How Public Opinion Shapes American Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Strøm, Kaare, Browne, Eric C., Frendreis, John P. Glieber, Dennis W.. 1988. Contending Models of Cabinet Stability. American Political Science Review 82 (3):923941.
Szasz, Andrew. 1986. The Process and Significance of Political Scandals: A Comparison of Watergate and the ‘Sewergate’ Episode at the Environmental Protection Agency. Social Problems 33 (3):202217.
Taber, Charles S. Lodge, Milton. 2006. Motivated Skepticism in the Evaluation of Political Beliefs. American Journal of Political Science 50 (3):755769.
Thompson, John. 2000. Political Scandal: Power and Visibility in the Media Age. Malden, MA: Polity.
Tuchman, Gaye. 1972. Objectivity as Strategic Ritual: An Examination of Newsmen's Notions of Objectivity. American Journal of Sociology 77 (4):660679.
Violence Policy Center. 2007. Violence Policy Center Statement on Virginia Tech Shooting, Deadliest in US History. Press release, 16 April. Available from http://www.vpc.org/press/0704vatech.htm, accessed 7 February 2011.
Waisbord, Silvio R. 2004. Scandals, Media, and Citizenship in Contemporary Argentina. American Behavioral Scientist 47 (8):10721098.
Welch, Susan Hibbing, John R.. 1997. The Effects of Charges of Corruption on Voting Behavior in Congressional Elections, 1982–1990. Journal of Politics 59 (1):226239.
Woolgar, Steve Pawluch, Dorothy. 1985. Ontological Gerrymandering: The Anatomy of Social Problems Explanations. Social Problems 32 (3):214227.
York, Byron. 2001. Clinton Has No Clothes: What 9/11 Revealed About the Ex-president. National Review 53 (24):3438.
Zaller, John Chiu, Dennis. 1996. Government's Little Helper: US Press Coverage of Foreign Policy Crises, 1945–1991. Political Communication 13 (4):385405.
Zimmer, Troy A. 1979. The Impact of Watergate on the Public's Trust in People and Confidence in the Mass Media. Social Science Quarterly 58 (4):743752.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

British Journal of Political Science
  • ISSN: 0007-1234
  • EISSN: 1469-2112
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-of-political-science
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×
Type Description Title
UNKNOWN
Supplementary materials

Nyhan Supplementary Material
Supplementary Material

 Unknown (317 KB)
317 KB
PDF
Supplementary materials

Nyhan Supplementary Material
Appendix

 PDF (164 KB)
164 KB
UNKNOWN
Supplementary materials

Nyhan Supplementary Material
Supplementary Material

 Unknown (8 KB)
8 KB
UNKNOWN
Supplementary materials

Nyhan Supplementary Material
Supplementary Material

 Unknown (23 KB)
23 KB

Metrics

Altmetric attention score