There’s a media theory that argues that our mass media influence us more by what they choose to talk about than what they say about the subject. Agenda-setting theory, as it’s called, argues that that the media are important in our culture primarily because they tell us what we should think about rather than telling us what to think.*
I thought about the theory as I read yesterday’s Wheeling Intelligencer and Charleston Gazette-Mail coverage of the West Virginia legislature. Both featured front-page articles about resolutions and bills that were recently introduced or passed in committees. Given the number of bills that could have been featured, their choices would hopefully reflect what each paper thinks is (or ought to be) important, as well as what it assumes the public would want to know. Here is what the Intelligencer and the Gazette put on the agenda:
Required supermajority for tax increases
Delegate Pat McGeehan has sponsored a resolution to amend the West Virginia Constitution to require a two-thirds majority to pass any future tax or fee increase by the Legislature.
"The people of West Virginia are taxed enough already, and we need to do everything we can to protect them from politicians in Charleston who want to take more of their hard-earned paychecks," McGeehan, R-Hancock, said.
Mandatory public-school Bible study
Senate Bill 252, sponsored by Republican Sens. Mike Azinger of Wood County and Sue Cline of Wyoming County, would require all schools to provide an elective course on Hebrew Scriptures, Old Testament of the Bible, or New Testament of the Bible for the purpose of teaching students "knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture . . . ."
A bill introduced Monday that would allow commercial logging in West Virginia’s state parks as a way to pay for the park system’s backlogged maintenance work has prompted nine conservation groups to form a coalition opposing the bill’s passage.
Senate Bill 270, sponsored by Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, and Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, and introduced at the request of Gov. Jim Justice, would lift a ban on state park timbering that has been in effect since 1931.
Direct election of the state Board of Education
West Virginia’s House Education Committee on Wednesday passed, 13-8, a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution that would allow elections for six of the nine state Board of Education members and shorten their terms from nine years to six years.
But the amendment (House Joint Resolution 103) also greatly shifts power from the state school board members, elected or not, to the state Legislature. All nine members are currently gubernatorial appointees.
Apart from the theory itself, the choice of what each paper chose and didn’t choose tells us a great deal about the agendas of each of the papers. For example, allowing logging in state parks, given the politicians behind it, has an excellent chance at passage. It's an important piece of legislation and yet we have read nothing about it in our local Ogden newspapers. That doesn't surprise me. Nor does it surprise me that the Intelligencer devoted an entire article to a bill about mandatory Bible study, one that is likely going nowhere and would be immediately challenged if it somehow became law.
Are our local papers really keeping us informed?
*Note – the theory, which dates to the 1968 presidential election, has recently gotten renewed scholarly interest with Donald Trump’s candidacy and presidency.