February 2012

Driving A Look At The Media

Thanks to a multi-million dollar media buy, it’s likely you’ve seen those Ford television commercials where unsuspecting, real-life car owners get whisked in to a press conference to talk about their vehicles. No matter how many times you have watched the ubiquitous spots, Dr. Ron Bishop probably has you beat.

Dr. Bishop, a professor of Communication in the College of Culture and Communication, has studied the multi-spot “Drive One” advertising campaign as part of his ongoing research on the news media. In the commercials, actual Ford car owners are invited by Ford to participate in a focus group. When they arrive at the study, they are instead walked into a simulated press conference, complete with lights, cameras and actors portraying journalists. The “journalists” toss easy questions at the car owners.

“I look at the ads to see what they ask us to believe about journalism,” Dr. Bishop explains.

The press conference ad and a companion ad in the Ford campaign that features a fake newscast tell us about modern day perceptions of journalism.

“Journalism is a shell of its former self,” he says. Dr. Bishop says. “The best journalists can do is kind of pop up on the scene.”

The reporters in the ads are friendly and ask soft questions of the Ford owners. The portrayal is a far cry from the crusty, hard-hitting reporters of old.

“The days of Watergate are long gone,” he declares.

Journalists have not shown willingness or an ability to push back against these and other depictions of their trade.

“Journalists have lost their energy to rhetorically defend their boundaries,” says Dr. Bishop, a former journalist.

In another research initiative, Dr. Bishop looked at how New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was portrayed in media coverage surrounding his breakup with actress and girlfriend Bridget Moynahan, who was pregnant with his child at the time, and subsequent relationship with supermodel Gisele Bundchen. The study, reported in the Journal of Sports Media, analyzed articles from major U.S. newspapers with the backdrop of hegemonic masculinity.

While gossip columnists criticized Brady for his actions, the study found that journalists mostly defended his behavior. Negative statements regarding fathering a child out of wedlock were attributed to the country’s obsession with celebrity.

Coverage portrayed Brady as a wholesome person. He was “virtuous and embodied mainstream values, even as he made a fortune playing football and bore a child out of wedlock.” The portrayal of Moynahan and Bundchen was nowhere near as flattering. Moynahan’s bitterness toward Brady was reported. Bundchen was portrayed as a “home wrecker.”

Brady eventually married Bundchen and they are raising a son. Brady admits to not being able to spend much time with his son. But coverage, the study found, did not criticize Brady for this admission, as other fathers might be. Brady was permitted to create a new standard for a father.

Brady, the study found, was presented as a “man’s man.”

In a newly-released book, Dr. Bishop ties together the implications of his media research. More. The Vanishing of Scale In An Over-The-Top Nation takes a look at the role of the media in the demise of scale in society. Dr. Bishop uses examples from television shows, news stories and advertisements to demonstrate how media promote that the private aspects of life must be showcased publicly to achieve success.

The concept of more can be found in the fast food industry and in the housing crisis, Dr. Bishop observes. Small, medium and large are no longer the norm. Super-sized options now exist. At one point, it was enough to own a home. Then, home ownership became supercharged and owing the biggest home became the goal, regardless of ability to pay.

A professor at Ohio University said More "reveals the way television has redefined our thinking so that joy is defined by extravagance and edification by a chore."