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«A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College in partial fulfillment of ...»

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A Dissertation

Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the

Louisiana State University and

Agricultural and Mechanical College

in partial fulfillment of the

requirements for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy


The Manship School of

Mass Communication by Chance York B.G.S., University of Kansas, 2008 M.S., Kansas State University, 2010 May 2014 ©Copyright 2014 Chance York All rights reserved ii


It may defy the parameters of my long-term memory to retrieve the names of every individual who has helped me on my journey in academia. I will attempt to address each one in turn, starting with my major professor, Dr. Kirby Goidel (Louisiana State University). Kirby has shown all the patience of a Buddhist monk in dealing with my daily protestations, hesitations, equivocations, desultory commitments, haranguing, carping, grousing, grumbling, whining, griping, groaning, bellyaching and general complaining, my unreliableness, my eccentricities, my slow-wittedness, my short-sightedness and my all-too-ambivalent attitudes. Kirby has put forward a monumental effort in dealing with my apathy, anxiety, aloofness and apprehensiveness, not to mention my continual disorientation, dazed demeanor and disenchanted persona. He has tolerated my occasional pompousness as well as my fluctuating self-confidence, the bruises others sometimes inflicted on my fragile ego, my vacillations, as well as brief periods of personal despair, dejection, depression, despondency and dyspepsia. Once, Kirby even had to deal with my optimism. It was terrible. It was completely unexpected. It nearly destroyed him.

Nevertheless, in all seriousness, Kirby Goidel has been a trusted advisor and friend, and I certainly could not have completed this dissertation without his unswerving commitment to my success. The same can be said of Dr. Christopher Weber (University of Arizona), who was my major professor before Kirby. Chris was patient and kind, a good advisor who listened to my academic travails as well as triumphs. When academic life was uncertain, Chris reassured me.

He made me think of new ways of looking at and solving problems. And he was instrumental in developing my knowledge of research and statistical methods. I cannot thank him enough for his help, especially in organizing and executing my written exams. However, I do think I soiled myself after reading one of Chris’s difficult written exam questions, so I’m not entirely grateful.

iii Dr. Rosanne Scholl (Louisiana State University) and Dr. Bruce Hardy (University of Pennsylvania) also share responsibility for my success in academe. Rosanne and Bruce fulfilled almost every function of a major professor without assuming the actual title. Everything that can be said about Kirby and Chris’s patience can be said of Rosanne’s and Bruce’s. I cannot count the number of times I went to Rosanne for professional advice, all of it indispensible. While only in residence at LSU for one year, Bruce provided me with invaluable insights into the history of mass communication, mass communication theory and statistical analysis that I gained nowhere else in graduate school. Both Rosanne and Bruce provided me with considerable encouragement and some much needed humor. Rosanne and Bruce helped develop me as a researcher, as a professional in the field, and as a person. They inspired me. They got me interested in the history of our field, important political communication problems, and communication effects on public opinion. For their help throughout this process, they have my eternal gratitude.

Drs. James “Jim” Garand and Margaret “Peggy” DeFleur (Louisiana State University) also have my sincerest thanks for their tireless dedication. Along with Chris, Jim contributed a great deal to my knowledge of statistics, which, in part, made this dissertation and many other research projects doable. Jim is truly a master educator who allowed me enough structure, and leeway within that structure, to pursue research projects I found important and interesting. He was also kind enough to let me “Google” him about Stata commands more times than I can count (sorry, Jim!). Peggy, it should be noted, was the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies in 2010 and was responsible for selecting me for the Manship School’s doctoral program. She gave me the most wonderful opportunity of my life. After being accepted, she provided crucial lessons in mass communication theory and helped advise my job search. Peggy and Jim have provided me

–  –  –

general – that I couldn’t find anywhere else. They will always have my deepest appreciation.

Dr. Amy Reynolds (Louisiana State University), Associate Dean of Graduate Studies from 2010 to 2014, also played a major role in my graduate education, bringing this dissertation together, and in providing unflagging encouragement. I give her special thanks and am forever in her debt. Critically important to this achievement is the advice, support and tutoring I received over the past four years from a wide variety of professors, including Drs. Johanna Dunaway, Chris Mann, Yongick Jeong, Meghan Sanders, Danny Shipka, Nicole Dahmen, John Hamilton, Lou Day, Ray Pingree (Louisiana State University), and Regina Lawrence (University of Texas), formerly of LSU. Renee Pierce and her staff should also be acknowledged for providing exceptional technical support throughout the process, and for indulging as many of my whims as possible. Drs. Steven Smethers, Joye Gordon, Soontae An, Louise Benjamin (Kansas State University), Hyun Seung “H.S.” Jin (University of Missouri- Kansas City), Sergei Samoilenko (George Mason University); Robert Elliot, John Hoopes, and Laura Mielke (University of Kansas) also deserve a great deal of credit for their support. A special thanks goes to my late master’s major professor, Dr. Todd Simon (Kansas State University). Todd’s brilliant, nuanced insights into politics are, in part, what inspired me to pursue a Ph.D. at Louisiana State.

Last but not least are all the people who have helped me, both professionally and personally. In no particular order: Jason Turcotte, Jeremey and Elizabeth Padgett, Mia Kamal, Nick and Marybeth Davis, Ashley Kirzinger, Cassie Black, Britt Christensen, Laura Crosswell, Newly Paul, Zeynep Altinay, Keren and Kris Henderson, Young Kim, Myoungi Gi Chon, Lindsay McCluskey, Liz Lebron, Josh Harris, Lilli Lopez; David Tuwei, Sookyong Kim, Keunyeong Kim, Aobo Dong, Yue Wu, Cathy Qiu, Lee Goerl, Will Chernoff, Eric Bunch,

–  –  –

Dave Gates, David Rushing, Karen Lewis, Maggie Jones, Cassi Stuckman and Grant Turner.

A very special gratitude must be paid to my girlfriend Erin and her family: Debbie, Ramon, Evan and Kristen, along with niece Penelope, aunts Charlene and Julie, and adored feline cat-son-kitty-man, Chino. Over the past four years, Erin and her family have opened their home to me and accepted me as one of their own, and I am forever appreciative of all of the love, understanding, and support they have provided me. My mom, Shirley, has perhaps been the most inspiring person of all. When I was young mom worked three or four jobs to pay the bills, and to make sure my brothers (Jason, Justin) and I got the necessities. Throughout graduate school, mom has given me a tremendous amount of encouragement and has listened very patiently to my ramblings about statistics and research and teaching. For all that and much more, I love and am forever grateful to my mom. The whole “giving birth” thing was also important (thanks, mom!).

Last but not least, I must acknowledge my late grandparents on my mom’s side, Paul and Marie. I’ve never met two more courageous individuals, and I attribute many of my rare, good qualities – including my persistence in academia and completing this dissertation – to their influence. Compared to what they survived – growing up on the isolated plains of Nebraska and Kansas, having very little money during the Great Depression, worrying about very real and concrete dangers on a farm and ranch – my own efforts seem like a cakewalk. All of the hard work and effort they displayed when I was young set an example that I’ll follow the rest of my life. I will forever remember and love them, and I am thankful for every moment we had together.









Defining Scandal

Media Coverage of Political Scandals

Individual Evaluations of Political Scandal

Political Scandals and Electoral Survivability



















Summary of Findings


Recommendations for Scandal Coverage






–  –  –

1. Poisson Regression Predicting Frequency of Scandal News Stories…………………........ 32

2. Descriptive Statistics for Individual-Level Evaluations Analysis……………………….…47

3. OLS Regression Predicting Individual-Level Scandal Evaluations………………………. 50

4. Descriptive Statistics for Electoral Analysis…………………...……………………...….. 62

5. Multinomial Regression Predicting Post-Scandal Electoral Outcomes……………..….… 68

–  –  –

1. American Confidence in Newspapers and Television News, 1993 – 2013……………..…. 3

2. Frequency of Financial and Sexual Scandal Stories by Media Sector………..…................ 33

3. Frequency of Financial and Sexual Scandal Stories by “Hard News” Source…….…….… 35

4. Frequency of Financial and Sexual Scandal Stories by “Soft News” Source…...……........ 37

5. Proportion of CNN and Fox News Stories about Scandal…………….....…….….......…... 38

6. Effect of Scandal Type Cue on Evaluations of Accused Official……......…………...….... 51

7. Interaction Between Party Cue and Participant Ideology…………………………........…. 52

8. Interaction Between Scandal Type Cue and Political Knowledge.………………..…........ 54

9. Average Number of Washington Post Stories By Scandal Type and Time Period…….…. 65

10. Interactive Effect of Scandal Type and Media Coverage on Electoral Outcomes…….…... 69

–  –  –

This dissertation examines communication processes surrounding political scandal. It demonstrates that scandal coverage is improperly calibrated to the severity of scandal accusations, with trivial but salacious sex scandals tending to receive inordinate amounts of press attention while deeper forms of financial corruption go unreported or underreported. Patterns of scandal coverage, in turn, result in real-world effects on public perceptions and electoral outcomes. Specifically, sex scandals generate such intense media scrutiny that accused officials often resign their offices rather than generate unwanted publicity. Financial scandals are often downplayed, resulting in little or no ramifications for the accused.

Recognizing basic differences in scandal typology is key to understanding press coverage and political ramifications of scandal. Previous efforts to explain and predict scandal coverage tend to take a “one size fits all” approach, assuming that different types of scandal create basically the same type of effects on public opinion and electoral outcomes. Rather than taking an “all scandals are created equal” approach, this study sheds new light on how different types of scandals – sexual and financial – are covered by the press, how voters react to news of these scandals, and how differential coverage decides electoral fortunes.

Chapter 1 outlines factors that influence press coverage of political scandals. A variety of economic and partisan incentives, and institutional journalistic routines are considered. Chapter 2 analyzes over five years of scandal news from the Pew News Coverage Index (NCI), showing differential patterns of coverage across a wide range of scandals. Chapter 3 uses a survey-based experiment to determine the influence of financial and sexual misconduct on judgments of accused officials. Using aggregated data collected on members of the U.S. House from 1996 to 2012, Chapter 4 explores how the interplay of press coverage and scandal type relate to electoral

–  –  –

electorally safer for public officials to be accused of bribery or extortion than cheating on a spouse. The findings present a challenge to journalistic accounts of official misconduct, suggesting the need for scandal reporting to actively address scope and severity.

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