New York is currently experiencing a crime wave. The recent surge in violence and robberies, particularly in the subway, have caused a flood of articles from outlets across the political spectrum. Almost everyday, there is another breaking story about a subway stabbing, or a person being violently pushed onto the tracks. As the city grapples with this issue and election day quickly approaches, it is pertinent to examine how the media frames the issue, and how they could be setting the agenda for what New Yorkers consider their top priority issue.
Agenda setting is the media theory that news, and media more generally, tell people what issues are of the most social or political importance, thus setting the agenda for the public. As a society we must decide which issues to shelve, and which issues to focus on and devote political will to. By focusing only on select issues in their coverage, the media can propel an issue to the forefront of public attention. This is the power of agenda setting. We are seeing this play out in front of our eyes here in New York City, where subway crime has become the latest hot topic, with Mayor Adams pledging to devote more cops to the subways, and news outlets frantically updating their websites with information on the latest subway attack.
The power of agenda setting becomes particularly poignant in the lead up to elections, as is currently happening in the New York City Gubernatorial race. As NYC continues to experience a violent crime wave, crime has become a hot-button issue for both Republican candidate Lee Zeldin and Democratic candidate Kathy Hochul. To speak about his recent improvement in the polls, Zeldin appeared on FOX News yesterday. Interestingly, before his segment started the Fox News anchor set the agenda for him, listing a few potential reasons for Zeldins recent gains in the polls, with rising crime topping the list. Unsurprisingly, Zeldin opens the interview bashing Hochul’s response to crime, stating “regardless of what party you belong to, you want to feel safe on your streets”(FOX News Interview, 0:01:20) Zeldin continues, citing specifically what he calls “pro-criminal laws” like cashless bail. Speaking about the recent stabbing of a corrections officer at Rikers Island, Zeldin called for the repeal of the HALT act, a bill that limits the use of segregated confinement for prisoners and “implements alternative rehabilitative measures…and eliminates the use of segregated confinement for vulnerable incarcerated populations”. An interesting note is that this segment seems to have been coordinated ahead of time, with clips of violent attacks throughout the city playing alongside Zeldin speaking, a rather overt attempt to emotionally appeal to scared New Yorkers, further pushing the issue of crime to the top of the agenda.
The rising crime rates in New York City, and the media’s response to it, serve as an excellent case study in the process of Agenda Setting. First, the news media propels the issue to the forefront of public consciousness, inundating our news feeds with videos of violent subway attacks and robberies. Then, the politicians decide the framework, in Zeldin’s case he chooses to frame the issue as caused only by the harmful laws and policies enacted by his opponent, neglecting the plethora of potential other causes such as mental health, a broken corrections system, or the ineffectiveness of current policing tactics. In this way, politicians, working in conjunction with the media, can establish and control their narrative, directing political and public will in a way that benefits them, their party, and their political backers.
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