Date of Award

2013

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Communication

First Advisor

John L. Jackson

Abstract

Raising the Volume: The News Media and the Rise of the Twenty-First-Century Tea Party is a multi-platform analysis that critically examines the ways in which online, broadcast, and print news outlets have used the Tea Party to address modern conflicts over race, class, gender, journalism, and politics. While the current Tea Party and its previous incarnations have had a perpetual presence in American politics, national news outlets recognized the phenomenon as the rise of a New Right only recently, at the very beginning of the Obama presidency. This work locates the way that journalists have used the Tea Party movement to represent the contemporary slippages between news platforms, journalistic norms, and political institutions.

Due to its meteoric rise in the national news spotlight, this dissertation examines the news coverage of the Tea Party as a case study that explores the key themes, ideologies, and features of national news and political storytelling in a digital age. Specifically, this dissertation answers this research question: How does the news coverage of the Tea Party serve as a cipher into the values, function, and norms of a transforming media and political environment? Implicitly, I am also asking: What are the key themes and news and political storytelling in the Obama-era and technology-laden period? And what recurring ideologies appear in news narratives at this moment?

Through a close examination of the Tea Party's early emergence in the national news media, this project describes how it was widely portrayed by reporters in two distinct ways: 1) as indicative of an increasingly complex, expansive, and digitally-enhanced news environment 2) as a political brand and 3) as a response to a socio-political landscape transformed by the race and gender make-up of the candidates in the 2008 presidential campaign. In a media environment in which everyone has the opportunity to tune out, tune in, and speak back, Tea Party news coverage ultimately shows the dissolution of the categories that distinguish citizens, journalists, activists, and consumers in a branded and fragmented media.

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