TV Versus Print News: Leadership PACs

The recent government shutdown has brought spending in Washington under public scrutiny. Many wonder just how the debt crisis could get so bad that the government could not function until it was resolved, however, during this crisis Congressmen did not have to forego pay as many other government employees had to do. As both reporters pointed out in the 60 Minutes episode as well as the NYT article Congressmen went the entire government shutdown without losing any pay for doing absolutely nothing. This prompted Steve Kroft and Jeremy Peters to investigate further into other loopholes in our government’s financial system and their ultimate discovery; leadership PACs.

A leadership PAC is a political action committee created by members of Congress to avoid the financial restrictions of a regular PAC. By using leadership PACs members can use political funds, raised through fundraisers and given by a member’s respective party, on almost whatever they want. Both reports explore how members have abused these leadership PACs and the surprising way it is completely legal to do so.

Steve Kroft did a report for 60 Minutes about the scandal and abuse surrounding leadership PACs. He opened his story with some background information about the government shutdown then introduced audiences with a sweeping, upsetting statement, “Congressmen are finding ways to profit from political offices” to keep listeners on edge. Jeremy Peters does not have the luxury of time and an anchor to introduce listeners to the story so the NYT article immediately introduces readers to the facts and main idea of the story. It focuses on the book by Peter Schweizer that talks about financial loopholes in Washington and the need for them to be closed.

Both the print news story and television story use terms that are meant to simplify and alarm audiences. Terms such as “slush fund” and “lifestyle subsidies” are used in both stories and give audiences an idea that their tax money is being wasted. Both stories also give specific examples of Congressmen who have abused leadership PACs and the exact money values of these abuses to add to the shock factor.

The 60 Minutes segment also has the ability to keep audiences engaged with the addition of multimedia to tell the story. Shots of Kroft cornering Congressmen and asking them difficult questions introduce the point of tension that the story is centered around. In Peters’ print story, the only point of tension is in the lead that is only explained in detail in the remaining parts of the story. By the end of the article, he references unrelated abuses of money in government and places to find additional information about the issue. These facts are placed at the end of the story because it is known they will bore readers and they are likely to skip over them. A television story, conversely, keeps audiences engaged until the very end by withholding information and introducing it strategically throughout the story.

Steve Kroft- 60 Minutes

Jeremy Peters- New York Times


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