In order to understand the current political importance of the state of Pennsylvania, it may first be necessary to have at least a brief knowledge of the history of the state. Pennsylvania became one of the original British colonies in 1681, when King Charles II granted the land to an English Quaker named William Penn. The colony became a state in 1787, and it was just the second of the 13 original colonies to ratify the Constitution. The city of Philadelphia was host to the first and second Continental Congress, and the signing of the Declaration of Independence. For a short time, it became the center of government of the new United States of America, until the capital was moved to Washington, D.C.

In more recent history, Philadelphia has had a tumultuous role in politics. In the recent past, Pennsylvania has alternated between choosing Democratic and Republican candidates in its major offices and elections. The governorship of the state tends to alternate at the end of each governor’s second term, with a Republican tending to be replaced by a Democrat and vice versa.

Presidential elections have had a similar history, with the support of the state alternating between Republican and Democratic candidates. The state supported Al Gore (D) in the 2000 election. More stable, however, is the role of each region in these elections. The state’s two major cities – Philadelphia and Pittsburgh – have been largely Democratic since the early half of the 20th century. The more rural central part of the state, on the other hand, is more politically unstable but tends to be mostly Republican.

The 2004 election was especially important in Pennsylvania because of the state’s history as a “swing state” – that is, Pennsylvania’s votes in the Electoral College could conceivably go to either major candidate in any given election, with no clear history of party allegiance and a consistently small difference in popular votes between the winner and loser in the state. In this most recent election, 2,855,773 people, or 51% of the voters in the state, voted for Democratic candidate John Kerry, while 2,756,904 people, or 49% of the voters, supported incumbent Republican President George W. Bush. Therefore the state’s 21 electoral votes were awarded to Senator John Kerry, although Kerry lost the national election to President Bush.

There were also several other offices up for election in the state in 2004. In the senate race, incumbent Arlen Specter (R) defeated Democratic hopeful Joseph Hoeffel, capturing 53% of the vote in comparison with Hoeffel’s 42%. The House of Representatives had 19 seats up for reelection in Pennsylvania. Of these, seven of the newly elected representatives are Democrats and eleven are Republicans. Of the Democratic representatives, six were the incumbent candidates (and two ran unopposed). Of the Republican representatives, nine were incumbents. Republican Senator Rick Santorum and Democratic Governor Ed Rendell are up for reelection in 2006.

One of the most important factors in any national election is media coverage. Broadcast, cable, print, radio and internet sources are all crucial in the outcome of the election. Therefore it is important to examine the media outlets in Pennsylvania to determine their effect on the election of 2004, both at the state and national level. The largest media markets in Pennsylvania are its two largest cities, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Philadelphia is actually one of the most important markets in the country, and it is the fourth largest television market in the nation, with 2.7 million TV households.

For this reason, we must first examine the role of television in the election. Most of the broadcast stations in the state are owned by large corporations which also own stations in other regions of the country. This enables such companies to extend their views, political or otherwise, to a broad range of viewers across the country.

Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. has 56 television station subsidiaries with two (FOX and WB) in Pittsburgh. In April 2004, when ABC News program Nightline dedicated an entire show to reading the names of the more than 700 U.S. soldiers killed during the Iraq war to that point, Sinclair issued an order to its seven ABC affiliates to not air the program. Then in October, it ordered all of its stations to preempt regularly scheduled programming to air an unflattering documentary about John Kerry’s Vietnam service. From January 1998 to September 2004, the company contributed $320,000 (95.52%) to the Republican Party and only $15,000 (4.48%) to the Democratic Party.

Tribune Co. owns 32 television station subsidiaries with two in Pennsylvania – FOX in York (also reaching the state capital of Harrisburg) and WB in Philadelphia. The company also controls 15 print media company subsidiaries, with one (Morning Call) in Allentown. From January 1998 to September 2004, Tribune contributed $103,000 (54.5%) to the Republican Party and $85,000 (44.97%) to the Democratic Party.

Radio is another significant form of media in the state. The top radio companies in Philadelphia are Clear Channel Communications Inc, Beasley Broadcast Group Inc, Greater Media Inc, Nassau Broadcasting II LLC, Viacom Inc, and Radio One Inc. In Pittsburgh they are Clear Channel Communications Inc, Keymarket Licenses LLC, Broadcast Communications Inc, and Viacom Inc. In Harrisburg, Clear Channel Communications Inc, Cumulus Media Inc, Hall Communications Inc, Citadel Broadcasting Corp, and Susquehanna Media Co are the top radio corporations. Other major players in radio in Pennsylvania include Infinity Broadcasting Operations Inc., Greater Philadelphia Radio Inc., and Pennsylvania Media Associates Inc.

Clear Channel Communications is the largest radio company in the United States with 1197 radio station subsidiaries, 33 of which are in Pennsylvania. It also owns 41 television station subsidiaries, with one station in Harrisburg. Clear Channel is known for supporting the war in Iraq and using its radio stations to promote this message. The company refused to place an anti-war advertisement on one of its Times Square billboards, which led to a lawsuit. From January 1998 to September 2004, their political contributions consisted of $1,164,000 (63.19%) towards Republicans and $673,000 (36.54%) towards Democrats.

Viacom owns 183 radio station subsidiaries (eight in Pennsylvania) and 40 television station subsidiaries (four in Pennsylvania). From January 1998 to September 2004, their political contributions distributed to $1,254,000 (31.8%) towards Republicans and $2,758,000 (68.57%) towards Democrats. Cumulus Media has 297 radio station subsidiaries, with eight in Pennsylvania. Cumulus has used its stations to punish artists whose politics don’t agree with those of its management. It briefly banned the Dixie Chicks from play lists after their criticism of President Bush and the war in Iraq in 2003. From January 1998 to September 2004, political contributions distributed $3,000 (75%) towards Republicans and $1,000 (25%) towards Democrats.

Of course, newspapers are also an important part of the media in Pennsylvania. There are approximately six dozen daily newspapers published in the state. Philadelphia and its surrounding areas compose the sixth largest market in population and households, and the two largest newspapers for the region are The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News, both owned by Knight Ridder, owner of 26 print media company subsidiaries, with three in Pennsylvania. The company, which also owns the Times Leader in Wilkes-Barre, claims on its website that it does not contribute to any political parties in an effort to remain non-partisan.

As you may notice, many of the corporations with ownership of outlets in Pennsylvania have affiliates in several different media formats, such as Tribune Co., Clear Channel, and Viacom. Companies such as these are able to reach an even broader audience in more ways than those limited to only one format, thereby widening the reach of their views. Media may merge in other ways too, however. For example, The Philadelphia Inquirer and NBC 10, NBC’s O&O in Philadelphia, announced this summer that they would begin a news partnership, in effect combining their resources to bring readers and viewers more in-depth coverage in news, weather and sports. This merger allows for greater coverage of local events, with less overall cost to either outlet, but it may also lead to a slow degradation of the reliability of this news if and when it conflicts with the interests of its partners.

It is interesting to note the ownership of the media in Pennsylvania in order to see the possible bias that is presented through certain outlets. We are now able to better understand the presence of large corporations and their role in the way media is distributed, and also the way that this affects the average viewer/reader/listener. In the election of 2004, it seems that the media, which tends to be more liberal in urban areas of the state and more conservative in rural regions, did in fact have an effect on the results.

However, this raises an interesting question. Is the media biased because of the audience it is trying to reach, or does the audience become biased because of the media? This “chicken and the egg” type of question perhaps cannot fully be answered, but after our observation of media in Pennsylvania, we believe that the media does indeed have a great impact on the way people think, and that its importance in politics cannot possibly be overstated.

Works Cited:

Blackwell, Eva. “NBC 10 and Inquirer Announce News Partnership.” 23 Aug 2004. 27 Nov 2004. Election 2004. 30 Nov 2004.

Knight Ridder. Knight Ridder Newspapers. 02 Dec 2004.

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Outline of Pennsylvania History. 30 Nov 2004.

Sinclair Broadcast Group. 1 Dec 2004.

The Center for Public Integrity: Investigative Journalism in the Public Interest. Well Connected: Tracking the Broadcast, Cable and Telecommunications Industries. 26 Nov 2004.

This essay was written Dec. 2004 for the NYU Journalism course “TV and the Information Explosion.”