Intermedia Agenda Setting and the Construction of Moral Panics: On the Media and Policy Influence of Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic

Authored by: Bryan E. Denham

The Ashgate Research Companion to Moral Panics

Print publication date:  January  2013
Online publication date:  March  2016

Print ISBN: 9781409408116
eBook ISBN: 9781315613307
Adobe ISBN: 9781317042433


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Building on previous scholarship addressing the role of mass communication in the amplification of deviant behavior and the construction of moral panics (see Cohen 1980, Critcher 2003, 2010, Denham 2008, Hunt 1997, McRobbie and Thornton 1995, Wilkins 1964, Young 1971, 1973), this chapter examines the influence of the film Traffic (2001) on both media and policy agendas surrounding illicit drug use in the United States. The analysis explores the influence of Traffic on newspaper, magazine, and broadcast news reports and its role in precipitating the Drug Abuse Education, Prevention, and Treatment Act of 2001 (S.304). Conceptually, the chapter draws on agenda-setting theory (McCombs 2004) to demonstrate that one medium stands to transfer issue salience to other media (see, for example, Breen 1997, Soroka 2000). Additionally, the chapter shows that a link between motion picture content, mainstream news coverage, and the formation of public policy informs processes of agenda building (Cobb and Elder 1971, Denham 2010), that is, processes that political scientists call policy agenda setting (Bakir 2006).

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