Is public opinion still a thing: a response to Katz’s six concepts in search of retirement

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In true Talmudic, or perhaps Aristotelian, fashion Elihu Katz has spent many years arguing with himself and with others about the role of media in opinion formation and decision-making. He has been a champion of Tarde’s classic Press-conversation-opinion-action model (Katz et al., 1998) of public opinion.1 The model suggests (at least implicitly) that opinion is formed by ideas delivered by the press that are then filtered and selected through conversation and debate. This is quite an idyllic view of the public sphere. Earlier in his work, however, Katz and his teachers identified opinion leaders as crucial links of interpersonal communication through which ideas move from the press to become personal and public opinion. As Katz and Fialkoff note, opinion leaders can be more than a mere conduit for ideas and information and thus may introduce subjectivity and bias into the process. Together with two-step flow, selective exposure, and cross-pressures this tradition, in the development of which Katz has played a major role, suggests that the flow of ideas is less idyllic than Tarde suggested. In later work, such as in his Dallas project, Katz also focused on variation in interpretation of entertainment content (Liebes & Katz, 1990). Though this is a different context than news, it is easy to see that this work also introduces factors that chip away at the objective ideal of information processing. It is thus perhaps fair to say that Katz is agnostic in relation to the question of how much influence the media actually has, when compared with society and other individuals, on human decisions and behavior. And thus while in their Six Concepts essay Katz and Fialkoff may be critical of several of the central theories that have tried to wrestle with this question and invite us to their retirement party they are also loath to bid them a final farewell.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)100-104
Number of pages5
JournalAnnals of the International Communication Association
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2017


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