Strategic Comms #35: The Perception is the Reality, Public’s View of Politicians and Developers

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(This is the 35th in a continuing series on strategic communications. Click here for earlier segments)

By Owen Eagan, The Saint Consulting Group 

What do corrupt politicians and the TV crime series CSI have in common?  Their presence in the media helps shape our reality.

That is, you’ve likely heard the expression, “Perception is reality.”  But how is that perception typically formed?  More often than not, people’s perceptions are formed by mass communication.  Cultivation Analysis, developed by George Gerbner, is a theory which explains the shaping of perceptions, understandings and beliefs about the world through the consumption of media messages.

In the 1960s there was increasing concern about the media’s effects on society, especially its possible contributions to rising levels of violence.  In fact, President Lyndon Johnson established the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence in 1967, which was followed by surgeon general’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Television and Social Behavior in 1972.  Gerbner played a role in both of these initiatives and one of his tasks was to create an annual Violence Index to analyze the amount of violence presented on television.  In 1982, for example, the index found that crime in prime time was at least 10 times as rampant as in the real world. 

Gerbner subsequently developed Cultivation Analysis, which argues that all media contribute to a mediated reality.  However, the theory was and remains largely focused on the impact of television.  For instance, most research compared the perceptions of heavy viewers with light viewers and found very different perceptions of reality.  Among their findings were that heavy viewers tend to believe that the world is a more dangerous place than it really is and that all politicians are corrupt.

This mediated reality has even spilled over into the courtrooms through the so-called “CSI Effect.”  That is, as a result of shows like CSI, many believe juries now expect every case to have the same levels of scientific evidence presented, making it harder for prosecutors to convict suspects.

So, what does all of this mean for developers?  Given the public’s perception of politicians, it simply sheds further light on why your project begins behind the 8-ball.  (See “Strategic Communications Part 29: Three Reasons Your Project Begins Behind 8-Ball”:

Owen Eagan is a Senior Consultant for Saint Consulting, an international management consulting firm specializing in land use politics.  He is also an adjunct faculty member at Emerson College, the nation’s only four-year institution dedicated exclusively to communications and the performing arts. Email

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