Tony Blair told the Leveson Inquiry today that the media were powerful, with The Sun and The Daily Mail being the two most powerful newspapers. The Sun, he said, was important because it was prepared to shift its political allegiance.
This reflects the fact that politicians over-estimate the influence of the media. Newspapers are rarely responsible for changing people’s opinions (though they can help shape views on issues that are only just emerging). Readers tend to engage in selective retention: that is, reading and remembering stories that confirm their own views and masking out the rest.
However, the media are politically significant – because politicians think they are. Because politicians think the media are important, they pay undue attention to them. Rupert Murdoch realised this was the case, and obviously exploited it. For politicians, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, one for which they are now paying the price.