Davis, Richard 1955-

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Davis, Richard 1955-


Born October 1, 1955. Education: Brigham Young University, B.A., 1975, M.A., 1979; Syracuse University, M.A., 1983, Ph.D., 1986.


Office—Department of Political Science, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602. E-mail—[email protected]


Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, professor of political science.


McGannon Communication Policy Award for Communication Policy Research, Fordham University, 2004.


(Editor) Politics and the Media, Prentice Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1994.

Decisions and Images: The Supreme Court and the Press, Prentice Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1994.

The Press and American Politics: The New Mediator, 2nd edition, Prentice Hall (Upper Saddle River, NJ), 1996, 3rd edition, 2001.

(With Diana Owen) New Media and American Politics, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1998.

The Web of Politics: The Internet's Impact on the American Political System, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1999.

(With Bruce Bimber) Campaigning Online: The Internet in U.S. Elections, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2003.

Politics Online: Blogs, Chatrooms, and Discussion Groups in American Democracy, Routledge (New York, NY), 2005.

Electing Justice: Fixing the Supreme Court Nomination Process, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2005.


A professor of political science, Richard Davis has written the majority of his books on the topic of the interplay between the media and American politics, with many of his more recent works concerning the Internet in particular. He also has an interest in the political role of the Supreme Court, especially because this third branch of the U.S. government is made up of unelected justices.

In New Media and American Politics, Davis, along with coauthor Diana Owen, compares and contrasts how traditional types of media, such as newspapers and television, have affected politics versus how new media, such as Web sites, are now influencing it. He also examines traditional formats, which are passive forms of communications such as listening to a newscast, differ from the increasingly interactive kinds of communication seen on the Internet or in television programs where there is a live audience that participates in the debate. Labeling all these types of media formats as information and communication technologies, or ICTs, Davis maintains that new types of ICTs "create the potential to inform and facilitate debate about candidates and public policy issues in ways that traditional broadcasting could not," reported William H. Dutton in the American Political Science Review. Despite this potential, however, the authors conclude that the increasing focus on entertainment over hard news detracts from the possibilities new ICTs bring to the table. "This entertainment-centric role is a consequence, the authors argue, of the commercial imperatives driving privately owned media companies," related Dutton. The critic, however, felt that Davis and Owen's book has "several shortcomings. Much of the analysis relies too heavily on press coverage as opposed to more direct observation. A related problem is the relative neglect of earlier research on new media and politics or on the social role of emerging ICTs." Furthermore, "the authors appear to take a romantic view of the professionalism and public service traditions of print and broadcast journalists, while lamenting the way commercialism has consumed the new media." Despite these problems, Dutton concluded that New Media and American Politics "will appeal most to the students of talk radio, since that is given more attention, but all who are interested in the political role of the media should find much of value."

With The Web of Politics: The Internet's Impact on the American Political System, Davis focuses exclusively on the role of the World Wide Web, especially, though, on Usenet groups. Published in 1998, when the Internet was just beginning to come into common use by the general public, the book predicts that the Internet, like radio and television before it, will eventually come under the control of large companies and institutions. This grim prediction has the popularizing benefit of Internet discussions being wrested away from the common citizen. While Library Journal contributor Alan Schroeder felt that Davis does not provide enough evidence to back up such a theory, he stated that the book "remains one of the more interesting books of late" about the relationship between American politics and the Internet. David L. Paletz, writing in the Political Science Quarterly, similarly noted that the author's research seems insufficient, relying primarily on surveys and interviews with people from only three Usenet groups. Paletz felt that Davis's conclusion that the Internet will never be a swaying force in American politics could be correct, but that the author might be premature in his assertions. "Davis's analysis is problematically based on the assumption that people's interest in public affairs will not increase, a lack of recognition that situations and conditions change, and a reluctance to speculate," Paletz commented.

Public Opinion Quarterly contributor John E. Newhagen praised Davis for attempting to present an analysis of the Internet's role when this media is changing so rapidly and when only one major election—the 1996 presidential race—had at that point any potential for being affected by the Web. While Newhagen believed that Davis puts too much confidence in traditional media and does not recognize that the Internet poses a real challenge to newspapers and television, he complimented the author for his "on target" assessment of the virtual public. Newhagen concluded: "The Web of Politics does stand out as a benchmark study of political communication on the Internet, where the author blends a meta-analysis of survey research with his own in-depth examination of the state of the art circa 1996. The last chapter, describing the methods he employed to study the topic, is worth a look because traditional research techniques, such as probability sampling, are problematic in studying the Internet, and it is interesting to see how Davis has approached some of the thornier issues."

Politics Online: Blogs, Chatrooms, and Discussion Groups in American Democracy is a work very similar to The Web of Politics. The focus on the data from Usenet groups and the fact that much of the information dates to the late 1990s implies that the work is not as updated as the 2005 publication date indicates. Henry Farrell, writing for the Political Science Quarterly, felt that Davis reaches "some quite interesting conclusions," especially about Usenet groups and how the people who are active on them differ from the general populace, as well as from "lurkers" who view posts but do not contribute. The problem with the book, concluded Farrell, is that "the references have a dated feel; there is very little mention of literature written after 2000, and where there is, it is treated rather skimpily."

Davis has also written about the media's effect on the U.S. Supreme Court in Decisions and Images: The Supreme Court and the Press, while in his book Electing Justice: Fixing the Supreme Court Nomination Process, he is concerned with the selection of the justices who wield so much power over the law of the land. Discussing the establishment of the Supreme Court in the U.S. Constitution, Davis "explains that the framers of the U.S. Constitution envisioned a process for selecting Supreme Court Justices governed exclusively by political elites," reported Dov Fox on the Oxonian Review of Books Web site. Focusing on the selection process during the 1980s and early 1990s—the time of the Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton presidencies—the author comments on how the process has changed dramatically. Selection of justices used to be a matter of the president selecting an able candidate, who was then confirmed or rejected by the U.S. Senate. Today, media coverage has drawn in the factor of public opinion, even though the electorate is not able to vote for U.S. justices. The result is that special-interest groups are having an increasing influence on the process. Davis asserts that this unregulated role of outside interests is detrimental, but since the public—through special-interest groups and the media—is getting involved, then the government should recognize this and legitimize selections by changing the constitution and allowing the public to vote.

Fox commented that "the suggestion that justices be decided by general election is truly innovative," while still believing that "Davis is wrong to think that denying the public a say in who sits on the Court would be contrary to democratic government." The current system of checks and balances works, stated Fox, who added: "The protection of individual liberty requires insulation from the influence and expectations of partisan constituents." Ann Althouse, writing for the New York Times Book Review, also failed to see a legitimate problem with the current selection methods. The critic also observed that the author "only dimly envisions how an electoral scheme would work." Furthermore, Althouse predicted: "Change the process to make it even more political than it now is, however, and matters would likely drift too far in the wrong direction." She concluded: "If we really thought constitutional formalities needed to change to reflect real practice—Davis's bedrock assumption—we would have to argue for the abolition of judicial review altogether."



American Political Science Review, December, 1999, William H. Dutton, review of New Media and American Politics, p. 973.

Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, January, 2001, Judith S. Trent, review of The Web of Politics: The Internet's Impact on the American Political System, p. 189.

Australian Journal of Political Science, September, 2006, Rachel Gibson, review of Politics Online: Blogs, Chatrooms, and Discussion Groups in American Democracy, p. 478.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, October, 1999, E. Lewis, review of The Web of Politics, p. 409; January, 2006, D.S. Mann, review of Electing Justice: Fixing the Supreme Court Nomination Process, p. 933.

Journal of Politics, August, 2001, review of The Web of Politics, p. 949.

Journal of Supreme Court History, November, 2006, D. Grier Stephenson, review of Electing Justice, p. 298.

Judicature, July 1, 2005, Michael Comiskey, review of Electing Justice, p. 47.

Knowledge Technology & Policy, fall, 2000, John Magney, review of The Web of Politics.

Library Journal, February 15, 1999, Alan Schroeder, review of The Web of Politics, p. 168.

Media, Culture & Society, September, 1999, Beth A. Haller, review of New Media and American Politics, p. 701.

New York Times Book Review, July 3, 2005, Ann Althouse, review of Electing Justice.

Political Science Quarterly, spring, 2001, David L. Paletz, review of The Web of Politics; spring, 2006, Donald Grier Stephenson, review of Electing Justice; fall, 2006, Henry Farrell, review of Politics Online.

Prairie Schooner, spring, 2001, review of The Web of Politics.

Public Opinion Quarterly, fall, 2000, John E. Newhagen, review of The Web of Politics.

Reference & Research Book News, February, 2001, review of The Press and American Politics: The New Mediator, 3rd edition, p. 183.


Family, Home & Social Sciences Department of Brigham Young University Web site,http://fhss.byu.edu/ (March 19, 2008), faculty profile on Richard Davis.

Oxonian Review of Books,http://www.oxonianreview.org/ (March 31, 2008), Dov Fox, "Supreme Politics: Appointment or Election of Federal Justices?," review of Electing Justice.

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