, Volume 62, Issue 3, pp 299–323 | Cite as

Politische Skandalberichterstattung: ein Forschungsüberblick und Systematisierungsversuch

  • Christian von SikorskiEmail author


Im vorliegenden Forschungsüberblick werden alle verfügbaren deutsch- und englischsprachigen Studien, die sich mit der Verbreitung und Darstellung politischer Skandalberichterstattung beschäftigt haben, systematisch analysiert. Die Ergebnisse von insgesamt 20 quantitativen Studien zeigen, dass es in den vergangenen beiden Dekaden länderübergreifend zu einer Zunahme an politischer Skandalberichterstattung gekommen ist. Zudem legen die Ergebnisse nahe, dass sich in bestimmten Ländern (z. B. USA, Großbritannien) eine generelle Veränderung hin zu einer zunehmenden Skandalisierung der politischen Berichterstattung vollzogen hat. Spezifische Besitzstrukturen sowie die politische Ausrichtung und Wettbewerbssituation von Medienorganisationen können zudem einen Einfluss auf die politische Skandalberichterstattung haben. Unklarheiten ergeben sich beim Begriffsverständnis und der Messung von politischer Skandalberichterstattung. In diesem Beitrag werden sowohl eine verbesserte Definition und Operationalisierung politischer Skandalberichterstattung vorgeschlagen als auch zentrale Forschungslücken herausgearbeitet. Zudem wird ein Ordnungsmodell vorgestellt, das dazu dienen kann, die Intensität politischer Skandalberichterstattung systematisch vorherzusagen.


Skandal Politische Skandalberichterstattung Skandalisierung Forschungsüberblick 

Political Scandals in the News: A Review and Systematization of International Research


Political scandals are a frequent feature of political communication around the world nowadays. Scandals serve important societal functions, e. g., public discussion and reformation of norms in a society; holding political actors accountable for certain (political) behaviors. Scholars have argued that the news media are increasingly reporting about norm violations of political candidates. Surprisingly, no review of international research dealing with the dissemination and media coverage of political scandals is available. Thus, in the current paper the state-of-the-art in research on political scandals is systematically reviewed. Based on an extensive literature research a total of 20 relevant studies (published in German and English language) could be found. These studies were selected and examined in depth. The results revealed that – within the last two decades – there is an increasing number of political scandals around the world (data from 31 countries were examined). Besides increases in news reports about political scandals in Germany and the United States these studies show, for example, that there is a steep increase of political scandals in northern European countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden), and therefore in countries that used to be considered as rather “scandal-free” in the past. Furthermore, the results indicate that in specific countries (e. g., United States, UK) political news are increasingly presented in a scandalizing way. Based on these findings, the number of political scandals (the number of individual cases published by the news media) has to be analytically separated from scandalization in political communication more generally (e. g., the expression of public anger, the use of language of escalation, or the public condemnation of a behavior in political communication). Moreover, the results reveal that particular ownership structures, partisanship of a news organization, and the competitive context tend to influence news coverage about political scandals. The results also show that the definition and operationalization of political scandals – partially – remains unclear. More precisely, definitions used in previous research are either too unspecific and broad and thus do not allow for a precise operationalization and measurement of political scandals. In contrast, other definitions used in previous studies are too specific and needlessly restrict the measurement of political scandals. Thus, quite relevant cases are not accounted for. Therefore, an improved definition and operationalization of political scandals is proposed. According to that, scandals are defined as follows:

Political scandals refer to real or conjectured norm transgressions of political actors or institutions. A particular norm transgression may occur in the context of political processes or in a politician’s private life and may or may not have legal consequences (e. g., official investigation by the office of the district attorney). National scandals have to be repeatedly covered by two or more independent media organizations (e. g., The New York Times and CNN in the U.S.). Regional scandals have to be repeatedly covered by two or more independent regional media organizations (however, the above-mentioned criterion for national scandals does not have to be fulfilled). News coverage about an alleged norm transgression must be framed as scandalous (scandal frame) and the scandalous behavior has to be unambiguously condemned.

Based on the review, several research gaps are identified and a model for predicting the intensity of political scandal news coverage is introduced. The model comprises four central dimensions to predict the intensity of scandal news coverage (intensity is defined as duration, frequency, thematization, extent, and valence of coverage). The first dimension relates to the features of a particular scandal. Cases relating solely to verbal norm transgressions (talk scandals) are differentiated from cases involving other forms of scandalous behavior. Furthermore, cases with/without official investigations are differentiated and cases high/low in moral reprehensibility are distinguished. The second dimension relates to specific features of a particular politician (e. g., type of position, popularity, if he or she has made moralizing/hypocritical statements in the past). As a third dimension, the model takes the particular reaction of a politician to scandal allegations into account (reaction appropriate/inappropriate). Finally, the fourth dimension takes the general context into consideration (e. g., the particular media agenda, political leaning of a news outlet, social/cultural/economic context). Based on these four dimensions, as is argued, the intensity of scandal news coverage can be predicted and – in line with the model – specific assumptions are formulated that may be tested in future research. For instance, it is assumed that the news media will cover a case intensively when a political candidate is accused of transgressing a norm (e. g., corruption) that engenders an official investigation (e. g., state’s attorney) and is high in moral reprehensibility. Furthermore, the model predicts that the coverage will be intense when a politician’s popularity is rather low (compared to high), when a candidate made moralizing/hypocritical statements in the past (compared to no such comments), when he or she holds a high office (e. g., president, minister compared to a back-bencher), and when he or she reacts inappropriate (e. g., unconfident, contradictory, incredible statements) to an allegation (compared to more appropriate reactions). Finally, the model predicts that the news coverage of a political scandal will be more intense, when there are no other important topics (e. g., terror attack, disaster) on the news agenda and when a potential norm violation is culturally especially relevant in a particular society (e. g., sex scandals in the United States).


Political scandals Scandal news coverage Scandalization Literature review 


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Copyright information

© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut für Publizistik- und KommunikationswissenschaftUniversität WienWienÖsterreich

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