Events | Televised Democracy: Media and Politics in an Attention Economy – Christoph Bieber & Stephen Engel in Conversation. Moderated by Lorraine Ali

Los Angeles, Thomas Mann House | September 22, 2022 | 7:00 PM (PDT)

Political Scientist and 2022 Thomas Mann Fellow Christoph Bieber and U.S. television producer and writer Stephen Engel (Big Bang Theory, Just Shoot Me) will engage in a conversation about the potentials and dangers of the interconnections between narrative entertainment formats and public political discourses. The conversation will be moderated by Lorraine Ali, journalist and television critic of the Los Angeles Times.

In his recent op-ed piece for the New York Times, journalist Ezra Klein warns that when the border between entertainment and political discourse becomes blurred, entertainers might be the only ones able to fulfill our expectations for politicians and coverage of political events might become “entertainment packages.” Prominent examples can be found throughout history and across political camps, such as the presentation and setting of Volodymir Zelensky’s video addresses, Donald Trump’s background in reality TV, and the serial style and format of the recent news coverage of the January 6th hearings. In an attention economy, methods of production and writing in audiovisual media leave their mark on the way political debate is presented to the public. From the first televised presidential debates to famous actors-turned-politicians such as Ronald Reagan or Arnold Schwarzenegger, media technologies and their use within the entertainment industry have always shaped and influenced public discourse and the way in which politicians have made use of these media environments.

2022 Thomas Mann Fellow Christoph Bieber, Professor for Political Science at the Center for Advanced Internet Studies in Bochum, and U.S. television producer and writer Stephen Engel will engage in a conversation about how political debate is narrated and presented in a rapidly changing political public sphere. Political actors rely on routines, formats, and narratives originally developed in entertainment media, not only during campaign season, but also within everyday political processes such as plenary sessions or committee hearings. By analyzing and discussing different media formats and historic examples, the discussion will explore the benefits and pitfalls of the entanglements between the entertainment industry and political discourse. The conversation will be facilitated by Lorraine Ali, television critic at the Los Angeles Times and award-winning journalist, who has written in publications ranging from the New York Times to Rolling Stone.

In person event at the Thomas Mann House. By invitation only.


Photo: Los Angeles Times

Lorraine Ali is television critic of the Los Angeles Times. Previously, she was a senior writer for the Calendar section where she covered culture at large, entertainment and American Muslim issues. Ali is an award-winning journalist and Los Angeles native who has written in publications ranging from the New York Times to Rolling Stone and GQ. She was formerly The Times’ music editor and before that, a senior writer and music critic with Newsweek magazine. Her writing awards include Best Online Feature from the New York Association of Black Journalists in 2007, an Excellence in Journalism Award in 2002 from the National Arab Journalists Association. In 1996, she won Best National Feature Story honors at the Music Journalism Awards.


Christoph Bieber is Professor of Political Science at the NRW School of Governance, University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany. His main area of research is ethics in political management and society. Bieber has published widely on the effects of online communication for political actors, a special focus is addressing the effects of digitalization for the U.S. political system. Since 2018, he has been delegated to the Center for Advanced Internet Studies (CAIS) in Bochum, where as a research professor he directs the program “Digital Democratic Innovations“ that runs from 2021 until 2026. On Twitter he is known as @drbieber.


Stephen Engel is a U.S. television producer and writer. A graduate of Tufts University, Engel continued his education at NYU and earned a law degree. While working as an attorney, he spent his nights and weekends writing screenplays, leading to assignments for producers such as Steven Spielberg and Joel Silver. Engel went on to write for many TV series, including The Big Bang Theory, Just Shoot Me, Mad About You and Dream On. Engel also created and executive produced CBS’s Work With Me, starring Nancy Travis and Kevin Pollak; NBC’s Inside Schwartz, starring Breckin Meyer; and ABC’s The Big House, starring Kevin Hart. In addition, he teaches TV writing at the UCLA School of Theater, Film & Television.

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