The American Media’s Portrayal of Foreign Events And Its Impact on Foreign Policy

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Professor Lusignan Anika Agarwal

E 297C June 7, 2004

The American Media’s Portrayal of Foreign Events

And Its Impact on Foreign Policy
The drastic effect of the media on foreign policy is undeniable. From it’s emergence as a dominating political force during Lyndon B. Johnson’s fireside radio chats and the Kennedy Nixon televised debates, to the current twenty-four hour news cycle, the media has always been the most effective tool in conveying a politician’s message, whether to his own constituency, the nation, or the entire world. The media recognizes its tremendous power, and therefore uses this power to attain a certain goal, which is the confirmation of America’s position as the world hegemon. Foreign affairs are presented in a light which always makes America the moral actor, and the media also happens to the one who tells us what is and what is not morally correct. An example would be if a bomb explodes in a foreign country, the number of Americans who were injured or killed always headlines the story, and often the distance to the American embassy will be a crucial factor. One dead American is always worse than a dozen dead foreigners.
Recently, in Fallujah, Iraq, there has been much fighting due to regional instability. One news report was headlined as “U.S. Death Toll at 99 in April,”1 and much deeper into the article is it reported that in the same time period 1,100 Iraqi civilians have died. The media almost takes the point of view that what happens on foreign territory is the concern of that nation, until it affects America in which case we have a moral obligation to get ourselves involved in the conflict to protect our own interests. American leaders, most noticeably the President, are mostly portrayed as powerful figures with broad knowledge who are acting with only the best interests of Americans in mind, and therefore foreign news is ‘Americanized,’ by portraying it in a light which only speaks of it’s significance to Americans.
The American media portrays leaders of foreign nations which are not based on democratic government and economies which are not based on capitalism as inherently inferior. The superiority and effectiveness of the social concepts of democracy and capitalism have been ingrained in the mind of Americans, and therefore the media can play off this establishment. When comparing America to a nation which has chose a different form of government or economy, the media is easily able to show the problems with the foreign nation. Therefore, when a conflict arises between an American leader and a foreign leader, the conflict and its resolution are Americanized by only showing the benefit to America and not the harms to the other nations. Hallin (1994) argues that when there is conflict between foreign leaders and American leaders, the Americans are shown as being strong, determined leaders while the foreign ones are portrayed as weak, and ‘simplistic.’ The media will show the American stance on the resolution to a conflict as the correct one, and therefore any means necessary to achieve these goals is justified. For example, in North Korea, Kim Jong Il has held a very ruthless, uncompromising nuclear stance. Therefore, America has levied trade embargos with North Korea as to penalize Kim Jong Il for not complying with America’s demands of disarmament. However, along with being a stubborn world leader, he has ruled his nation in a tyrannical manner. Nearly twenty-five percent of North Koreas gross domestic product is devoted to its military. As a result, many of his people are suffering from poverty and malnutrition. The media will not report the facts and the gross harms of an embargo on such an impoverished nation, but rather will show how the embargo is a necessary incentive for North Korea to halt its nuclear plan which will lead to a safer America. Americans are therefore comforted by knowing that their leaders are doing everything to protect the homeland, and are ignorant of the harms levied to the foreign nation.
The North Koreans did nothing to deserve the embargo. However, since their nation is not one of democracy, it is their own fault that they cannot remove the leader who is causing them harm. Americans can have two possible interpretations of this scenario. Either they do not know of Kim Jong Il’s tyrannical rule and think North Korea is a democracy, in which case they would believe that the people have a choice to remove their leader if they truly wanted to. Otherwise, they are aware of his rule, but this only helps them support their beliefs in the superiority of democracy and inferiority of other forms of government. The media can play off either of these interpretations, with the end result of American leaders being shown in a positive, pacifistic light. It will do everything to enforce the fact that the reason there are problems within North Korea is because of its undemocratic, non-capitalistic form of government. In his 2002 State of the Union, Bush went to so far as to label North Korea as part of an ‘axis of evil.’ This constant reinforcement upon the people helps Americans to continually believe in the superiority of their government.
Furthermore, the media chooses only selective traits in its reporting of foreign leaders. Negative aspects are overlooked if the positive ones serve to benefit America. Here, the Americanization occurs in the lack of holistic reporting. By only reporting on leaders’ traits which are beneficial to America at that time—and ignoring the past harms committed by this leader, either against America or other nations—the media is able to convince the public of the benefit of associating with a certain leader. For example, Pakistan’s leader, General Pervez Musharraf, was originally shown as a ruthless military dictator who seized power in his nation through a military coup and therefore is not truly representative of his nation’s people. Prior to his support of Bush’s war on terror, he was consistently shown in a negative light, as an out of touch military officer who is only interested in expansionist policies for Pakistan and not concerned about domestic issues. However, since he began to support Bush, he has been shown favorably by the American media. His positive statements regarding Bush have received extensive media coverage in an attempt by the media to show American support by a leader in this hostile region. The stories of his rise to power and the conflicts with India have virtually disappeared from the news. His popular support back home has decreased significantly, precisely because of his decision to support Bush, yet the media chooses to ignore these facts. Out of Pakistan, the Associated Press reported several days after Musharaff’s proclamation of support for Bush, “stormy protests Thursday by hundreds of Islamic militants on the streets of Peshawar…came a day after Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharaff addressed the nation to seek backing for his decision to offer Washington ‘full support’ for a possible attack on neighboring Afghanistan.”2 Struggling domestic credibility is a crucial aspect of any presidency yet his lack of support from his citizens is overlooked. The Americans, therefore, see Musharaff as a strong figure who is a leader of a nation of Muslims and understands and supports Bush’s decision to go to war. They are only told of Musharaff’s positive support of Bush and the negative aspects of his presidency, both domestic and foreign, are ignored.
Another case in point is the media’s portrayal of Tony Blair. Since the 9/11 attacks, the media has portrayed Prime Minister Tony Blair is an exclusively positive light. In a time when Bush had few allies regarding his war in Iraq, the media showed Blair as President Bush’s closest ally, regardless of whether his actions have reflected such behavior. The media again chose to ignore all aspects of his presidency, save for those which showed him as a strong figure. For example, his Labour party began to lose tremendous support domestically, both amongst the people and the elected officials. However, this was ignored because of the negative appearance it places on Blair. His meetings with Bush were widely publicized events and the UK was portrayed as a powerful country on the world stage. As Blair’s support for Bush grew, his approval ratings at home continued to fall. “Blair’s campaign to win public backing...appeared to be faltering. The latest Populus poll for The Times showed that despite an intense campaign to drum up support, backing...was falling among Labour supporters, women and the professional middle classes.”3 The American media stayed away from these facts, and instead focused on improving Blair’s image among Americans. In fact, Bush has made such a strong effort to put Tony Blair in a positive light in the American media that Blair was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award given to a foreigner, and only the second one awarded to a British leader, save for Winston Churchill in 1969 (posthumously.)
This and other events have shown Bush and Blair consistently fighting the war in Iraq together, although America has contributed a significant more amount of money, troops, and resources to the area. All this is an effort on the media to raise Blair’s credibility among Americans. Again, problems with his presidency, both domestic and international were overlooked, while his unwavering support of Bush was given much light. Since not many other close allies of America supported the war, the strong support of Blair was crucial.
A further example of Americanization occurs in the media’s portrayal of foreign laws and customs. These laws are reported as being inferior simply based on the fact that they are different from America’s. Therefore, when these laws are implemented for specific events, the media will report the outcome in a negative light. Americans are therefore convinced to believe in the absolute benefit of their legal system, and therefore the inevitable inferiority of any alternates. The events are depicted as a comparison to American events and laws, as though it was happening in America. Therefore, a decision implemented by a foreign leader which is in accordance with the customs and laws of his country is seen as poor since it was inconsistent with American policies and law. When Russia had a terrorist situation recently at a theater in Moscow, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s decision to gas the theater to choke out the terrorists, while concurrently causing harm to some of the civilians, was reported as a horrific decision and he was immediately condemned by the American community. The event was interpreted as such because the lens through which the media chose to portray it was the only one available. The media often referred to America’s policy of not negotiating with terrorists, which simply is not part of Russian policy. Therefore, any stance of Putin’s, short of a non-negotiative one, was portrayed as ineffective and wrong.
Moreover, this example furthers the medias desire to show non-capitalist nations in a negative light. This example promoted the view of Putin as being a cold, heartless man and therefore promotes the perception of Russia as a cold, heartless place. The media has attempted to convey this message since the Cold War, which ingrained a sense of belligerence towards the Russians in the mind of the Americans. Ted Turner, in speaking of CNN’s coverage of Russia, said in an interview that it was shown as a rough country with a sincere lack of compassion. “The news we got about Russia, or the Society Union, for the most part, was the stern unsmiling men sitting up there in the snow by Lenin’s tomb, looking down on these thousands of soldiers marching through, and missiles and tanks and missile carries.” These images are the ones which are broadcast to the American public and further the notion of Russia as being a cruel and desolate place. The news therefore is Americanized because in the end, although America was not involved, it served to promote American governmental and economic beliefs as well as America’s laws and customs.
Another example of Americanization of a story in which America is not a participant is the media’s portrayal of the conflict between India and Pakistan. Up until the 9/11 attacks, the media has shown both Musharraf and Indian Prime Minster Atal Bihari Vajpayee as relentless, uncompromising, arrogant leaders. Since neither nation has a strong democracy or economy, the media is able to further its notion of American superiority. The lack of a strong government leads to weakness domestically, which leads to weakness internationally and conflicts with other nations. This is the stance the media takes in its reporting of these stories. When a new attack occurs in either country, the media reports the location, the number of injuries and deaths, and the statement by each leader. They often fail, however, to provide the background or the fact that most of these attacks are committed by radical groups who do not reflect the desire of the entire nation. A radical attack on either country is therefore seen as an attack from one weak nation on another, rather than a few radical individuals on civilians. The media will not report this fact, and rather will keep the stance that each of these actions are state-sanctioned, as though Musharaff or Vajpayee were the ones ordering the attacks.
Inherently in a conflict, the American public is forced to take one side. The media also dictates which side to take, depending on the attack. “Public opinion...was also seen either an essentially passive force, subject to manipulation by the two sides.”4 When the public opinion is open to such manipulation, the media can sway support toward or away from one nation very easily. For example, in order to put Pakistan in the favor of the people, if there was an attack in India, the media would say it was in response to a previous attack by Indians which killed more people. Instead, in order to put Indian in the favor of the people in the same situation, the number of women and children will be reported, along with the frequency of Pakistani attacks in India.
There is a significant vested interest among the American media to portray certain world leaders in such a negative light. Hart (2004) suggests that the news networks use their predominately white, conservative, anchors to tilt media reports in a white/Christian-supremacist light which services several purposes. Americans are ready to believe this because the media does this in a subtle manner, but also because it promotes American supremacy which helps Americans feel powerful as world leaders. This sort of portrayal promotes American supremacy abroad. However, American supremacy isn’t limited to the individuals in the nation, but everything this nation stands for, such social aspects such as democracy and capitalism. Therefore, other nations which have not chosen this path must be shown to be evil and ineffective. Americans have been taught from grade school through their adult education that communism, tyrannical rule, or any other form of government which isn’t democratic is ineffective and simply bad. Therefore, if a nation which has one of these systems of government has a problem, it is blamed on their form of government. The resolution to a conflict, regardless of how good or bad it is, is generally portrayed in a negative light so that the negative perception of alternative forms of governments is furthered.
Generally, much of the belief of foreign evils is rooted in ignorance; without actually learning about alternative forms of government, it is impossible to truly understand why they make decisions the way they do. Therefore, the media chooses to keep the positive facts away from Americans in order to promote only capitalism and democracy, and put everything else down. Furthermore, there is a definite, if masked, bias toward non-Christian, non-white world leaders. The media promotes Christianity—the unofficial religion of America—as the reason for America’s position as the world leader. The principles of Christianity are inserted into our seemingly secular legal system, with such things as murder and polygamy being illegal. These laws and customs are the reason for America’s fundamental strength in the world. With the majority of the country being Christian, it is easy for the media to convince Americans of the benefits of Christianity. The Christian church is a powerful figure in America and has even adopted several TV stations to promote its message. Therefore, with the established supremacy of Christianity, the media can easily be bias towards non-Christian foreign leaders. For example, in its reporting of the Middle-East, which has been a region of instability for several decades because religious conflict between Jews and Muslims, the media has consistently shown this conflict as a result of two barbaric religions being unable to reach a peaceful agreement. Recently, terrorist activities have been consistently attributed to ‘Islamic Militants’. The media and the Bush Administration are careful to insert the word ‘militant’ as to not offend the Islamic race. However, to the vast majority of people, the only exposure they get to the Islamic race is what they hear from the media, and therefore they do not see the huge distinction between the vast majority of Muslims and those who are truly extremists. Rarely are peaceful Muslims who are working to find diplomatic solutions to the world problems ever covered. Although it is true that Muslims are shown in a worse light than Jews, there is often negative reporting on the activities of Palestine. The media has an interest in showing both religions as being bad because it promotes belief in the strength of Christianity.
There are drastic implications to this Americanization of foreign news, most of which are harmful. The most dominant impact is that of having a significant role in framing American’s perceptions of foreign events, mostly because the average American is painfully ignorant of both domestic and foreign policy issues. A study conducted by Baum (2003) shows that for those American’s who are not college educated—which is currently 86% according to the latest census data—their understanding of news and policy decreases significantly compared to those Americans who have a bachelors degree or higher. However, one of the most drastic consequences of this fact is that Americans do not recognize or acknowledge this ignorance. They see themselves as being just as educated as their next door neighbor, which is quite possible; however, being comparable to the average person is not acceptable when the average is so low. Americans, therefore, do not see a problem. This is where the debate of the role of the media arises. In theory, its role should be to inform citizens of the daily world events in an objective light, ideally giving each significant story the same amount of time. However, the media in the end is controlled by people who have interests and have an agenda to promote as well. It is further ignorant and unrealistic to suggest that every significant story should receive the same amount of coverage seeing as how there is no standard as to what is and what is not recognized as significant.
There are certainly advantages to the media in that it serves as the primary medium through which Americans get their news. Without the constant 24/7 news cycle, Americans would be ignorant of current affairs, both domestically and internationally. Even if reported with a certain bias, there is still factual information which is being conveyed to the mass public. The media also helps politicians find out which policies are supported by the public, and lets them act in accordance to the gathered data. The media has an ability to shape America’s perception of foreign events like no other one individual or group can.
This tremendous power is often used for manipulation of a generally ignorant population. For example, there is often no background knowledge which audiences posses with which they can compare what is being fed to them by the media. The only information they have is the community they live in, and therefore audiences are significantly more aware of domestic issues rather than foreign ones, and not because they have made the effort to seek out this information—poverty rates, gas prices, public support for the president, inflation rates, national security—but rather because they face it on a daily basis. Therefore, if media reports on domestic issues stand in stark contrast with what people are witnessing everyday, they see the falsehood of the report. However, short of visiting the area, they have no way of confirming the happenings in foreign countries, and therefore have to place full trust in the media’s reporting. For example, if the media were to report that OPEC has increased production of oil which will reduce oil prices, and yet consumers are not seeing any change in gas prices, there is a clear discrepancy between the media’s report and the truth.
Furthermore, if they were to advocate that the economy is significantly improving, the stock market is improving and the unemployment rates are dropping, yet the people only see a struggling economy with many unemployed people, the credibility of the media in its reporting of domestic events decreases significantly. However, if the media reports that there is a new era of peace and stability in a historically violent foreign land, the average American has no way of confirming or denying this report. He cannot actually visit the area, and therefore has to rely on whatever he is told through the media. “Viewers can compare TV news with first-hand information about…domestic matters, but they cannot test most foreign stories.” 5 There arises no doubt that the media is fully aware of this, and takes advantage of it. It recognizes that it has tremendous influential power, and that rather than serving as an additional source of information, it is the source of information for a vast majority of Americans. The light in which they choose to present the facts will therefore be acceptable to the viewers, since they have no other source of information. Which events to report, how much coverage to devote to them, and in what light to present the analysis is all up to the media, and the general public has a minimal, if any, impact on these decisions. The public is therefore forced, unknowingly, to accept what they are told. As the coverage of international affairs expands from news channels to ‘soft news’ programs, such as Entertainment Weekly, larger segments of the public are now being exposed to the news.
Studies have shown that less educated people are more likely to believe the media and ‘soft news’ programs in their description or analysis of foreign events. For example, when Clinton decided to attack Afghanistan and Sudan in 1998, three days after his grand jury testimony in the Lewinsky scandal, there was much discussion on ‘soft news’ programs, which generally have more analysis than news programs, that he used these attacks as a diversion for the scandal. A Star Tribune survey found that “respondents with less than a twelfth-grade education were nearly twice as likely as their counterparts possessing a college or post-graduate degree (60 vs. 31 percent) to believe that the president’s decision to order missile strikes was influenced a great deal by his political problems stemming from the Lewinsky scandal.” 6 A study from Ault and Meernik (2000) actually furthers this idea and proves that the level of education is actually closely linked with political knowledge. Therefore, those with less education have less of a foundation on which to base their political opinions and more likely to believe what they are told by the media.
The fact that foreign policy issues are now making their way into non-news programs, such as entertainment based shows, shows the attempt of the media to appeal to more people, and often this means simplifying the news story through more analytical simplification. The media networks understand they are now appealing to people who don’t ordinarily watch news programs, and therefore have to present worldly events in an extremely simple yet entertaining method at the same time. “The traditional scholarly consensus has held that the mass public is woefully ignorant about politics and foreign affairs, and hence, with rare exceptions, only relatively narrow segments of the public—the so-called attentive public or issues publics—pay attention to public policy or wield any meaningful influence on policy makers.” 7 Therefore, the media, by reaching out to even more people, increases its significance in its role of informing the public. As a result, the media has a drastic impact on Americans’ perception of crisis. Whenever there arises a serious conflict at home or abroad relating to foreign affairs, the media immediately portrays the foreigners as ruthless attackers and shows America as the innocent victim. This leads to the phenomenon known as ‘rally around the flag.’ Zaller (1992) argues that those individuals who are either apolitical or moderately political will respond to the images of crises fed to them by the media and therefore will rally support around the president. Baum (2003) furthers the argument in saying that those are highly political will generally not rally because of crises, because they “tend to approve or disapprove of a president with relatively high resolve.” 8 However, the vast majority of the population falls into the first two categories, which is why the resilience of the third group is insignificant. It is apparent at several points in history, that due to a severe crisis, the public loses partisanship and rallies around the President, whether the crisis was his fault or not. For example, in 1998, when Saddam Hussein stopped allowing U.N. inspectors, Clinton launched a series of strikes known as Operation Desert Fox. Although this happened to be during the same period as his Senate Impeachment Hearings for the Lewinsky scandal, his approval ratings four days after the attack rose ten points from one day before the attack (63 percent to 73 percent.) George W. Bush’s approval rating sky rocketed from 51 to 86 percent from before the 9/11 attacks and after. Finally, during the hostage situation in 1985, Reagan’s popularity went up by five points from the June to July Gallup polls. The media therefore chooses to portray events in a simple way which everyone can understand. When the average viewer is not well informed, very little justification or explanation is necessary for any argument; therefore, events are reported in a way which will confirm America’s superiority in the world. “These anecdotes suggest that even in an ear of heightened public cynicism about politics and increasingly critical coverage of presidents and their politics by the traditional news media, the American public remains willing to rally around the flag in times of crisis.”9 The news media is able to garner support among Americans because it conveys the true image that a united America stands stronger than a divided one, and thus at times of crises people are willing to put their political opinions on hold and stand together as a nation rather than as two parties.
The issue of the news being the sole source of information for much of the American public is magnified for reporting of events in highly secretive countries such as North Korea. . When two fuel trains collided in April 2004, killing more than 3000 people by some estimates, the secretive communist government in Pyongyang declared an emergency while cutting off international telephone lines to prevent details of the crash from leaking out. In such cases, the majority of the American audience has very few other sources of information upon which to base their views and understanding of the situation in North Korea and the few networks that send foreign correspondents to the scene have all the power to shape our nation’s image of North Korea and its events.
There arises a conflict regarding the necessary prior knowledge for many foreign affairs stories. For example, for events which have been going on for several decades, such as the Middle East conflict, each story about new developments in this region will not refer back to the original conflict, but rather will assume that the audience has prior knowledge. This assumption, however, is often flawed, because if a certain viewer was not aware of the event when it first began, all further developments will be meaningless and difficult to comprehend. Since the media will not provide the necessary background information but rather only report on new developments, in order to understand these developments, such a viewer would actually have to seek out information regarding the origin of the conflict on their own, which is tremendously rare. In a society where the majority of Americans consider the television to be their primary source of news, the chance of the average citizen to seek out information, whether through books or in the Internet, is very, very low.
However, the choice of the media to avoid retelling the background is understandable, as they fear redundancy which would only make them lose their audience. Therefore, they are able to leave out previous events which perhaps were mistakes on America’s part, and only highlight the new developments, which in theory should be beneficial. For example, in the 1980’s, America was close allies with Saddam Hussein and actually gave him much of the material to produce WMDs. Donald Rumsfeld actually met with him and shook hands as a partnering nation. The media, most likely correctly, assumes that the majority of the public does not remember of never knew about this fact. Therefore, in it’s portrayal of the nuclear threat posed by Iraq, the media chose to ignore these facts and rather attempted to portray America as the world’s savior because of its desire to rid an evil tyrant of his nuclear weapons. The Americanization occurs in avoiding the negative past or leaving out parts of stories which make America seem weak or wrong and therefore only presenting those developments which put American in a positive light.
Television has significant power in shaping foreign policy as well. Often referred to as the fourth branch of the federal government, its political weight over time has increased significantly. Adams (1982) argues that the three main purposes of the media are to observe, participate, and then act as a catalyst for change. After observing foreign events, the media then becomes an active participant in the creation. “In recent years, television news has assumed an increasingly active role in public diplomacy.”10 Finally, after deciding on policy, the media must gather public support by presenting the policy to the public in a favorable way. The exposure or portrayal of foreign events in a certain light, for example, can change public opinion very easily and in turn cause politicians to alter policy. The media generally chooses to portray wars in a light which only compounds public opinion. For example, after the 9/11 attacks, there was much support for the war in Afghanistan, and therefore the coverage was very positive. The defeats of the Taliban were greatly publicized and every effort was made to convince the public of an American victory. Fineman (2004) writes that the media portrayed images of Bush as man who was unexpectedly placed in an extremely challenging situation and this lead the public overall to support him and the his war.
The war in Iraq, however, began with great public skepticism. The Bush Administration recognized this skepticism and therefore from the end of 2002 until the beginning of the war in March of 2003 there was a significant effort on the part of the Republicans to appease both the international as well as the domestic community. Although polls showed the support for the war had increased in the past several months, there still wasn’t an overall consensus among the nation, and therefore the media took a very negative approach in its portrayal of the war. Soldier and civilian casualties were reported on a regular basis, even though foreign civilian causalities are rarely included in the news story. The elusive Saddam Hussein was covered often, and early on in the conquest the idea of using Iraq as a distraction for not capturing Osama Bin Laden was often discussed. Furthermore, many of Bush’s actions, such as his landing on an air force carrier, generally seen as patriotic by war time presidents, were deemed political and unrealistic.
A further blow to the credibility and objectivity of the nation’s print media is exemplified by the recent admission of the New York Times that its reporting in several stories leading up to the Iraqi war and the early occupation “was not as rigorous as it should have been”11 and relied on reports from informants with questionable credibility. In addition, reports of claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or ties to international terrorists contained information that was “unchallenged by editors and was not adequately followed up. In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged.”12
Whether the New York times motivations in such oversight and lack of rigor was motivated my political, economic, or social gain, it remains clear that if one of the nation’s most prominent and respectable news organizations can unethically influence their American readership to such an extent, many of the thousands of other news sources could potentially be doing the same. It is unclear whether the New York times sought to galvanize support for the war against Iraq, further amplify fear of terrorism in the American psyche, or simply mishandled their reporting, but regardless, their example sets the tone for other new organizations, potentially with differing political views, to follow suit and develop the false courage to believe that they too can get away with biased news coverage. This would lead to a situation where the American audience no longer believes they have any sole reliable source of news and information, and must examine the reporting of several sources to gain multiple sides and perspectives of the same event to get an accurate picture.
One proposed solution to television and print media bias in reporting is to examine which other sources of media can technologically be made available to the public. In the 15-25 age group, Reuters reports that over 67 percent of individuals are more likely to read news on the internet than in the newspaper or on television.13 In addition, the rise of online video games, instant messaging, and other source of online entertainment for children has made the average child more time at their computer than in front of the family television. These same children, as they mature into young adults and enter a stage in which they view news as more directly pertinent to their lives, will no doubt view the internet as their primary source for all information, news-worthy or otherwise. Unlike television and print news that are dominated by an oligopoly of a few large corporations, online news is controlled by far more bodies, and therefore more diverse, objective, and more likely to provide several views of the same event or issue. The prevalence of personal commentary on news events on the internet also enables the reader to not only listen to what the big five networks want them to hear about an issue, but rather read about what different Americans across the country are saying about it, and form their personal opinions accordingly.
The other key advantage of other technological sources of news media is that since posting a news item online is virtually free compared to the cost of operating a television network or a national newspaper, online news corporations and individuals do not have to rely on the financial support of any specific party, individual, or corporation and therefore are not indirectly forced to always portray their supporters and sponsors in a positive light. This creates a platform for objectivity and unbiased reporting like no other, and as the number of people using the internet as their primary news grows, the large news corporations will have to reexamine their reporting strategies.
The lack of comprehensive coverage of world affairs also indirectly affects the nation’s views of foreign nations. While the media is expected to cover the news of the entire world, most sources of news neglect to fulfill their responsibility to inform the public of happenings around the world and instead choose to focus their attention solely on events that either directly have an impact on the lives of majority of Americans or have some sensationalistic or special interest value. This inattention is especially magnified for events occurring on the African continent, for which news content consists primarily of famine and extreme violence. Not including South Africa, the US media largely has turned a blind eye to sub-Saharan Africa, partially due to a lack of understanding of African culture, partially due to a lack of political motivation in covering events in the region, and partially because of most news sources’ inability to ascertain and convey the importance and relevance of the region’s events to American life. This leads to a gross imbalance in the American psyche’s understanding and appreciation of certain cultures and nations verses others.
As is thus evident, the media has become a dominant force in shaping both foreign policy, but perhaps more importantly, Americans’ perception of this policy. Due to its significant presence in the educational lives of most Americans, the media has a significant impact on American’s understanding of foreign policy. It serves a positive role as an informative source; however, there are several deleterious effects to this monopoly such as analytical manipulation and the lack of transparency. However, as long as the American public lends credibility to the media and those in power use it to reach peaceful, diplomatic solutions to conflict, the media will forever remain a significant part of American culture.


  1. Adams, William C. Television Coverage of International Affairs. New Jersey: ABLEX Publishing Corporation, 1982.

  1. Baum, Matthew A. Soft News Goes to War. New Jersey: Prince University Press, 2003

  1. Flournoy, Don M. and Stewart, Robert K. CNN: Making News in the Global Market. United Kingdom: John Libbey Media, 1997.

  1. Hallin, Daniel C. We Keep America on top of the World. New York: Routledge, 1994.

  1. Morse, Andrew and Litke, Mark. “Who is Kim Jong Il?” 8 January 2004.

  1. Riddel, Peter and Webster, Phillip. “Blair still losing support over Iraq” 11 March 2003.

  1. “Pakistanis protest Musharraf's support of U.S.” 20 September 2001.

1 MSNBC News Services, April 2004

2 AP, 2001

3 Riddel and Webster, March 2003

4 Hallin, p. 164

5 Adams, p. 10

6 Baum, p. 3

7 Baum, p. 4

8 Baum, p. 215

9 Baum, p. 212

10 Adams, 1982

11 MSNBC News Services, May 2004

12 New York Times, May 2004

13 Reuters News, April 2004

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