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Media & Politics: Framing the Iraqi War

Apr 07, 2015



Analyses of various news channels in framing the Iraqi War with the analysis of Authors on Media & Politics

Universiteit Antwerpen

A content analysis of Misperceptions, the Media and the Iraq War by Kull, Ramsay and Lewis.

Francine Carron Media & Politiek Prof. Walgrave December 10, 2009


Table of Contents

I. Introduction II. An analysis of the media A. Objectivity versus subjectivity B. Print versus Television media C. Choice of Network D. News Frequency & Negativity III. Public Opinion (Misperceptions) A. Media & Social Theory shape public opinion B. Partisan Polarization C. Framing & Priming IV. Conclusion


Large debates and scholarly studies have been conducted about the Iraq War and the influence of the media on public opinion. Numerous surveys have taken place to find who and what triggered the American public to support their President in the war on terror. According to Kull, Ramsay and Lewis the public was mislead by their administration through the dispersion of misperceptions. In this paper I analyze the research of Kull et al using theories of political communication. The first part of the paper examines the media and the second part analyzes the public opinion relating back tothe text Misperceptions, the Media and the Iraq War. I. Introduction

The Bush administration had the challenging task to convince the American public that an invasion of Iraq was necessary. The American government had to encourage their people that there was a potential threat to their country. Hence the government stated that Iraq was supporting Al-Qaeda and Iraq possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). The majority of the people believed the statements of the Bush Administration. Even though, the largest part of the population was not persuaded that the United States (US) should take unilateral action. The American people only wanted to go to war with approval of the United Nations (UN) Security Council. In spite of the governmental efforts to make it a clear to the public that Iraq was a threat, the fact that the Bush administration couldnt find the WMD the American people wanted to wait with an offensive until there was more evidence of an existing threat. Nevertheless, when the UN Security Council didnt approve of the war, the President decided tot take unilateral action and launched the war on terror. Oddly enough, the public supported their President and when it was confirmed that there were no WMD they continued supporting him. The main question in the article is Why is the public so accommodating? Did they simply change their views about the war despite their earlier reservations? Or did they in some way come to have certain false beliefs or misperceptions that would make going to war appear more legitimate, consistent with pre-existing beliefs?1 Kull, Ramsay and Lewis try to answer their central question by first exploring the degree of pervasiveness of misperceptions, secondly analyzing the relationship between the holding of these misperceptions and support for the Iraq war. Thirdly, the authors of misperceptions, the media, and the Iraq war analyze the relationship between the holding of misperceptions and the respondents primary news source. Fourthly, they evaluate the relationship between attention to news and the level of misperceptions and fifthly Kull, Ramsay


Kull, R. a. (2003-2004). Misperceptions, the Media and the Iraq War. Political Science Quarterly , 569-598.


and Lewis analyze misperceptions as a function of political attitudes, including intention to vote for the President and party identification.2 The three authors of misperceptions, the media and the Iraq war concluded using survey data analysis that while checking for other variables, including gender, race and age, the respondents primary media source is the strongest indicator of misperceptions.3 I. A. Media Analyses Objectivity versus Subjectivity

The news media is a significant source of facts and data. The majority of people around the world rely on the news for getting their daily local, national or international information. This information can range from celebrity news, current events to political information. As most people, Americans also rely heavily on the media for their news. According to Robinson and Kohuts survey of the credibility of 39 news media organizations and personalitys finds the majority of those surveyed (2,104 adults) believe most of what they learn from the press.4 This can be very dangerous because todays press coverage is said to contain a high level of bias. However, back in the days, press coverage was quite objective. As for Schudson and Gans, objectivity arose as a means of attaining journalistic credibility.5 Journalistic credibility is defined as appealing to a broader demographic without alienating many readers. Objectivity and its central component, detachment, offered the press a strategy for expanding its market by balancing perspectives from at least two sides of an issue.6 Tuchman elaborated on this point, arguing that detached objectivity was a strategic ritual that not only preserved journalistic credibility with readers.7 Contemporary journalistic reporting is quite different.


Kull, R. a. (2003-2004). Misperceptions, the Media and the Iraq War. Political Science Quarterly , 569-598.


Cihasky, C. G.-Y. (n.d.). The Media, Public Opinion and Iraq: The Roles of Tone and Coverage in Public Misperceptions. Id.



Gans, H. (1979). Deciding Whats News. New York: Vintage Book. Schudson, M. (1978). Discovering the News:A Social History of American Newspapers. New York : Basic Books.

Aday, S., Livingston, S., & Hebert, M. (2005). Embedding the Truth A Cross-Cultural Analysis of Objectivity and Television Coverage of the Iraq War. Press/Politics 10 (1) , 3-21.7


Tuchman, G. ( 1972). Objectivity as Strategic Ritual: An Examination of Newsmens Notions of Objectivity. American Journal of Sociology 77 (4) , 66079.


For example the study of Gilens which is an analysis of public perceptions of a specific policy area, finds that both network television news and news magazines depict poor Americans as being African American more often than is really the case.8 This result implies that information distributed by the news media, even if it is similar across news sources, may not be exact. Scholars such as Shelley and Ashkins examined the accuracy of news reports across different mediums. Their study compared media images of crime trends to police statistics. Shelley and Ashkins find that newspapers more accurately represent police statistics when compared to television reports.9 These findings are important because the publics perceptions about crime are largely based on television reports, and those reports fail to accurately report police statistics, thus providing the public with a wrong version of the reality. Examinations of Gerbner et al, Lichter, Rothman, OGuinn and Shrum also concur with the many content analyses of television. These authors proved that a number of constructs are consistently overrepresented on television relative to their real- world incidence.10 This becomes problematic when the public starts to accept the media bias as truth. Scholars name this phenomenon an effect of cultivation theory. Cultivation Theory posits that frequent viewing of these distortions of reality will increasingly result in the perception that these distortions reflect reality.11 In other words, the public believes what it hears, reads and sees. A great example of an incident where the public was misinformed by the media is the belief among the public that led to the support for the war on terror. The staggering results of Kull et al analyzing the misperceptions that led to support for the war in Iraq are very significant as they challenge the assumption of precise, correct, impartial, objective coverage in journalism. It is widely assumed that Americas support of the war on terror was shaped through the media which distributed false information. B. Print versus Television Media

The study by Althaus of American news consumption during times of national crises shows that there are notable changes in the mix of news media used by Americans since

Gilens, Martin. 1996. Race and Poverty in America: Public Misperceptions and the American Correlates of Television Viewing.9


Sheley, J. F., & Ashkins, C. D. (1981). Crime, Crime News and Crime Views. Public Opinion Quarterly 45 , 492-506. George Gerbner, L. G. (1984). Political Correlates of Television Viewing. Public Opinion Quarterly: 48 , 283-300.


George, G., Gross, L., Morgan, M., Signorielli, N., & Shanahan, J. (2002). Growing Up with Television: Cultivation Processes. In J. Bryant, & M. Dolf Zillmann, Media Effects:Advances in Theory and Research (pp. 43-67). New Jersey : Erlbaum. Thomas, O., & Shrum, L. J. (1997). The role of television in the construction of consumer reality. Journal of Consumer Research 23 , 278-294.



9/11.12 This statement is proved by surveys conducted by the Pew Center for the People and the Press. These surveyors asked respondents if they could name up to three media as primary sources of news. In the first week of September 2001, print media was the most important source. In the second week of January 2002 cable television had become the most significant news source. Americans had also indicated on the surveys that they combine television news with internet for getting information on public affairs. The audit bureau data released by the Newspaper Association of America confirms that U.S. daily newspaper circulation in the period from September 31, 2001 through March 31, 2002, was 0.6% lower than in the prior six-month; an obvious decline from print to television media after 9/11. However, the American public does not realize that du

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