For that they can instead be seen

For decades scholars have argued consistently over the
extent of power the news media hold in the context of triggering military
interventions in distant humanitarian crises. The two major schools of thought
on this debate are most notably labelled as the “CNN effect” and “manufacturing
consent”. Whilst these two arguments appear to be in direct opposition to each
other, as this essay will explore, scholars have noted that they can instead be
seen to complement each other, and both simultaneously be used to explain the
cause of a military intervention. Whilst the CNN effect posits that “real-time
communications technology could provoke major responses from domestic audiences
and political elites to global events (Robinson, 1999), those who argue that “‘the
media does not create policy but rather that news media is mobilised
(manipulated even) into supporting government policy” (Robinson, 1999) would
instead find themselves under the manufacturing consent umbrella. This essay
will explore the main arguments of these two schools of thought, through the
use of real world examples where academics have argued the presence of their
core arguments are clear to see. This essay will also critically analyse the
arguments put forward and question whether they can undoubtedly be seen as
being able to wholly and truly explain the triggering of military interventions
in particular humanitarian crises, and what evidence is present to support
these claims.

The term “CNN effect” was first formally used during the
Gulf War 1991 (Franks, 2015). The use of the term includes, but is not limited
to only, the US television network CNN. Instead, it more widely studies “on the
impact of the news media in general upon foreign policy formulation” (Franks,
2015). This school of thought assumes that there has been a shift in power away
from foreign policy establishment, and to the news media, both television and
print. As Huntington (1975) writes “the most notable new source of
national power in 1970, as compared to 1950, was the national media.” Robinson
(1975) extends this message, stating that due to expansion of the role that the
national media played throughout the 1960s, their new found power meant they
became “a highly creditable, never-tiring political opposition, a maverick
third party which never need face the sobering experience of governing.” This
concept of the media as the opposition is prevalent, not only in the works of
academics writing on the relationship of media and foreign policy formulation,
but also in speeches and articles written by members of the formal political
establishment (Franks, 2015).  Firstly,
former British Prime Minister Tony Blair stated in his 1999 Chicago speech “we
are continually fending off the danger of letting wherever CNN roves be the
cattle prod to take a global conflict seriously. We need to focus in a serious
and sustained way on the principles of the doctrine of international community
and on the institutions that deliver them.”  Secondly, in 1995, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the
former Secretary-General of the United Nations, stated that CNN had become such
an important actor in international relations that they essentially functioned as
the 16th member of the UN Security Council. “We have 16 members in the Security
Council: the 15 country members plus CNN. Long term work doesn’t interest you
because the span of attention of the public is limited. Out of 20 peacekeeping
operations you are interested in one or two… And because of the limelight on
one or two, I am not able to obtain the soldiers or the money or the attention
for the other 17 operations.” (Smillie & Minear, 2004). In addition to this,
George Kennan, an American diplomat and historian, wrote on the decision of the
US to commit to sending personnel into Somalia, after the dissolution of its
central government, to restore order and provide humanitarian relief “there can
be no question that the reason for this acceptance lies primarily with the
exposure of the Somalia situation by the American media, above all, television.
The reaction would have been unthinkable without this exposure. The reaction
was an emotional one.” Kennan goes on to say “if American policy from here on
out, particularly policy involving the uses of our armed forces abroad, is to
be controlled by popular emotional impulses… then there is no place… for
what have traditionally been regarded as the responsible deliberative organs of
our government” (Kennan, XXX) Within this writing, Kennan clearly places
himself as someone who views this supposed new role of the media as a threat to
rational foreign policy-making, and thusly is seen as a realist within the CNN
effect school of thought. From these examples we can see how individuals,
particularly those found in the existing formal political establishment, argue
that the news media do indeed have the capacity to shape a state’s
foreign policy agenda, signifying a shift in power away from the existing
policy-making community.

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However, in response to the rise in prominence of this
school of thought, academic scholars have been quick to argue that the role of
the news media may in fact be much more limited.  Rather than being able to shape the foreign
policy agenda, critics have posited that the media in fact only has the
capability to act as an accelerating factor, simply forcing a “shortening of
response time for decisionmaking” (Livingston, 1997).  In this sense, media only has the power to
influence policy in space and time of policy indecision. Robinson (1999) writes
clearly on this theory that “when there exists uncertain policy vis-à-vis an
issue the government is unable to feed a plausible and well rehearsed policy
line to the media and therefore set the agenda. In this situation journalists
are able to frame reports in a way that is critical of government inaction and
pressures for a particular course of action. This is when the CNN effect
occurs.” In real world terms this form of the CNN effect has been argued to be
visible following the attack on the Sarajevo market place in 1994. White House
Communications Director Mark Gearan spoke on the matter stating “it did
not take just the TV coverage of the Sarajevo massacre to push things forward.
Things were moving” (Gearan XXX) Robin Renwick a British Ambassador went on to
say “the fact of the incident weighed with us most. It would not have triggered
action if people were not already thinking about action” (Gowing, 1994).

Despite this shift to a so called limited CNN effect,
critics still question whether the media can truly be said to be able to shape
a state’s foreign policy agenda. One of the major critiques of the CNN effect
is that it is extremely difficult to demonstrate a clear causative relationship
between the work of the news media and any changes in a country’s foreign
policy agenda. Instead, critics argue, there can only be “loose speculation”
(Robinson, 1999) on whether the news media can trigger a military intervention,
as there is tremendous difficulty in attempting to “prove a direct causal
relationship between news coverage and policy options” (Robinson, 1999).
Secondly, as Gilboa (2005) writes, if one accepts the CNN effect as a true
model of how policy can be formulated than one must also assume that politicians
are reactive to public pressure and follow a democratic model of policy making
“they link media influence on policy to the impact of coverage on public
opinion and to subsequent public pressure on leaders to adopt the policy
advocated by the media.” Gilboa warns strongly against this assumption saying
“researchers who wish to validate the CNN effect and rely on the assumption
that the triangular mechanism is valid may be moving in the wrong direction.”
He goes on to assert that “this implied democratic policymaking model ignores
several factors” and that “the linkages between media coverage, public opinion,
and policy aren’t yet sufficiently clear.” From these arguments we can see how
any form of the CNN effect has been heavily critiqued for the assumptions it
bases itself off of. There was therefore space for a new model to attempt to
explain the relationship that exists between the news media and the foreign
policy formulation community.

This counterargument to the CNN effect is best known as Manufacturing
Consent, and was most popularised by Herman and Chomsky in their 1988 book ‘Manufacturing
Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media’. Herman and Chomsky advance
existing theories on the political economy of the news media, and its
relationship with foreign policy. They clearly outline their concept of a
“propaganda model” which is used to “trace the routes by which money and power
are able to filter out the news fit to print, marginalize dissent, and allow
the government and dominant private interests to get their messages across to
the public”( p.2).  This model puts forward five filters that news “must
pass through… leaving only the cleansed residue fit to print”. These five filters
are: Ownership, Advertising, Sourcing, Flak,
and Anti-communism, which was later updated to “War on Terror” (Allan,
2010). Through this concept of news being filtered, Herman and Chomsky argued
that “the elite domination of the media and marginalization of dissidents that
results from the operation of these filters occurs so naturally that media news
people… are able to convince themselves that they choose and interpret the
news “objectively” and on the basis of professional news values” (Herman
& Chomsky, 1988). From this theoretical basis, I will now examine how news
was said to be filtered in the build up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, and
thusly if and how the news media did indeed act purposefully in the interests
of the state. 

Kumar (2006) summarises the general view of academics on the
actions of the Bush administration and the US news media between the events of
9/11 and the US invasion of Iraq stating “today, few would disagree that the
Bush administration resorted to propaganda in order to justify its war on Iraq
and that the news media simply presented as fact information that they should
have carefully scrutinized”. Ryan & Switzer (2009) go on to argue that the
news media were not passive in this process, but proactively attempted to frame
the issues in a particular, self-serving, fashion “the news media embraced the
techniques of propaganda… to support an administration that was determined to
exploit the fear of terrorism to rally public support for the invasion”. Indeed
this view of the media as active participants in the spreading of, what can now
be seen as, incorrect information is certainly convincing when retrospectively
detailing the actions of the US news media during this period of time, and their
relationship with the Bush administration. One example of this, outlined in
Ryan & Switzer 2009, is the response of news media to the US Secretary of
State Colin Powell speech to the UN Security Council in 2003. Powell boldly
claimed in his speech that Saddam Hussein’s regime were in production of and in
control of prohibited weapons, and were not being forthcoming to the ongoing UN
investigation “We know that Saddam’s son, Qusay, ordered the removal of all
prohibited weapons from Saddam’s numerous palace complexes. We know that Iraqi
government officials, members of the ruling Baath Party and scientists have
hidden prohibited items in their homes. Other key files from military and
scientific establishments have been placed in cars that are being driven around
the countryside by Iraqi intelligence agents to avoid detection” (US Secretary
of State Colin Powell addresses the UN Security Council, 2003). Whilst these statements
were clearly in support of an invasion, they were found to be “mostly false or
misleading”. The media, labelled here as compliant, rallied behind Powell’s
speech. USA today printed “(Powell) forcefully laid out newly declassified
evidence of Iraq’s efforts to develop and conceal chemical, biological and
nuclear weapons, as well as new signs that an al-Qaeda terrorist cell was set
up in Baghdad last year” (Nichols, 2003).

Secondly, during this period of time many television
networks relied on the use of military analysts who were supposedly independent
experts. However, when reviewing the true objectivity of these individuals’
researchers uncovered that they were in fact hired by the pentagon, and
therefore “often agreed with the administration’s militaristic worldview and
would (themselves) benefit financially from a war in Iraq” (Ryan & Switzer,
2009). These paid military analysts “often got more airtime than network
reporters” and were found to not only outlining the facts of the US army
capabilities, but that “they were framing how viewers ought to interpret
events” (Barstow, 2008). As Barstow goes on to write this new tactic by the Bush
administration clearly presented a new “symbiotic relationship where the usual
dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated”.

In addition to this, some of the largest US newspapers used
the “transfer negative device” to attack domestic critics of the US invasion
(Ryan & Switzer, 2009). The newspapers
visibly attempted to “intimidate and silence the protesters, often by casting
them as ‘friends’ or ‘dupes’ of the evil terrorists” (Ibid). The New York Daily
News labelled opponents of the invasion as either ‘determinedly blind to the
facts’ or ‘sadly ignorant of them’ (NY Daily News, 2003).

Despite these clear failures of the news media, to not
adhere to the principle of objectivity, argued to be “the key to maintaining an
ethical standard in journalism” (Ryan & Switzer 2009), many news
organisations have only admitted to accepting information based on insufficient
intelligence. In May 2004, the New York Times admitted that on multiple
occasions, their coverage of the Iraq war ”was not as rigorous as it should
have been”. Whilst this admission is certainly a notable event, it only serves
to paint the news media as passive during this process, whereas sceptics have
argued “the news media not only accepted but actively embraced information
based on spurious intelligence” (Kumar, 2006). Through viewing the multiple
actions of the US media building up to the US invasion of Iraq, we can
certainly being to question the true nature of the relationship between the
media and the foreign policy community. Rather than using its power to shape a
states foreign policy agenda, as the CNN effect suggests, the news media
instead appeared to act subserviently to the states interests, both consciously
and unconsciously. This symbiotic relationship is one that may signify an end
to the media as the states opposition, and instead their role is now to use the
power they possess to shape the publics opinion around a particular issue.

In conclusion, it is perhaps undisputable that the debate on
the true relationship of the news media and the foreign policy community will
certainly continue into the foreseeable future. To objectively further this
debate, one simply must take the behaviour of the news media during the US invasion
of Iraq forward as a sign that these two factions are no longer separate entities,
and instead have the capabilities to work both for and with each other. Whilst politicians
have been previously concerned over the newfound power of the news media, and
their ability to trigger emotional public responses, there now appears to be a new
era of this relationship, which purposefully serves in the states interest. 


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