Media, Public Opinion, and Foreign Policy
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The matter of public opinion including its influence on policy making has been debated by different scholars throughout the world. There are differences in the way realists including liberals view public opinion. For realists public opinion is unstable, lack consistency also that it does not influence foreign policy making, in contrast realists view public opinion as stable, consistent thus it influences foreign affairs including policy making. Therefore the government or policy makers can take into account the opinions of the public or ignore it when making important decisions. This essay will examine with reasons why agree with liberals perspective on the role of the media and public opinion in foreign policy by focusing on the case of the Vietnam War.
2. Defining key concepts
Foreign policy can be defined as “state’s international goals and its strategies to achieve those goals” Sparknotes editors (2014: Internet). Foreign policy refers to a planned course of action followed by an actor or decision maker on international level or to interact with other states to achieve certain objectives including goals. According to Sarmah “public opinion refers to the opinions of people in general” (2004:113). This definition suggests that public opinion is opinions of people in general based on certain issues. Thus in politics public opinion would mean the collective opinions of citizens about certain government’s policy or actions
3. Dominant models in foreign policy analysis
Throughout the 20th century two perspective or models conquered academic debates namely the pluralist including the elite models. The pluralists’ model assume that power is isolated throughout the society so that no interests prevail. The public including the media can raise their opinions also debate certain issues without any favour. The government cannot silence the media or the public thus the opinions of these two bodies are sometimes taken into account when the government makes crucial decisions or takes action about certain policies or events. Thus the media including the public are independent from any political influence hence they can exert pressure on government. As stated by Robinson “mainstream media are sufficiently independent from political power to allow them to present a diverse range of political perspectives” cited by Cox and Stokes (2012:162).
The second model is the elite model which is in contradiction with the pluralist model in a sense that they view power as concentrated only in the hands of the few powerful individuals in society, moreover that those groups with power include political officials including think tanks thus those who are not included abide by the rules set out by the elites.
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The model maintains that the media including the public are subservient to those in power. Therefore Robinson (2012:168) argues that “the public are not influenced by what they see and hear in the news, but are also directed to think about issues in a way congenial to elite interests” as cited by Cox and Strokes. The media is used to portray the elites in as good individuals, furthermore only positive issues are published about the elites. . Although public opinion does influence foreign policy making sometimes also occasionally has caused trouble for decision makers. The realists who support the model conclude that “elites either lead the public to support their policies or ignore their preferences altogether” Douglas (1999:4). The realist view that public opinion is insignificant also that it has little impact on international affairs was supported by Cohen when quoting one official in government saying “To hell with public opinion … We should lead, and not follow”(1973:62). It is significant to state this two models before going into detail about the public opinion and the media as they show the two different perspectives including which model is present in which state depending on the type of system followed by that particular state.
If the state is capitalist or democratic then often the pluralist method is used as power is dispersed throughout the society, thus the media including the public have freedom to debate certain issues. But in communist states the elite model would be followed in a sense that the media including the public are controlled by those in power, therefore only the elites have power.
Public Opinion, Democracy and Foreign Policy
Often in democratic countries the government responds to public including media pressure based on certain action or policies. Thus it can be stated that the pluralist model is dominant in democratic states. But some academics criticises the model by stating that most of the public were misinformed to hold incoherent, effective views on foreign affairs. As Robinson (2012:170) supports the claim that “most of the public were too ill-informed to hold coherent, therefore influential views on foreign affairs” cited by Smith et al. but it does not matter if the public is ill-informed, the fact is that the public can exert some pressure on the government concerned.
Hans Morgenthau once argued that the government is the front-runner of public opinion not its slave. According to Morgenthau (1999:4) “the rational requirements of good foreign policy cannot from the outset count upon the support of a public opinion whose preferences are emotional rather than rational”. The theorist states that to produce a good foreign policy the government should not take the opinions of the public into account as these opinions are often emotional but not rational.
During the Vietnam War much was written about the two models to a point where international perspectives that was shared between academics including policy makers was shaped in favour of the elite model. According to Smith et al. Robinson states that (2012:170) “the Vietnam War provided a new context by which to view the relationship between public opinion and foreign policy” cited by Smith et al.
The Vietnam War provided a new way to view the relationship between public opinion including foreign policy also to question the elite model as it was the dominant model held by most academics including scholars. According to Robinson (2012:170) “Many researchers argue that public opinion was more stable, rational, than previously suggested” as cited by Smith et al. it was clear that protests against the war highlighted the significance of public opinion. Not only protests, the public especially the citizens of the USA did not support the war in Vietnam as most innocent people lost their lives, furthermore support for the presidents of that time namely Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson declined. The media played an important role in informing the public about the war in Vietnam thus the public become more informed thus responded in as informed, stable manner towards the war. There seems to be no consensus amongst academics despite exhaustive research being done between the two models in contradiction namely pluralist including elite model.
4. Vietnam War and the CNN effect
During the 1968 Tet Offensive, wide spread fight occurred in South Vietnam main cities in the presence of the US journalists, this war which the USA government claimed prior to the incident that it was winning was now out of control. The journalists had an opportunity publish the brutal killings occurred or experienced by innocent citizens of Vietnam. The media immediately aroused the anti-war movements amongst the public. “The perception was created that the media had acted as a powerful constrain effectively limiting the use of the US military power” Robinson (2012:165).
Since the war many studies have been done to report on such events. The Cable News Network (CNN) was established and promised to cover news from around the world using advanced technology to provide real time news anywhere in the world. Thus “the collapse of communism, symbolised by the fall of Berlin wall, and the 1991 Gulf war were experienced in real time due to CNN” Robinson (2012:164). The CNN reported on major issues in history also it can be said that the citizens of USA had the privilege of witnessing historical events. Thus due to this some viewed foreign policy as driven by the CNN hence called the “CNN effect”. Regardless of intensive research being done there is little academic consensus with regards to the two models namely the pluralist including elite models. Thus for those who argue for the elite model, public opinion remains effective in influencing particular policies or actions of governments concerned. Furthermore for those in favour of the pluralist model, in some state the government still controls the media despite being a democratic states, for example in South Africa the government wants to introduce the secrecy bill into law despite being a democratic country where freedom of expression including access to information is vital.
5. The Media and foreign policy
As stated above the media in democratic states plays a significant role, thus are supposed to bring certain important issues to public scrutiny, this role is referred to as the public sphere. According to Smith et al. Robinson states that (2012:172) “within this sphere, news media, including television news, newspapers, and other news formats…should help to educate, inform, and facilitate debate”. The media within this sphere must educate also inform the public so that important issues should be debated accordingly, thus this will create consensus amongst the public about certain important issue debated which will then be used to influence the policy of the government. The news media represents the opinions of the public by commenting also publishing certain issues that are not known by the public. The media should be neutral when publishing or commenting on certain issues, furthermore free from political influence.
There are two types of media which are very influencing or effective in informing the public namely television including print media. The television media, for example the CNN reports on daily neutral events also political issues around the world. While print practice opinionated journalism providing dissimilar political agendas including standpoints, such as Mail & Guardian. The media in democratic countries follow the pluralist model in a sense that most have freedom of expression including rights to report on certain governmental policies or actions. Furthermore power is isolated throughout society thus the media is independent from the government’s influence.
Bennett argues that the journalists in the USA follows the foreign policy elites, in terms of news publishing including surrounding foreign affairs rather than being independent. As Smith et al. states that Robinson supports the claim that “US journalist follow foreign policy elites in terms of both the news agenda and the framing of foreign affairs, rather than striking out independently” (2012:175). It is clear that some journalists in the USA tend to shield certain important issues about the government especially in Washington. Those in favour of the elite model argue that as a result of the elite model pursued by the journalists in the USA the public is given limited information thus they cannot form their own opinions compared to the state using the pluralist model. Therefore three issues become eminent namely agenda setting, framing also priming. The first one agenda setting refers to the media’s capability to ignore certain issues and focusing on others to try to make the public to reflect on the issues they want. As Smith et al. cites from Robinson to support the claim “agenda setting refers to the media’s ability, by focusing on some issues rather than others, to direct people to think about those issues” (2012:176). The second issue is that of priming refers to the media’s capability to make the public to think also judge their government in a certain way by preparing also directing certain issues. Framing on the other hand refers to how the actual representation of the news influences hoe the public notice specific issues. It is important to highlight this issues as the influence how the media tends to adopt certain strategies when informing the public especially in democratic states.
Lippmann argued that “slow public reaction to events and the lack of information causes the foreign policy decision-maker to respond too late” (1955:21). Quick public reaction to actions including access to information plays a significant role to help decision makers to make informed decisions earlier.
6. How do leaders in Liberal Democratic States make Foreign Policy
In liberal democratic states foreign strategies are expected to be made by the people, for the people. Immanuel Kant thus once argued that “government are responsible to the people, and the public would not go into war, since it is they the public who ultimately pay the price and suffer most” Kant (2007).
The theory of Liberal area of peace ties with the foreign policy of democratic states in a sense that, the theory stipulates that democratic states would never fight with each other thus harmony is created between liberal also democratic states. This argument was supported by Bill Clinton in 1994 when the president stated that “‘democracies don’t attack each other”. The quote support the evidence that democratic states have never waged into war with each other during the past two centuries. So it can be stated that since democratic states have established their own region which consists of harmony, the foreign policy of this states will benefit each states within this zone, for example if one democratic states is attacked by a socialist state then other democratic states will mostly support or help a democratic state.
7. Empirical Evidence and Public Opinion
Debated have been conducted over the past based on the elite including pluralist models with liberals challenging realist about their perspectives that the public is not interested also ill-informed about foreign policy. However the evidence according to Guraziu (2008:8) suggest that “in 1995 one third of the public knew about the United States supporting South Vietnam during the Vietnam War where 58 000 Americans lost their lives”. The public are well informed through the media thus they can make stable judgements based on the information given or published, thus this contradicts the realists perspective about the role of the media including the elite model. With the advances of technology, today the public is well informed as a result can make well informed also stable decisions than in the past both domestically also internationally.
Public opinion can be rejected or ignored by the decision maker or government in making foreign policy here are just few examples cited of states leaders ignoring public opinions. The first one is Ronald Reagan who ignored public opinion when it come to the withdrawal of the marines from Lebanon despite polling data being available during the time of Beirut bombing. After this passing (The New York Times, 7/06/04) newspaper wrote “Mr Reagan’s decision to send marines to Lebanon was disastrous, and his invasion of Grenada pure melodrama”. Mr Reagan failed to take polling data into account before making a decision, thus as a result the decision taken by the president was a debacle. It might have happened that if Mr Reagan took the polling data before making a decision the debacle could have been avoided.
A last example of policy decision makers ignoring public opinion was when the European Union (EU) decision makers ignored the opinion polls suggesting that Turkey should not join the EU by accepting the Turkey’s agreement into the EU. According to Guraziu (2008:12), “the vast majority of the EU population opposed Turkey’s accession into the EU, with opinion polls running as high as 80 percent the EU foreign policymakers signed the accession talks”
In summary Liberal’s perspective on the role of the media and public opinion is justified in a sense that in most democratic states the media informs the public about the actions including policies of the government so that these issues can be debated by the public so that the public can judge the government in a neutral manner unless the issue is very crucial and the public would be affected by that issue then harsh comments would be made. If the media would follow the elite model, for example the South Africans would have not known about the president’s upgrades in Nkandla but due to media’s role now the public knows about the issue moreover the issue is debated by different analysts including scholars, without the media the public would have been in the dark about the matter.
To conclude, this essay has focused on why liberal’s perspective on the role of the media including public opinion is acceptable by focusing on the Vietnam War also the US media influence on the opinions of the public with regards to the war. Furthermore the CNN effect, then lastly evidence and public opinion with regards to the topic were cited. It can be said that most states follow the liberal’s perspective as the media can influence foreign policies of certain states but it is clear that often the opinions of the public were not considered in decision making by some presidents or heads of states. Thus it is clear that the issue of foreign policy and public opinion is a very interesting subject.
Cohen, B.C., 1973. The Public’s Impact on Foreign Policy. Little, Brown, Boston.
Douglas, C.F., 1999. Counting the Public In: Presidents, Public Opinion, and Foreign policy. Columbia University Press, New York.
Guraziu, R., 2008. Principles and Practice of International Relations Political & International Studies. Middlesex University, London.
Kant, I., 2007. Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch. Filiquarian, Minnesota.
Morgenthau, H., 2004.The future of diplomacy. http://www.mgimo.ru/fileserve Accessed: 2014:03:29.
Robinson, P., 2012. “The Media and US Foreign Policy”, in Cox, M and Stokes, D., US Foreign Policy. Oxford University Press, New York.
Robinson, P., 2012. The CNN Effect: the myth of news, foreign policy and intervention. Routledge, London.
Robinson, P., 2012. “The Role of media and Public opinion”, in Smith, S., Hadfield, A., Dunne, T., Foreign Policy – Theories, Actors, Cases. Oxford University, Oxford.
Sarmah, D.K., 2004. Political Science (+2 Stage). New Age International, New Delhi.
Sparknotes on Foreign Policy. 2014. http://www.sparknotes.com/us-government-and-politics/american-government/foreign-policy/section4.rhtm Accessed: 2014.03.31.
The New York Times, 7 June 2004.
Por Mónica Peña
There is a great debate about the relationship between the news media and the foreign policy decision-making process, and the impact the former may have on the latter. Two theories have risen to explain this matter, the so-called "CNN effect" and the "manufacturing consent" thesis.
But these theories are in conflict, thus, agreement about the direct impact of the media on foreign policy is yet to be achieved. Even though for "many journalists, policy-makers and scholars, there really is little doubt that media profoundly affect the foreign policy process" (Livingston, 1997), recent research about the effects of the media on Western Governments in response to humanitarian interventions "fails to clarify whether or not the news media has (or has not) triggered recent 'humanitarian' interventions" (Robinson, 1999).
This essay will start by analysing foreign coverage and foreign policy making. The reason for this is that foreign events are dealt by the media through coverage and by foreign policy makers through the creation, modification and implementation of policies. Further on, the findings1 of several authors, like Livingston (1997), Livingston and Eachus (1995), Jacobsen (1996 and 2000), Gowing (1994) and Mermin (1997) will be reviewed in order to set a grounding for the perceived conclusions about the impact of the news media on the foreign policy decision-making process.
Media-Foreign policy decision-making relationship
In order to illustrate how the news media have revolutionized the foreign policy making process, the image of the Soviet missile crisis in Bay of Pigs, during John F. Kennedy's government is often mentioned (Hoge, 1994; Livingston, 1997). During the first six days of the crisis, Kennedy and his advisers had the chance to deliberate in secrecy about which course of action they were to take. The capability of keeping the situation in secret kept foreign policy makers from dealing with "public hysteria" (Livingston, 1997) or media pressures.
Nonetheless, the context has changed considerably since 1962. Firstly, due to technological developments, real time news coverage allows information to be broadcasted 24 hours a day from anywhere in the world, with no regards for diplomatic secrecy. Secondly, since the end of the Cold War, the world is no longer bipolar, leading towards a lack of definition of American national interests, for they are no longer constructed around the idea of stopping the spread of communism. The latter leads towards the third point: there is policy uncertainty about foreign affairs. These contextual changes have redefined, it is argued, the relationship between the news media and the foreign policy decision-making process in the West, though there is great debate about its reaches and limitations.
On the one hand is the so-called "CNN effect", which is understood in a variety of ways. It comes from being understood as the capability of the news media (television in particular) to "shape the policy agenda" (Gowing, 1994); the "power" of news journalism "to move governments" (Cohen, 1994); "the idea that real-time communications technology could provoke major responses from domestic audiences and political elites to global events" (Robinson, 1999); the argument that "the media drives Western conflict management by forcing Western governments to intervene militarily in humanitarian crises against their will" (Jacobsen, 2000); "elite decision makers' loss of policy control to news media" (Livingston and Eachus, 1995); to the argument that the term "CNN effect" has been used imprecisely, for there are several types of media effects, deriving from different types of policies (Livingston, 1997).
On the other hand, the manufacturing consent theory "argues that the media does not create policy, but rather that news media is mobilized (manipulated even) into supporting government policy" (Robinson, 1999). There are two ways in which manufacturing consent may take place: the executive version, in which there is framing that conforms to the official agenda; and the elite version, in which news coverage is critical of executive policy as a consequence of elite dissensus (ibid.).
Media, Foreign Policy and Events
However, in my opinion, the first question to be asked regarding the impact of the media on foreign policy making decisions concerns how each of these actors, the media and policy makers, relate to foreign events.
The media relate to events through coverage (or lack of coverage one may add). However, when it comes to foreign news, there are mixed trends. On the one hand, there is a tendency towards cutting back the amount of it as a response to little public interest (Hoge, 1994: 143). But on the other, some media are "expanding their foreign coverage" (idem.). Either way, the attention that media gives to foreign news seems to be focused to "the unusual and the violent" (ibid.). "Film footage of violence is the element of foreign news most likely to leap the hurdles barring entry to the evening news shows' 22 precious minutes of airtime" (Hoge, 1993: 3). Bias against peaceful news is noted.
Jacobsen (2000) divides conflicts in three phases: pre-violence, violence and post-violence. His findings are that during the pre and post-violence coverage is negligible; "Since coverage of conflicts that might explode in violence is unlikely to boost ratings, these conflicts are usually ignored" (ibid: 133). In the post-violence phase coverage is also minimal, as an example of this, Jacobsen notes "Mine clearing is only news if Princess Diana is doing it" (idem.: 138). The coverage during the post-violence phase, however, tends towards the negative; failed projects, corruption, mismanagement, etc. (ibidem). The broad of coverage of a conflict, hence, happens during the violent phase, however, it is decided by "a host of different factors, most of which have nothing to do with humanitarian need such as: geographic proximity to Western countries, costs, logistics, legal impediments (e.g. visa requirements), risk to journalists, relevance to national interest, and news attention cycles" (Jacobsen, 2000: 133).
Thus, foreign news may be concluded, are subject to coverage in relation to its level of violence and general newsmaking and newsworthiness concerns. Girardet (1996) notes that there is a multiplicity of violent conflicts that have not received coverage at all. Conflicts are covered also in relation to their international implications, "It is doubtful that the media would have reported on Rwandans had it "just" been a case of Rwandans killing Rwandans" (ibid: 57). He explains the lack of coverage of violent conflicts comes from the need of the international community to justify concerns "by reacting to something more morally abhorrent than the mundane killing of ordinary human beings -just as Afghans killing Afghans, Sudanese killing Sudanese, or Angolans killing Angolans is apparently insufficient to mobilize more consistent coverage." (ibidem.: 58).
Girardet (1996) also points out that there is an obsession with the medium, rather than the purpose. The "technological conveniences" that news ICT's bring constitute a threat to quality journalism, since "All too often, information is confused with understanding, and high technology with journalism, so fascinated are the people by the vehicle rather than the purpose". The consequence is an obsession with immediacy, which shortens the journalist's "time to fully research and understand the issues at hand", encouraging "laziness and an overreliance on existent data" (ibid: 59-60).
Gowing (1994) believes that "There is far more real-time war than ever before" (81). Whatever is transmitted is determined by its graphic potential, "the main principle is: no pictures, then no serious coverage of a conflict" (idem.).
So far it is understood that foreign news is focused on conflicts; yet, only a few conflicts are covered, and such coverage is determined by a variety of factors independent to their level of humanitarian concerns, such as routine newsmaking and newsworthiness considerations; the quality of the coverage, just as well, is influenced by the use of technologies at hand. However, what drives the attention of journalists in the first place towards a specific conflict? Hoge (1993: 2) believes that "the new media's task has been made more difficult by an absence of clear, steady cues from Washington ( ) the press traditionally has covered international affairs from the perspective of America's perceived interests". As Mermin (1997) notes, "American journalists turn to politicians and government officials for guidance in deciding what constitutes news". Furthermore, Washington constitutes a place "where newsworthy information is made public everyday" (ibid.). The same point is made by Livingston and Eachus (1995: 415) when they say that reporters "have been found to routinely turn to officials as news sources (Gans, 1979; Paletz & Entman, 1981; Said, 1981; Sigal, 1973), particularly in foreign affairs and national security reporting (Entman, 1991; Hallin, 1989; Livingston, 1994)."
Mermin's research entitled "Television news and American intervention in Somalia" reveals that Washington's decisions were the key to the subsequent coverage of the events, which fluctuated in amount and importance in relation to what was going on in Washington. Just as well, he notes that coverage was also drawn in relation to the priority Somalia played in the American agenda, as an example, he points out that during July of 1992, Somalia was never in the top of the news because it was not in the top of the foreign policy agenda (1997: 395).
In short, the coverage of a foreign conflict is determined by a variety of factors sometimes tangential to the event itself. However, the quality of the coverage, and by this we mean the way reports are fashioned, is also subject of external determinants. News reports about humanitarian crises are claimed to move governments towards action as the CNN effect presumes, or to frame contents in conformity to executive or elitist interests, as suggested by the manufacturing consent theory. This will be returned to later in this essay.
Foreign policy making process
Foreign policy in Western democracies, as is the case of the United States, is drawn upon the idea of a predetermined national interest. With the end of the Cold-War the main concern of USA's national interest, stopping the spread of communism, was over, yet the challenge is now that of a new definition of national interests. As Hoge (1993: 2) describes, "there is not yet an articulated official framework for U.S. foreign policy in a still new post-Cold War world". The Cold War, Hoge (1994: 137) argues, provided a "gauge for determining the importance of events by how much they affected America's security versus its superpower rival". In other words, the Cold War provided Americans with a defined ideological stigmata, and this was revealed in the media: "The parameters of press coverage tended to be those of the country's foreign policy ( ) The press was often critical, but of the execution of policy more than the aims." (Hoge, 1994: 137).
Joseph Nye (1999: 22) describes that the collapse of the Soviet Union challenges the way America conceives its national interests, since ""national interest" is a slippery concept, used to describe as well as prescribe foreign policy". Samuel P. Huntington argues that "without a sure sense of national identity, Americans have become unable to define their national interests, and as a result subnational commercial interests and transnational and nonnational ethnic interests have come to dominate foreign policy" (quoted in Nye, 1999: 22)2 .
Nye describes national interests in a democracy as follows: "national interest is simply the shared priorities regarding relations with the rest of the world" (1999: 23). Nye (1999) argues that policy making is more difficult today because of power complexities; he conceives power as a three-dimensional chessboard: the first dimension is the military and it is unipolar, with the USA on top of the world; the second dimension is the economic, which is multipolar, with the USA, Europe and Japan having the biggest shares; the third dimension is that of transnational relations, with a dispersed structure of power. In conclusion, the USA "is preponderant, but not a dominant power" (Nye, 1999: 24). Therefore, the world did not exactly become unipolar after the Cold War, hence, national interests and foreign policies ought to take other variables into account, like the level of risk U.S. national security faces. Nye establishes three categories in the hierarchy of risks to U.S. national security. The "A" list constituted by threats to American survival (like the one the Soviet Union represented); the "B" list, constituted by imminent threats to U.S. interests (but not to its survival), and the "C" list, formed by "contingencies that indirectly affect U.S. security but do not directly threaten U.S. interests", like Kosovo, Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda and Haiti (Nye, 1999: 26).
Nowadays, Nye (1999) argues, the "C" list predominates in the foreign policy agenda, one explanation of this comes from the disappearance of the threat of the Soviet Union as an "A" list, but another one is that the "C" list is the main concern of media foreign coverage. However, he argues, "A human rights policy is not itself a foreign policy, it is an important part of a foreign policy ( ) In the information age, humanitarian concerns dominate attention to a greater degree that before at the cost of diverting attention from "A" list strategic issues" (1999: 31).
However, as many researchers argue, this intrusion of the "C" list in foreign policy priorities product of media coverage, which is one way to describe the CNN effect, is a consequence of the lack of policy clarity (Gowing, 1994; Freedman, 2000; Hoge, 1994; Robinson, 2001). Just as policy clarity is perceived as necessary in determining the way media and foreign policy makers would react to a certain international contingence, political leadership is seen as paramount (Hoge, 1994, 144; Livingston, 1997: 1; Gjelten, 2002, Kohut and Toth, 1994: 58)).
In short, in the USA, foreign policies are drawn around a set of priorities determined in relation to the degree of importance of the perceived national interests, which are also determined by levels of risk to national security. In the post-Cold War world, however, those interests are not clearly defined, in consequence, policies are difficult to determine. The media is believed to raise importance of tangential matters over more substantial concerns in cases of policy uncertainty, as well as lack of political leadership. Power concentration varies according to the dimension of concern, yet one dimension has repercussions on the other. When it comes to policy-making, those involved in the process posses a different level of power, and to create a policy they must be subjected to a bargaining interaction "between a set of subsystems in the government" (Robinson, 2001: 534).
The relevance of the relationship between the news media and foreign policy makers goes beyond the fact that the former cover foreign events, and the latter make policies regarding foreign events. The importance of this relationship, thus, relies on two claims about it: firstly, the claims that the coverage of certain events has the potential to drive the policies that foreign policy makers conduct regarding the events covered (the CNN effect), secondly, the claim that foreign policy makers are the ones who drive media attention towards certain foreign events, and even determine the way those events are being framed (Manufacturing consent).
Media-Foreign Policy Making, CNN or Washington?
When trying to understand the relationship between the media and foreign policy decision-making, both theories, the CNN effect and the manufacturing consent come into contest. In this part of the essay, the conclusions that different researchers have reached regarding this topic will be reviewed, in order to present a wide scope of the dimensions of their findings.
Jacobsen (2000), as previously mentioned, studied the impact of media coverage on foreign conflict management in relation to the phases of violence of the conflict. He concludes that the direct impact of the media on foreign policy making is negligible in the pre and post-violence phases, and limited during the violence phase3. He notes that the CNN effect is necessary for interventions, but insufficient to cause them, for they are decided by other factors: action perceived as quick, with low risk of casualties and a clear exit strategy. The "direct impact of the media on Western conflict management is negligible because coverage is limited to a small number of conflicts in the violence phase". The consequent shifting of funds from "cost-effective, long-term measures to short-term relief efforts leading to a high ineffective allocation of resources" is the "invisible and indirect" impact that the media actually have on Western conflict management. This impact, he argues, "exceeds the direct impact generated by the CNN effect by far since the latter only affects a very small number of conflicts" (Jacobsen, 2000).
On the other hand, Livingston (1997)4 suggests a three-way typology of likely CNN effects. These are conditional on the kind of intervention that is being conducted, of which he recognizes eight types. The three CNN effects are described as follows:
First effect is media as accelerants, in this modality, media are presumed to shorten the time of decision-making response. Yet, the media can also become a "force multiplier", a "method of sending signals" to the opponent (1997: 2-4). This effect is most plausible to appear in conventional warfare, strategic deterrence, and tactical deterrence (ibid, 11).
Second effect is media as impediment, this takes two forms, as an emotional inhibitor, and as a threat to operational security. One likely manifestation of the emotional inhibitor effect is the "Vietnam syndrome" (Livingston, 1997: 4), in which, it is presumed, public support is undermined by the media coverage of casualties. As a threat to operational security, the media are said to compromise the success of an operation by broadcasting it and, thus, revealing strategic information to the enemy, frustrating the success of the operation. This kind of effect, Livingston notes, is likely to appear during conventional warfare, tactical deterrence, SOLIC, peace making and peace keeping operations.
The third likely effect of the media on foreign policy making that Livingston (1997) mentions is that of the media as an agenda setting agent. It is presumed that the coverage of humanitarian crises puts the issue in the foreign policy agenda and drives intervention.
Livingston's typology of likely CNN effects is supported by the findings of other authors, however, the true existence of such effects still remains undetermined, though Livingston (1997) scepticism is more focused towards questioning the ability of the media to set the agenda.
Hoge (1994: 137) describes the quality of media as accelerants as a pressure for politicians to "respond promptly to news accounts". However, Hoge foresees a negative effect of media as accelerants, due to the fact that news accounts "by their very immediacy are incomplete, without context and sometimes wrong" (ibid.). In the case of Somalia, Mermin (1997: 399) believes that media stories may have accelerated the movement in Washington towards intervention, yet those stories were "clearly a product of that movement"5.
The "Vietnam Syndrome", denominated "bodybag effect" by Freedman (2000) is an important consideration for intervention, even without the media; as Jacobsen (1996) describes, one of the requirements for intervention is a low risk of casualties. Therefore, it can be concluded that is the fact of the casualties, not the broadcasting of them that has an effect on policy (Luttwak, 1994; Hoge, 1994), since casualties are "unacceptable if suffered for no purpose" (Freedman, 2000)6.
When it comes to operational security, from a military point of view, Maj. Lafferty, et. al. (1994) finds that during a conflict, media reports increase enemy effectiveness, but only to a certain climatic point, after this, the effectiveness will start decreasing as an outcome of information overload; "Therefore, the U.S. Military must recast its relationship with media and pursue a strategy of information overload to decrease enemy effectiveness" (ibid.).
The ability of the media to function as an agenda setter is the most questioned by Livingston (1997) since the so-called CNN effect has been overestimated. "The majority of humanitarian operations are conducted without media attention ( ) Furthermore, the eventual media coverage itself was the consequence of official actions." (Livingston, 1997: 7) In the case of Somalia, Livingston (1997), Livingston and Eachus (1995) and Mermin (1997) conclude that the media were used by powerful elites to put pressure over other officials, and that coverage followed policy makers' actions.
However, Gowing (1994) by interviewing diplomatic and policy insiders finds that they often felt pressured and influenced by media coverage in their performance of foreign policy making. This fact reveals that the relationship between policy makers and the media is not a "one-way" one, rather it is one of reciprocal influence. Despite the influence of media over policy makers, Gowing (1994; 83) notes that media reports "shape the policy agenda, but do not dictate responses. They highlight policy dilemmas, but do not resolve them." In other words, the prerogatives on policy making belong to policy makers, media does not decide for them. Gowing (1994: 84, 85) concludes that in the future real-time television coverage will make no difference to policy making, the most likely situation is that a minor action would be taken just to show that "something" is being done; ultimately, events are what are important to policy makers, not the coverage of them (ibid.). The likely changes on policy strategy product of television coverage would be tactical, but not on the overall strategy (ibid.: 89).
One final consideration to review in this part of the essay corresponds to the circumstances under which Western governments are more likely to intervene during humanitarian crises. Jacobsen (1996) finds five conditions for intervention: first, a clear case of humanitarian need where the UN would give its authorization 7; second, domestic support to the operation8; third, CNN effect, which is recognized as necessary but not sufficient to cause an intervention; fourth, linkage to national interests; and fifth, feasibility of success, which also includes a low risk of casualties (the greater the domestic support, the more casualties they are willing to take).
Livingston (1997: 9) suggests that when looking more closely to "post-Cold War U.S. "humanitarian" interventions, one is likely to find equally compelling geostrategic reasons for the intervention.", like it happened during the Kurdish refugee crisis in 1991, where Scowcroft notes that it was the sensibility towards Turkey's anxiety about allowing the Kurds to stay" what fundamentally motivated the action (quoted in Livingston, 1997: 10). Apart from geostrategic concerns, Livingston mentions that a series of strict conditions must be met before the deployment of force, regulated by the Presidential Decision Directive 25 (PDD25), these include "a clear statement of American interests at stake in the operation, the approval of Congress, the availability of funding for the operation, a fixed date of withdrawal of U.S. forces, and an agreed upon command and control structure" (Livingston, 1997: 10).
In short, what researchers have found the CNN effect to be is the ability of the media to function as accelerants, impediments or agenda-setters. However, the reaches of each of these effects have counterarguments and the implications of these effects, by this we mean how positive or negative they are for foreign policy making, are not yet defined. Just as well, the ability of the media to impact foreign policy is inextricably related to coverage, thus, the greater the coverage, the more direct the impact, however, the indirect impact of the media is also relevant for foreign strategy, since it could deviate efforts from the long-term, cost-effective, high priority concerns towards the short-term, cost-ineffective, low priority contingencies. Finally, humanitarian intervention is decided by a multiplicity of factors, out of which the CNN effect may be but one.
As a not clearly defined phenomenon, the so-called CNN effect appears like a rather simplistic cause and effect explanation of media-foreign policy decision making relationship; almost like a hypodermic needle theory taken to the sphere of policy making. On the other hand, the manufacturing consent theory implies some obscurity, even conspiracy behind the relationship between policy makers and the media. Not only does this imply that both media and audiences are passive entities, easy to manipulate, but also ignorant of the "reality" behind the framing and indexing of the coverage, since critical coverage is conceived only in cases of elite dissensus. Both these theories are in clear confrontation, and they invalidate each other. But as Robinson (2001) notes, the debate about effect vs. non-effect in unconstructive. Rather, new approaches towards understanding more clearly the relationship between media and foreign policy making are to be achieved.
Just as news media coverage is not limited to foreign events, foreign policy making is not limited to the foreign events covered by the media. Thus, it is not likely that the media could drive overall foreign policy for the mere fact that coverage is limited to a selected subset of events. However, it is likely that the media have the potential to lead towards the modification of the policies being conducted regarding the events covered. One way to explain this likely effect of the media on foreign policy is understanding it as a cycle of dialectic influence in which media reacts to policies and policy makers react to coverage in a continuum. In the long run, however, there is the possibility that dramatic changes would occur; yet the empirical evidence so far is that the policy makers' reaction to coverage of humanitarian crises is usually that of emergency relief. The perceived impact of the media is inextricably related to policy certainty, the greater the certainty the lesser the impact of the media. This points out other indirect effects of the media, such as those detailed by Jacobsen (2000) and Nye (1999).
The main conclusion of this essay is that news media and foreign policy making process influence one another, sometimes directly, others indirectly. The degrees of their mutual influence are proportional to other circumstances, such as newsworthiness from the media point of view, and policy uncertainty, from the foreign policy making perspective. However, the research reviewed is made from a Western point of view, and it is focused on cases of humanitarian intervention, hence it is insufficient to draw general conclusions about the impact of the media on foreign policy making as a whole. Furthermore, the conclusions achieved may not be accurate in the context of non-Western and/or non First World countries. As hinted before, new research is needed that would consider cases different to humanitarian intervention, and contexts outside Western countries in order to draw more accurate conclusions about the impact the news media and foreign policy making have (or may not have) in one another.
This essay was written in April 2002. Nowadays, the international agenda has been transformed because of the outburst of war in Iraq. Therefore, some of the situations presented in this essay have been modified. For a start, as suggested in the text, the end of the Cold War left the US without a clear definition of its national interests. After September 11th a new enemy emerged, as a result, so did a new international agenda: the war against terrorism, which led towards a military conflict meant to overthrow Sadam Hussain from the government of Iraq. Joseph Nye's distinction of the US power as preponderant, but not a dominant one (Nye, 1999: 24), is now clearer than ever. The US has established the reach of their military power (though the number of mistakes committed so far is remarkable); yet they were unable to convince the U.N. and the rest of the world in general about the legitimacy of their quest (also see Jacobsen's conditions for intervention (1996)). The discourse about the threat to US national security, following Nye's topology, has fluctuated between "A", "B" and "C" throughout the development of the current conflict against Iraq. The new war in Iraq, however, started from the Executive, and coverage followed it, therefore, there is no CNN effect in that respect. Nevertheless, recent coverage about casualties, both of soldiers and civilians and of prisoners of war, may give room for a CNN effect as an impediment on the fashion of the "Vietnam syndrome" to rise. Just as well, coverage of humanitarian needs of Iraqi people may develop a CNN effect as an accelerant, but presumably on other actors rather than Washington, since one of the justifications given for American intervention was precisely the goal of providing the people of Iraq with a better quality of life. In conclusion, even though there is potential of a CNN effect in the fashion of a "bodybag effect" to happen during the present conflict, it may not be as likely, since this war began as a matter of the "A" list of US national interest, hence, it is presumed that Washington will continue to use the media as a propaganda apparatus, so the framing and indexing of news will conform to the interests and guidance of the Executive, besides, there is great domestic support at the moment, which means the American people will be willing to take an increased number of casualties compared to a humanitarian intervention not so linked to their national interest. Many conclusions and assumptions can be given regarding the theories presented in this paper and the current conflict in Iraq. One thing that is certain, is that this war is a clear demonstration of how both theories of impact of media intervention in foreign policy making, the so-called "CNN effect" and "Manufacturing Consent" collide, and the outcome of this confrontation is yet to be seen.
1 Because of space constraints, emphasis will be given to their conclusions rather than their overall research.
2 Also on this, see Jacobsen, 1996, pag. 206.
3 In a similar fashion, Livingston (1997, 9) notes, "the lack of media coverage of humanitarian emergencies is most striking."
4See Livingston (1997) "Clarifying the CNN effect: An Examination of Media effects According to Type of Military Intervention"
5 This refers to Mermin's (1997: 399) findings regarding the 21 /November/1992 news reports.
6 Luttwak (1994) describes this as "mammismo". The groundings of this phenomenon are the change of demography, since families in the era of the "Great Powers" used to be larger (four, five, six or more children), and child mortality was high, therefore families were more used to the idea of losing young members. Nowadays, however, families are smaller and every member receives a large share of emotional economy.
7This point seems a bit confusing, if there was not a clear case of humanitarian crisis, why would anyone want to intervene advocating humanitarian reasons?
8 Kohut and Toth (1994: 57) find that public opinion tendencies towards intervention are fashioned in the following typology: interventionists, 31% of the public, those who would use force to protect oil as well as for humanitarian purposes; noninterventionists, 29% against both missions; U.S.-centrics, 19% who would use force to protect oil, but not for humanitarian aid; and one-worlders, 21%, who would use force for humanitarian aid only.
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Mtra. Mónica Alejandra Peña Corona Rodríguez