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For Power

In: English and Literature

Submitted By dhobbzberry
Words 1735
Pages 7
930785908
Professor Settle
GOVT 201
8 November 2013
War and Public Opinion
The presentation of the news is a great responsibility. Reporters generally hold themselves and each other to a high standard of fair and balanced reporting. Often times whether intentional or not, reporters personal opinions will cause them to frame their information in favor of one political party or the other. Political spin can be especially powerful during times of war, when the nation’s passions are running high and the lives of our country’s young men and women are on the line. The justification to invade Iraq was based on flimsy intelligence provided by the Bush administration. Leading up to the invasion, news reporters working with this same flimsy information, presented the American people with the Bush administrations justifications for war. In this paper I will show how the way in which an argument is framed can sway public opinion. My topic will specifically examine how the justification for the Iraq war was framed by the Bush administration. In order to do so, I will explain how a majority of American people get their news. I will also cite examples where the framing was so effective that people would have trouble coming to terms with the fact that they were misled, even after being presented with factual evidence.
Before we get into the specific questions about the war, we need to cover how and why we get information from the media. So how do Americans get their news information? According to a recent Gallup poll by Lydia Saad, 55% of American’s obtain their news from television news networks. The next closest challenger is the internet at 21%. Not even .5% of people claimed to obtain their news independently (Saad 2013). Why do American’s rely on the news media for their news? The answer is simple; most individual people cannot independently gather and verify news on their own. Take the following example under consideration. When the President addresses the nation he means to convey information directly to the public. After receiving the presented information from the President, the general public has little or no means of independently verifying the information he presented. If the President said that the “Surge” in Iraq was having positive effects on America’s goals in that country, very few Americans will have the ability to gather primary source information about the “Surge” or have the ability to independently ask someone who did. In order to solve this problem we rely on media outlets and their political elites to gather and verify the information for us (Gelpi 2010). The media outlets and their reporters have the connections and resources needed to retrieve, process, and disseminate relevant information. This puts a great deal of power into the hands of the news media. How do consumers of the news feel about the information they get from the media companies?
In a second Gallup poll, from Elizabeth Mendes states that 55% of the country does not trust the accuracy of mass media (Mendes 2013). This data seems to tell us that people know the news is slanted to in one political direction or the other. As for profit companies, the news media wants as many viewers or readers etc. as possible. It is no secret in media that drama sells. We can thus understand why they would be happy to publish information from the government about an impending war. During a time of war the media can frame their news stories in order to change public opinion to their liking. What exactly is framing? The definition I found helpful is “a framing effect is said to occur when, in the course of describing an issue or event, a speaker’s emphasis on a subset of potentially relevant considerations causes individuals to focus on these considerations when constructing their opinions (Duckman 2001)” In the lead up to the invasion of Iraq this framing effect was combined with a rally effect which made the invasion of Iraq a popular idea.
During the outset of a war American’s tend to support the President; this influx support is dubbed the rally-round-the-flag phenomenon. The rally effect as it is also called is usually support from the Presidents opposing party, because his own party would generally have already given the President their support (Gelpi 2010). The rally effect can be enhanced or subdued depending on how the war is presented in the media. For instance if the news media reports that the United Nations supports the war or if the New York Times reports heavily on the war the rally effect is enhanced. If the news reports information contradictory to what the white house is presenting the rally effect will be subdued (Gelpi 2010). If we have data showing that people know they are not getting accurate information from the media why do people still tune in? According to Gelpi, people face a significant information disadvantage. The public uses the ideas of political elites to help form their positions. If we combine this with the fact that people generally watch news programs that agree with what they already believe, we get a recipe for disaster. As we will see later people had a hard time accepting the fact that the justifications for war were based on falsehoods.
In the lead up to the Iraq war, political elites were disseminating information that was based on little or no hard evidence and framing it as fact. The four most popular reasons given for the Iraq war were: (1) Saddam Hussein would do anything to kill Americans including putting himself and his country at risk. This justification could be framed as “Terrorists are fanatics, and there is nothing that they value that we can hold at risk; rogues like Iraq are risk-acceptant and accident prone.” to garner more support. (Jervis 2003) (2) Saddam was supporting al-Qa’ida (3) Iraq was close to obtaining a nuclear weapon was framed “These weapons may also allow these states to attempt to blackmail the U.S. and our allies to prevent us from deterring or repelling the aggressive behavior of rogue states” to seem more appalling (Jervis 2003). (4) Iraq had chemical and biological weapons (Kaufmann 2004). None of these facts were proven after the invasion. We tried for months but could not gather signs that any of these things were true. The question we need to look at now is how the news media was used so easily duped by the Bush administration. Here is a quote from Kaufmanns research, “the Bush administration benefited from its control over the government’s intelligence apparatus, which it used to distort the public record by selectively publicizing favorable analyses while suppressing contrary information” (Kaufmann 2004). This seems almost unimaginable in a free country like America. Not only were the people of the United States fooled into a war but our news media was as well. As I alluded to earlier, after we were in the war it was hard to persuade people that the government had lied to us. Take these poll numbers from Kaufmanns research for example. The Iraq war started in March 2003. Four months later in July, after extensive coverage in the media explaining that no “conclusive evidence” of a link between Saddam and al-Qa’ida had been found, 48% of the population believed we did find evidence of a link. At the same time the survey asked people if the United States had found weapons of mass destruction. Again, even after four months of reports saying we had not found weapons of mass destruction, 22% of those surveyed answered that we had (Kaufmann 2004). In both of these cases people who had supported war from the beginning were a majority of the people who refused to accept the presented evidence to the contrary. This may not be as extraordinary as it sounds considering even social scientists consider “framing and symbol manipulation by elites are sometimes discussed in conspiratorial tones, as if, in a healthy democratic polity, they would not occur” (Druckmann 2001). If the experts consider it conspiratorial why would regular people keep their guard up against it?
In the end the Iraq war was a complete failure. Our President failed us, our news media failed us, we failed the Iraqi people and we failed ourselves. Whether or not the media knew, they were reporting false information. This was a perfect example of why the way the news media frames something matters. By framing the justification of war in a positive light the media helped gather support for the war and in effect contributed to the violence that followed. As for the government, they framed their information perfectly. The Bush administration got the support they needed in order to invade Iraq with little or no real evidence that any of their justifications were true. I am going to end this paper with a quote from President Bush he is stating his thoughts on the future, 6 months before we invaded Iraq, “history will judge harshly those who saw this coming danger but failed to act. In the new world we have entered, the only path to peace and security is the path of action.” The way these quotes were framed peace never stood a chance.

References
Bush, P. G. 2002. The National Security Strategy of the United States of America. Washington D.C.: The White House.

Druckman, J. 2001. On the Limits of Framing Effects: Who Can Frame? The Journal of Politics Vol. 63, No.4, 1

Druckman, J. 2001. The Implications of Framing Effects for Citizen Competence. Political Behavior Vol. 23 No. 3, 225-54.041-66.

Gelpi, Christopher. 2010. “Performing on Cue? The Formation of Public Opinion Toward War.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 54(1): 88–116

Jervis, Robert. 2003. "Understanding the Bush Doctrine." Political Science Quarterly Vol. 118, No. 3: 365-388.

Kaufmann, Chaim. 2004. “Threat Inflation and the Failure of the Marketplace of Ideas: The Selling of the Iraq War.” International Security 29(1): 5-48

Kull, Steven, Clay Ramsay and Evan Lewis. 2003. “Misperceptions, the Media, and the Iraq War.” Political Science Quarterly 118(4): 569-598.

Mendes, Elizabeth. 2013. "Gallup Politics." Gallup. September http://www.gallup.com/poll/164459/trust-media-recovers-slightly-time-low.aspx

Saad, Lydia. 2013. "TV Is Americans' Main Source of News." http://www.gallup.com/poll/163412/americans-main-source-news.aspx.

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