Media Bias and Bush's War on Terror


Here comes yet another book on the War on Terror. But before you yawn and click out of this page, consider that this one combines several favorites in the blogosphere: the War on Terror, President Bush, and media bias. Additionally, this book does something no other has done in quite the same way: it explains how the news media has shaped what Americans know about that war, and how amazingly different that picture of the war is from the president's. Many of the president's main arguments — for example, the nature of the terrorists and the very nature of the War on Terror — were routinely ignored by the press, thereby depriving Americans the opportunity to judge for themselves the worth of the administration's reasons for going to war, and its reasons for waging the war in the manner it has.

I'm the author of Bush’s War: Media Bias and Justifications for War in a Terrorist Age, and what follows below is a brief description of what the book is about.

At its core, this book looks at how President Bush and the mainstream news media depicted America's War on Terror. Almost everything the president has said about the War on Terror has been filtered through the press, so in order to determine what effect this filtering has had, I examined speeches given by President Bush and then compared the results to the subsequent press coverage over a two-week period. In short, I asked, What did Bush say, and what did the press say he said?

The book looks at key Bush speeches from 9/11/01 to 11/2005. The idea was to look for themes about the War on Terror that the president used, and then look at what themes the press used when reporting on what the president said. After identifying themes, I determined how those themes were framed. Using this type of comparison, we can detect differences in the frames presented to the American people and determine the nature of any press bias.

Framing is something found everyday in press reporting. It's basically a process whereby reporters, consciously or unconsciously, act to construct a point of view that encourages the facts of a given situation to be interpreted by others in a particular manner. Frames operate in four key ways: they define problems, diagnose causes, make moral judgments, and suggest remedies. Frames are often found within a narrative account of an issue or event, and are generally the central organizing idea. Looking at news reports given over time, particularly those reports surrounding a specific event or issue, makes it easier to detect these frames.

What I found was stunning.

Chapter two looks at several of the president’s speeches following 9/11, and then looks at the press responses. Of note here is that the press, represented throughout the book by The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, ABC News, CBS News, and NBC News, echoed the president's themes and the framing of those themes. In short, there was some accurate reporting going on here during this time period. Echoing does not mean that alternative points of views were not presented — they were. It just means that the president's major ideas were being presented to the American public with little filtering.

Chapter three takes a look at the president's November 2001 speech to the United Nations. This speech was delivered just about eight weeks after 9/11, and within that short period of time the press had turned, and was actually framing Bush as an enemy, right along side the terrorists. Additionally, the press was now ignoring major themes relayed by President Bush, such as the evil nature of the terrorist enemy.

Chapter four details the State of the Union Address of January 2002. One of the main findings here is that by January 2002 the press was actively ignoring important parts of the president’s speeches, setting its own agenda, and attempting to make economic concerns of more importance than National Security.

Chapter five looks at the president's speech that was made on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in May 2003. Anyone recall what the president said? How about the jet landing? The president focused on congratulating the troops and describing the next phase of the War on Terror. The press went into a meltdown, calling the president “Top Gun Bush," and insisting that the economy would play a major role in election 2004.

Chapter six takes a look at another speech to the United Nations, this one in September 2003. By this time the press had completely turned on the president. This chapter, to an even greater degree than the others, shows the power of comparing the speech of the president to the press coverage that follows. One wonders if the press actually listened to the president's speech at all, or if they wrote their storylines the day before.

Although each chapter looks at important speeches, chapter seven examines one of particular interest, the president's November 2005 commemoration of Veteran's Day. This is the speech the president gave when he first publicly attacked his Democrat critics over their remarks on the War on Terror. Importantly, the president also laid out his administration’s specific plans for Iraq and the War on Terror in this speech. Nobody would know this unless they actually listened to or read the president's speech, since the press failed to mention that portion of the speech — almost 4/5ths of the total speech. Amazingly, in the coverage that followed this speech, the press demanded the very information on the War on Terror that the president had detailed in his speech.

Finally, the last chapter brings everything together. Here I provide a summary of each chapter, and then detail how the mainstream media failed Americans with its coverage of the War on Terror. You get a side-by-side look at the themes and frames used by president and press for each speech. Additionally, I detail how the media bias worked, what it looked like, and how the press operated as an anti-democratic institution. After reading this chapter, not only will you know what the press has done to diminish America's options for fighting the War on Terror, you will also see how it continues to do this even today.

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