The Press

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The Press

Ralph B. Levering and

Louis W. Liebovich

Officially, American foreign policy is made by the executive branch of the federal government, led by the president, and by Congress, with rare involvement by the Supreme Court. Unofficially, other institutionsnotably interest groups and the press (including electronic media as well as the print media)typically play a large role in the often lengthy and politically charged policymaking process in Washington. Most voters also learn of impending and completed U.S. foreign policy initiatives through the news media. Roughly three-fourths of adult Americans read daily newspapers and many read magazines that discuss foreign policy issues. The press thus occupies a central place in the communication of ideas that lies at the heart of the ongoing political process both in Washington and in the two-way flow of information between officials and the voting public.

Because of its importance, journalist Douglass Cater and other writers have called the press the "fourth branch of government." But neither the news media as institutions nor journalists as individuals have any formal power to shape U.S. foreign relations. The communication of ideas is different from making or implementing policy. Unlike specific presidential decisions or votes in Congress, moreover, the press's influence on an issue normally cannot be measured precisely. And because the day-to-day influence of journalists on the thinking of policymakers and the public varies from individual to individual and from issue to issue, it is important not to overestimate the press's impact. Yet Cater's metaphor has considerable validity because the role of the press in foreign policy decisionsand in the reactions to those decisions that influence future actionsoften has been substantial. Since the 1950s this fascinating, intellectually challenging topic has attracted the interest of numerous journalists, officials, and political activists. It also has lured scholars from several disciplines, notably communications, history, political science, and sociology.


There is a diversity of views that exists within multifaceted institutions"the government" and "the press"that often are written about as if each were unitary and hence susceptible to broad generalizations and concise theories. The reality is much more complex. In establishing the federal government, the Founders set up an inherent competition between the prerogatives and powers of the executive branch and Congress. On both the proper goals of U.S. foreign policy and the best means to achieve them, moreover, there repeatedly have been strong differences of opinion within the executive branch, within Congress, and between the two branches. Thus, when scholars discover that as many as 70 or even 80 percent of sources used in news stories on some foreign policy issues are "government" sources (either executive branch alone or executive plus congressional), one normally need not be concerned that only one or two viewpoints are being presented. Such statistics do point to a lack of aggressiveness by journalists in gathering information outside official circles, however.

On any major foreign policy issue, the few thousand journalists who work in Washington are almost certain to present varied perspectives based on public statements, interviews, and "leaks" (information whose source or sources cannot be named) from the president and members of Congress and from the many thousands of officials who work for the White House, for the other executive agencies, and for Congress. Especially since the mid-1970s, journalists also have used as sources spokespersons for affected interest groups, academics, diplomats stationed in Washington, and experts from public interest groups and from the capital's numerous liberal and conservative think tanks. As several scholars have shown, foreign policy stories in the 1990s generally were based less heavily on "government sources" (themselves often diverse) than they had been thirty years earlier.

The diversity of views from sources is paralleled by the diversity of views on foreign policy presented in the press. It is true that both the number of daily newspapers (about 1,600 by the 1990s) and the number of cities with more than one daily newspaper declined steadily throughout the twentieth century. But these declines have been at least partly offset by other developments: the widespread availability in recent decades of three national newspapers (the liberal New York Times, the moderate USA Today, and the conservative Wall Street Journal ); the growing use by many dailies of foreign policy coverage and foreign stories from the news services of such papers as the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times; and the practice by many local-monopoly dailies of featuring both liberal and conservative columnists. Also, the widespread publication of weekly or biweekly alternative papers, many of which are distributed free of charge and feature liberal or mildly radical perspectives, and the availability of liberal and conservative viewpoints on the growing number of television and radio news programs and talk shows, as well as at numerous Internet sites, have all increasingly complemented the daily newspapers.

For Americans interested in foreign affairs, the greatest diversity of views and depth of analysis during the twentieth century typically were found in magazines. Mass-circulation weekly news magazinesTime, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report generally were strong supporters of America's anticommunist policies from the mid-1940s through the mid-1960s. Their coverage of foreign affairs generally has become more varied since then, though it sometimes comes across (like some newspaper stories) as simplistic or overblown. It must be remembered, however, that news magazines are intended to appeal to the general public, which normally is less interested in foreign affairs than the much smaller number of Americans who regularly read journals of opinion.

Among journals of opinion, such long-established liberal periodicals as the New Republic and Nation have flourished, as have conservative periodicals, including National Review and Commentary. In the center, with much in-depth analysis of foreign affairs, are journals like Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy. Many religious and environmental periodicals also discuss foreign affairs regularly. Therefore, diversity thrives in foreign policy coverage in magazines.

As in most other nations, ethnocentrismthe belief that one's own nation and its values are superior to all othershas long been a standard feature of the American press's reporting and commentary on U.S. foreign policy and on other nations. Throughout modern American history, most liberal, moderate, and conservative journalists have praised other nations that practiced political democracy and freedom for individuals (for example, Great Britain, Norway, and Costa Rica), and have criticized governments that quashed democracy and freedom (such as Adolf Hitler's Germany, Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union, and Fidel Castro's Cuba). As the sociologist Herbert Gans has noted, the press's "ethnocentrism comes through most clearly in foreign news, which judges other countries by the extent to which they live up to or imitate American practices and values."

During the Cold War, many newspapers and magazinesoften including the prestigious New York Times applied the nation's core values unevenly by being much more critical of the communist dictatorships that gave at least verbal support to the overthrow of noncommunist governments in other countries than they were of pro-Western dictatorships. Yet even during the long struggle against communism, many newspapers and magazines sharply criticized right-wing dictatorships in such allied nations as South Korea, South Vietnam, Chile, and the Philippines.

The largest policy failure to which ethnocentrism in the press (and among officials) contributed was the common assumption in news stories and editorials from the mid-1950s through the mid-1960s that most of the people living in South Vietnam deeply desired to continue to have a pro-Western, noncommunist governmenteven if that meant having a dictatorial and corrupt one. This dubious assumption, based on wishful thinking much more than on facts, contributed greatly to America's ill-fated war in Vietnam. Although the particular double standards and blind spots of the Cold War era are history, the sharp criticisms of mainland China's and Iraq's repressive dictatorships by contemporary journalists of all political persuasions suggest that ethnocentrism continues to influence America's news and commentary.


Among the press's roles are what are called the "three I's"information, interpretation, and interest. Roger Hilsman, a political scientist and State Department official in the John F. Kennedy administration, identified "the gathering and dissemination of information" as a major function of the press. The flow of information through the pressamong all the people seeking to influence policy in Washington, from the capital to the public, and from the public back to officials partly through press coverage and reporters' questionsis the lifeblood of America's democratic system.

Information in press coverage of foreign affairs is almost always accompanied by interpretation. Journalists provide contexts (often called "frames") in which information is conveyed. "By suggesting the cause and relationships of various events," the political scientist Doris A. Graber observes, "the media may shape opinions even without telling their audiences what to believe or think. For example, linking civil strife in El Salvador [in the 1980s] to the activities of Soviet and Cuban agents ensured that the American public would view the situation with considerable alarm." Among policymakers in Washington, Hilsman notes,

the press is not the sole source of interpretation. The president, the secretary of state, the assistant secretaries, American ambassadors, senators, congressmen, academic expertsall are sources of interpretation. But the fact that the press is there every day, day after day, with its interpretations makes it the principal competitor of all the others in interpreting events.

The press also can play an important role in stirring interest in an issue both in Washington and among the public. During the Ronald Reagan years media reporting awakened public interest on starvation in Ethiopia, a topic that Americans had shown little interest in prior to the appearance of illustrated stories about dying children in the press and on television. An example from the James Earl Carter years was the debate over whether to deploy enhanced radiation nuclear bombs (also called neutron bombs) in western Europe. The debate began with a story by Walter Pincus in the Washington Post on 6 June 1977. A quotation in the story noted that the bombs would "kill people" while "leaving buildings and tanks standing." Once the story was framed in this negative wayon television and radio as well as in newspapers and magazinesthe administration was not able to gain public and congressional support for deploying the new weapon. The unfolding of this story illustrates a frequent pattern in foreign policy: print journalists often bring stories to public attention, after which they are covered by other print and electronic reporters.

Stirring interest through extensive news and editorial coverage is often called the agenda-setting function of the media. The political scientist Bernard C. Cohen explained this concept cogently: "The press is significantly more than a purveyor of information and opinion. It may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about. "

Building on Cohen's path-breaking research, other scholars have refined the concept of agenda setting. While agreeing that the news media often play an important role in the agenda-setting process, most analysts now believe that agenda setting is a complex process in which unexpected events or administration officials or (less frequently) members of Congress or interest groups often play at least as significant roles as journalists. Because officials and other participants in the policymaking process in Washington frequently work hard to get their viewpoints into the press, the communications professor J. David Kennamer notes, "[t]he news media are as much the target of agenda-setting as they are the source." Moreover, the relative importance of journalists to other actors in agenda setting varies from issue to issue. Thus, although the press plays a significant role in deciding which foreign policy issues to cover and which ones to make into "big stories," it shares the agenda-setting function with other actors in the political process.

In another important role, that of "watchdog," the press ferrets out and publicizes questionable policies or abuses of authority. As a reporter for a Midwestern newspaper told Cohen: "We are the fourth estate, and it is our duty to monitorto watch and interpretwhat our government does." Because officials often control the flow of information to the press in regard to secret operations, the press's performance as a watchdog has been mixed. During the Iran-Contra scandal of the mid-1980s, for example, American journalists were slow to learn about the operationindeed, the story was broken by a publication in Lebanon well after the administration had engaged in illicit activity in the Middle East and in Central America. After the story broke, however, leading newspapers and magazines did an excellent job of bringing details to the attention of policymakers in Washington (including members of Congress) and the American people.

Journalists also can play an important role as critics of particular foreign policies. Although far fewer people read editorials and columns (opinion pieces) than read front-page news stories (or, for that matter, the comics and the sports pages!), the people most interested and involved in foreign affairsofficials, journalists, other leaders in society, and the "attentive public" (the roughly 10 to 20 percent of the public with the greatest interest in public issues)not only read editorials and columns regularly, but they often discuss them with other people, thus enhancing their impact. In influencing the thinking of elites, editorial writers and columnists affect the public discussion of foreign affairs that gradually works its way down to many average voters. While the exact influence of editorials and columns cannot be determined, it seems clear that the serious questions that were being raised about the U.S. involvement in Vietnam on the editorial pages of numerous newspapers beginning in the mid-1960s helped to create the climate of opinion in which the continuation of the war by the Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon administrations became increasingly difficult.

Finally, the press contributes greatly to the policymaking process in Washington, both in the executive branch and in Congress. Administration officials read leading papers and magazines to learn what other officials and members of Congress are thinking and doing, and to try to figure out which other officials are "leaking" information to the press and what policy goals they are seeking to advance by doing so. Officials also are interested in reading stories by journalists stationed in other countries in order to get opinions other than the ones being sent from the U.S. embassies there.

Members of Congress and their staffs are eager to learn what is going on in the administration, so that they can support or oppose the current direction of policy. Especially since the late 1960s, many members of Congressparticularly ones who are not members of the president's partyhave been eager to limit the executive branch's power in foreign affairs and increase their own influence on particular foreign policy issues. To achieve these goals, they frequently have worked closely with reporters.

Robert J. Kurz, a former legislative assistant, wrote in 1991 that members of Congress "form alliances with the press because they share a common interest, often a rivalry, against the executive." Kurz continued:

These alliances solidify during times of controversy and tension with a president. It is not unusual for the Congress and the press to work together to discover what the executive is up to, uncover wrongdoing, or expose inherent contradictions in policies or their implementation. They share the desire for the notoriety and attention that comes with this conflict.

An important role for the press, therefore, has been to help to maintain the tenuous balance of power between the executive branch and Congress in foreign affairs. Cohen has written that, because "the media are themselves one of the most articulate and informed outside participants in the foreign policymaking process," they "unavoidably affect the environment in which foreign policy decisions are made by 'insiders.'"

The "alliances" between reporters and members of Congress that Kurz writes about provide an apt illustration of Cohen's point.


In Washington, the officials responsible for foreign policy and the reporters who cover them have such fundamentally different jobs that conflicts frequently erupt between them. Officialsespecially presidents, much of whose power stems from perceived competence and popularityunderstandably want to look good as they make and implement policies. Officials generally want an orderly, rational decision-making process in which decisions are reachedand then announcedafter discussions both within the executive branch and, if needed, with leaders in Congress and in other nations. In other words, officials want to control the content and timing of statements and other initiatives relating to particular foreign policies. Based on several case studies, including the Iran hostage crisis of 19791981, journalism professor Philip Seib describes what can happen when media coverage of a crisis undermines the president's control of the timing of decision making:

News coverage can accelerate the tempo by heightening public interest. Depending on which aspects of the story the press emphasizes, coverage can also influence public opinion in ways that increase political pressure on the president to act in a specific fashion, such as more aggressively or more compassionately. The chief executive may soon realize that the ideal of nicely insulated policy formulation has evaporated. Instead, his every move is anticipated and then critiqued almost instantly.

High officials also want to leak secret information when it suits their purposes to do so, but not before and not by a lower-level official unauthorized to do the leaking. A wry joke that made the rounds during the Kennedy yearsa time when the president himself was a frequent sourcesums up their view of appropriate leaks: "The ship of state leaks from the top." Viewing favorable press coverage as necessary for high levels of public and congressional support, presidents and other top officials prefer to manage the news as much as possible.

Except during an obvious national emergency such as World War II, reporters reject this vision of favorable, managed news as incompatible with their jobs as journalists and with what they call "the public's right to know." In competition with reporters for other media organizations, journalists seek to "get the story" and move it quickly into print. And because disagreement, conflict, and failure are key components of the definition of "news," the more these components are part of the story, the more likely it is to be featured on the front page in newspapers or as the cover story in magazines. As the Associated Press international editor Tom Kent rightly noted at a 1996 conference at Ohio University, "There's something in the human condition that finds a greater fascination in bad news than in good news."

As long as stories are factually accurate and deal with legitimate public issues, reporters and editors believe that America's freedom of the press gives them the righteven the dutyto publish them, regardless of whether they portray an administration favorably. From the press's viewpoint, moreover, very few stories should be kept out of print for the reason that officials often citenational security. To reporters, invoking national security is often an attempt to ward off embarrassment or bad news.

Frequently, therefore, officials and reporters come into conflict when the press publishes stories that officials believe should have remained secret or when stories contain information that might upset delicate negotiations within the government or with other nations. Officials often have been scathing in their criticisms of journalists. "The competitive press finds it almost impossible to exercise discretion and a sense of public responsibility," Secretary of State Dean Rusk wrote. "If a man digs a secret out of an official or a department and takes it around to the Soviet Embassy, he is a spy; if he digs out the same secret and gives it to the Soviet Union and the rest of the world at the same time, he is a smart newspaperman." Complaining to journalists about some coverage his administration was getting, President Lyndon Johnson commented, "I know you don't like your cornpone president." Criticisms of the press by administration officials have been bipartisan. Republican George Shultz, who served as secretary of state under President Reagan, commented that "these daysit seems as though the reporters are always against us."

Scholars often have used metaphors like "rocky marriage" or "bad marriage" to characterize the relationship between reporters and officials. At least the "marriage" part fits: like married couples, the press and government are tied to each other as each carries out its activities in the same home, Washington, D.C. And, despite some journalists' claim that they occupy an inferior role relative to officials, officials (in making policy) and journalists (in deciding what is news) are equal in the same ways that married couples are: neither partner has inherent power over the other, and both have ways to get back at the other if they feel mistreated or disrespected.

The marriage metaphor is useful, moreover, because officials and journalists have needs that only members of the other group can satisfy. Officials (including members of Congress) need publicity for their ideas to win support for them in the administration, in Congress, and among the American people. In order to meet their editors' and readers' demand for stories, reporters need officials who are willing to talk with them about what is going on in the administration and Congress. Because of these complementary needs, overall relations between officials and reporters are inherently cooperative as well as adversarial. Like spouses who wish to stay married, individual officials who desire to remain effective have to keep talking to reporters even if some stories have angered them, and individual journalists have to attempt to be fair in writing their stories lest they lose access to the officials who have been talking to them. Officials who repeatedly lie to reporters lose their credibility and hence their value as sources; reporters who repeatedly misrepresent officials' views lose their sources and hence their ability to write news-breaking stories. These informal rules help to maintain both the flow of information and the balance of power between reporters and officials in Washington.

The difficulty with the "rocky marriage" metaphor, at least as applied to dealings on foreign policy, is that it over generalizes. It was much more persuasive for some presidencies (Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon) than it is for others (John Kennedy and George H. W. Bush). Kennedy, a former reporter, understood how to deal with journalists on foreign policy issues far better than Johnson and Nixon did. Like most presidents, Kennedy often became upset after reading press coverage that, in his view, was inaccurate or portrayed his administration unfavorably. But at a press conference on 9 May 1962, Kennedy made it clear that he understood and accepted the press's role in disseminating information, interpretation, and criticism: "I think that they are doing their task, as a critical branch, the fourth estate. I am attempting to do mine. And we are going to live together for a period, and then go our separate ways." Unlike Johnson and Nixon, Kennedy also had friendships with several journalists; he generally was forthright and respectful during frequent interviews, and he tried to be as forthcoming as possible at press conferences. Overall, despite occasional deserved criticisms of "news management," Kennedy's (and his administration's) relationships with the press were fair to good, especially considering the inherent conflicts between government and press.

In contrast, Johnson and Nixon's press relations on foreign policy issues typically were poor. In 1965, during the first year of the large U.S. troop buildup in Vietnam, journalists began writing about the "credibility gap," one definition of which was the gap between the administration's statements about what the U.S. military was doing in Vietnam and what reporters learned from lower-level officials in Vietnam about what was actually occurring. David Broder of the Washington Post offered a definition more narrowly focused on Johnson's efforts to stifle the flow of information that helps to explain why many reporters and members of Congress had become highly suspicious of the president well before the Tet Offensive in Vietnam in early 1968 effectively ended his political effectiveness:

I do not believe that the pressever made it clear to the readers and viewers what the essential issue was in the "credibility gap" controversy. It was not that President Johnson tried to manage the news: all politicians and all presidents try to do that. It was that in a systematic way he attempted to close down the channels of information from his office and his administration, so that decisions could be made without public debate and controversy. Ultimately he paid a high price, politically, for his policy.

During the Nixon years, some officials and conservative commentators claimed that press coverage unflattering to the administration's foreign policies (especially its Vietnam policy) resulted from "liberal bias" in the "eastern establishment press." That argument would have been much more persuasive if, first, newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post, magazines like Time and Newsweek, and the major television networks had been overwhelmingly supportive of Johnson's Vietnam policies until he left office and then had become highly critical of Nixon's approach, and, second, clear majorities of the public and Congress had been strongly supportive of Nixon's continuation of America's military involvement in Vietnam. In fact, given the media's penchant for disagreement, conflict, and violence, it seems certain that the "liberal press" would have included large amounts of negative coverage on Vietnam and on domestic dissent if Nixon's liberal Democratic opponent in 1968, Hubert Humphrey, had been elected and had continued the war.

The fact that Nixon's relations with most journalists were, if anything, more strained and adversarial than Johnson's also did not help him get favorable coverage on Vietnam. The columnist James Reston of the New York Times believed that Johnson and Nixon's difficulties with the press stemmed from the same roots:

Mr. Nixon has had more than the normal share of trouble with reporters because, like Lyndon Johnson, he has never really understood the function of a free press or the meaning of the First Amendment. He still suffers from [the] old illusion that the press is a kind of inanimate transmission belt which should pass along anything he chooses to dump on it.

Both presidents, in other words, neither understood nor accepted the inherent equality of officials and reporters. Unlike the Netherlands and some other democratic nations where officials normally do not treat journalists as equals, this equalityand the tensions that partly result from itis a hallmark of America's political system.


During the first century of America's independence, the most notable feature of the discussion of foreign affairs in America's steadily growing number of newspapers and magazines was partisanship. The sharp divisions of opinion between patriot and loyalist newspapers during the American Revolution arose in new contexts in the 1790s as Federalists and Republicans debated many of President George Washington's policies, including relations with Great Britain and France. Federalist editors strongly supported Washington's emphasis on good relations with Great Britain and neutrality in the Franco-British war, whereas Republican editors believed that America should side with France, its ally during the American Revolution.

From the 1790s through the Civil War, most newspapers that discussed political issues were founded to support a particular party or candidate. Their coverage of public issues, including foreign affairs, tended to be highly partisan. An example was coverage during the Mexican War (18461848). In general, Democratic newspapers supported their party's president, James K. Polk, whose actions had contributed greatly to the outbreak of the war. Most Whig newspapers, in contrast, sharply criticized "Mr. Polk's war." They raised doubts about the public's support for it and repeatedly questioned Polk's motives and goals.

Between the Civil War and World War II, the editorial pages of most newspapers remained partisan, especially during election years. But there were important changes during these seventy-five years that affected coverage of foreign affairs. First, there were advances in technology that permitted much more timely coverage. Whereas news of military developments in Mexico in the 1840s typically took two weeks or more to reach the East Coast, telegraph and radio transmissions permitted news of the fighting in Europe during World War I to reach American cities within hours or even, in some cases, almost instantaneously. Second, many papers' rapidly growing paid subscriptions and advertising revenues gave them money to spend on foreign and Washington correspondents, on memberships in such news services as the Associated Press, and on nationally syndicated columnists who often wrote on foreign affairs. Third, in their competition for readers and advertising dollars, newspapers and magazines could emphasize illustrated stories with broad public appeal (for example, lurid crimes and Spanish "atrocities" in Cuba), they could stress in-depth, "objective" reporting of major public issues, or, like most newspapers and magazines by the early 1900s, they could try to strike a balance between these two approaches. Fourth, English-language newspapers and magazines faced significant competition by 1900 from foreign-language publications that appealed to the millions of recent immigrants from Europe (and, to a lesser extent, from Latin America and East Asia) who retained ties to their former homelands and native languages. These publications often championed causes associated with governments or opposition movements in the former homelands and urged readers to contact U.S. political leaders on behalf of these causes. And fifth, the rapid growth of radio, newsreels, and news magazines after 1920 meant that newspapers and magazines of opinion had novel competitors not only in coverage of news and information, but also for the public's attention.

Newspapers' involvement in the events leading up to the Spanish-American War of 1898 especially illustrates two of these changes: the fierce competition for readers and the issue of sensationalism versus relative objectivity in coverage. In New York City, where the competition for readers was intense, the two papers with the largest circulationsJoseph Pulitzer's New York World and William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal used Cuba's war for independence from Spain that began in 1895 as a source of sensational stories about Cuban heroism and Spanish atrocities that helped to sell newspapers. Unfortunately, many of these stories were partly or entirely false, thus leading to the epithet "yellow journalism." An example of "yellow journalism" was a headline in the Journal after the U.S. battleship Maine blew upprobably from an accidental explosion in a boilerin Havana's harbor on 15 February 1898: "The Warship Maine Was Split in Two by an Enemy's Infernal Machine." Meanwhile, the New York Times and other newspapers tried to increase their circulations by contrasting their "responsible" coverage with the unsubstantiated claims that often appeared as news in the World and the Journal.

Whether sensational or responsible, the extensive press coverage of the war in Cubaand the overwhelming sympathy in newspapers and magazines for Cuba's independence movementhelped to prepare the American public for possible war with Spain. In other words, the coverage helped to give President William McKinley the public and congressional support he would need if he decided to ask Congress for a declaration of war against Spain. By the time McKinley did so in April 1898, he shrewdly had waited until enough tensions had built up in U.S.Spanish relations to make it appear that war had become inevitable.

As the United States gradually moved between August 1914 and April 1917 toward another war, this time with Germany, the overwhelming majority of English-language newspapers and magazines were more sympathetic toward Great Britain and its allies than they were toward Germany and its allies. Most editors blamed Germany for starting the war and for invading France through neutral Belgium; most agreed with President Woodrow Wilson that German submarine attacks without warning on British and U.S. ships were immoral and unacceptable violations of international law; and most found Britain's anti-German propaganda more persuasive than Germany's often clumsy anti-British propaganda. British-inspired stories about German "atrocities" in Belgium and elsewhere were especially effective in the contest for American sympathies. The fact that England cut the telegraph cable from Germany to America early in the war, thus limiting Germans' ability to communicate with Americans, also helped the Allied cause.

Nevertheless, a significant minority of editors opposed U.S. arms sales to England and France, and a larger number opposed efforts by Allied governments and some of their American supporters to draw the United States into the war against Germany. The best known journalistic opponent of America's pro-Allied approach was William Randolph Hearst, who owned newspapers in several major cities. The journalism historian Frank Luther Mott explained Hearst's opposition:

Hearst had long shown an anti-British feeling; and now he supported the Irish insurrectionists, savagely attacked the English censorship, and featured the extremely pro-German wireless dispatches sent from Berlin by his special correspondent William Bayard Hale. In retaliation, both the British and French governments in October, 1916, denied further use of their mails and cables to Hearst's International News Service.

In addition to the Hearst papers, the anti-British Chicago Tribune, leading newspapers in such heavily German-American cities as Cleveland and Cincinnati, socialist and pacifist publications, and many German-American and Irish-American journals all challenged pro-Allied attitudes and policies. The criticisms were so intense, especially from German-and Irish-Americans, that President Wilson scolded "hyphenates" for being more loyal to their former homelands than to America.

After Congress approved Wilson's request for war against Germany in April 1917, the president and Congress made it a crime to criticize America's involvement in the war or to encourage young men to refuse to cooperate with the military draft. During the war, the postmaster general denied mailing privileges to publications that continued to criticize America's involvement. Three editors of a German-language newspaper in Philadelphia were sent to jail for publishing disloyal articles. Partly due to a widespread perception by the early 1920s that suppression of dissenters had been excessive, the courts generally gave better protections to America's basic freedomsincluding freedom of the pressduring future wars than they had during World War I.

After briefly disappearing during World ßWar I, the rich diversity of press opinion on foreign affairs returned during the debate over the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations in 19191920. Ethnic and socialist publications offered a wide range of views, many critical of specific provisions of the Treaty of Versailles. Liberal editors who had supported Wilson during the war were dismayed that the peace treaty was harsh in its treatment of Germany. Most Republican editors favored the provisions in regard to Germany and U.S. participation in the League of Nations, but they also supported the efforts of Republican leaders in the Senate to add reservations that would clarify U.S. obligations as a member of the league. When the Senate rejected the Treaty of Versailles (including U.S. membership in the league) after Wilson refused to accept the Republicans' reservations, most Republican and Democratic editors were disappointed that a compromise that would have permitted passage had not been found.

Press coverage of the wars in East Asia, Africa, and Europe in the 1930s that eventually led to the U.S. involvement in World War II also was highly diverse. Generally not having to fear alienating Japanese-American readers, editors and columnists sharply criticized Japan for occupying Manchuria in 1931 and then invading China in 1933. Italy's invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 especially angered African-American editors. Communist and liberal publications tended to support the leftist government in the Spanish Civil War, whereas Catholic and conservative journals generally sympathized with the rebel movement led by General Francisco Franco. Even when the overwhelming majority of newspapers and magazines denounced Germany's invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, which began World War II in Europe, a scattering of communist and pro-Nazi publications disagreed.

Like the American public as a whole, journalists often disagreed about which policies to pursue toward the wars in Europe and Asia between September 1939 and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. In Chicago, for example, the leading newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, opposed President Franklin D. Roosevelt's proposal to revise the neutrality acts in the fall of 1939 to permit England and France to buy supplies in the United States, whereas the other major paper, the Chicago Daily News, supported the president's proposal. Although antifascist, the Chicago Defender, a leading African-American newspaper, urged its readers to continue to focus on fighting racism in America.

The great debate on foreign policy in the press between 1939 and 1941 generally took place at a more sophisticated level than the debate between 1914 and 1917 over involvement in World War I. For one thing, syndicated columnists like Walter Lippmann and Dorothy Thompson gave newspaper readers a deeper understanding of the issues involved than did the reading of news stories and editorials alone. For another, the issue this time was the nature and extent of U.S. involvement, not the relative merits of the Allied versus the Axis side. Most important, journalists and readers alike understood the stakes: if America became a belligerent in this war, it almost certainly would give up its selectively interventionist heritage and be transformed into a world power with unprecedented global responsibilities.


The year 1941when the United States went to war against Germany, Japan, and the other Axis powers in World War IImarked a watershed in America's participation in world affairs. Before then, the U.S. government's involvement outside the northern half of the Western Hemisphere had been limited and episodic. Since then, America has been so internationalist that it has had interests and troop deployments on every continent and ocean. Among many other things, America's perceived interests have included military security, international institutions, opposition to communism, trade and investment, foreign aid, health issues, and freedom of information. The press as a whole has supported this, the most expansive definition of national interests in human history. At the same time, the press has been the major locus of an often heated debate about precisely how America's internationalism should be defined and applied in many of the thousands of specific issues that have faced policymakers during the years since 1941.

In retrospect, the history of the relationship between the press and U.S. foreign policy since 1941 divides at the time of the large-scale U.S. involvement in Vietnam (19651973). If one were forced to pick one event that formed the watershed between the two eras in the press-government relations on foreign policy, it might well be the heavily publicized hearings on the Vietnam War held by Senator J. William Fulbright's Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the winter of 1966. These hearings exposed the sharp differences of opinion between witnesses like Secretary of State Dean Rusk who strongly supported the U.S. involvement in Vietnam and the continued validity of a firm stance against communism, and witnesses like former State Department official George Kennan who argued that the containment policy should not be applied in Southeast Asia and that major changes were underway in communist nations that made earlier anticommunist approaches obsolete.

As part of a continuum of developments beginning with the well-publicized improvement in U.S.Soviet relations during 1963, the hearings helped to make it intellectually respectable for some newspapers and magazines (for example, the New York Times and Newsweek ) to abandon their strong traditional support for containment, whereas others (the Wall Street Journal and National Review ) largely continued their Cold War approach. Thus the hearingsand, much more, the Vietnam War that prompted them and continued long after the hearings endeddivided press coverage of U.S. foreign policy from a pattern of largely supportive coverage of major administration policiesfrom the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 roughly through 1965to a new pattern from 1966 forward in which coverage was much more divided and typically was contestedat least until the end of the Cold Waralong liberal/conservative ideological lines.

The Vietnam War coincided with a marked shift in news coverage away from the ideal of "objectivity" toward the acceptance of more analysis and interpretation in news stories in newspapers (news magazines like Time and Newsweek had never hesitated to mix news and interpretation). In part this shift by newspapers was a response to the fact that, by the 1960s, television had become the major source of breaking news for growing numbers of Americans. Thus print journalists moved toward a new focus: interpretation in greater depth than network television news could accomplish.

The shift toward larger numbers of interpretive stories also resulted from (1) a growing recognition that the norm of objectivity, however desirable in theory, was an unattainable ideal; and (2) the belief that this ideal had given government officials (including the notorious Senator Joseph McCarthy) too much power to get their often questionable views into print in such a way that they appeared to be facts. In practice, interpretation meant that most newspapers carried more stories that raised questions about particular foreign policies, notably on the front pages that previously had been reserved for "news."

Although it is accurate to emphasize the greater diversity and more critical tone of press coverage of U.S. foreign policy after the mid-1960s, one should not draw too sharp a contrast between pre-Vietnam and post-Vietnam coverage. It is true that most journalists (and most newspapers and magazines) supported the major goals of U.S. policy from Pearl Harbor through the early 1960s: defeating Germany and Japan, helping to establish a peace favorable to American interests and ideals, and then providing leadership in containing communist and other challenges to America's preferred postwar world order. It is also true that the press generally accepted government censorship of news relating to military activities during World War II and the Korean War.

Yet anyone who reads large numbers of newspapers and periodicals on foreign affairs between the early 1940s and the early 1960s will find a tremendous diversity of views. That was true on many subjects during World War II, and it was even more evident thereafter. During the late 1940s, for example, the leading syndicated columnistsWalter Lippmann and Joseph Alsopdisagreed sharply about the approach America should take in containing the Soviet Union. And the nation's leading magazine publisher, Henry Luce of Time Incorporated, vehemently disagreed with the government and with the editors of the nation's leading newspaper, the New York Times, about U.S. policy toward China. Despite their differences of opinion, leading journalists like Lippmann, Alsop, and Luce were befriended and courted by presidents and other high officials after World War II to an extent that was unprecedented in American history.

Diversity of coverage was found in both of the studies of the press and foreign policy during this era in which the authors of this essay were involved. Both studies used content analysis of coverage during several periods. In The Press and the Origins of the Cold War, 19441947, Louis W. Liebovich did content analysis of coverage between 1944 and 1947 in Time magazine, the New York Herald Tribune, the Chicago Tribune, and the San Francisco Chronicle. He repeatedly found varied coverage in the four publications, with coverage in the highly idiosyncratic Chicago Tribune (the newspaper with the largest circulation in the Midwest) diverging the most sharply. In a time of considerable uncertainty in relations between America and Russia in which President Harry S. Truman did not spell out his own views on U.S.Soviet relations for more than eighteen months after the end of World War II, Liebovich concluded that "[o]nly the Chicago Tribune could claim steady opposition to any Soviet-U.S. accord."

In a book on the press and four foreign policy crises during the Kennedy years, Montague Kern, Patricia W. Levering, and Ralph B. Levering found substantial differences in coverage in all five newspapers studiedthe New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and San Francisco Examiner. Not surprisingly, given its location in Washington, the Post gave the most weight to administration sources, the Times had the most foreign sources, the Post-Dispatch offered the most criticisms from a liberal perspective, the Tribune 's news stories and editorials frequently were imbued with the paper's unique blend of isolationism and militant anticommunism, and the Examiner emphasized a Republican internationalism that viewed President Kennedy as too weak in dealing with communist nations.

In light of the relative liberalism and internationalism of northeastern elites and government employees, the fairly liberal, internationalist views of the Post and Times are easily understood. But could even most residents of Chicago and St. Louis explain why the leading papers in their cities were, respectively, militantly isolationist and liberally internationalist? And who would expect a conservative Republican paper to be one of the two leading newspapers (along with the San Francisco Chronicle ) in traditionally liberal San Francisco? Diversity indeed.

A broad range of opinion on foreign policy between Pearl Harbor and the mid-1960s was even more pronounced in magazines. During World War II, for example, several prominent conservative magazines published articles warning that it would be impossible for America to continue to cooperate after the war with the dictatorial, expansionist Russian government. During the mid-1950s, writers for the liberal Nation and New Republic argued that America should pursue policies designed to end the Cold War; meanwhile, contributors to the conservative National Review were insisting that World War III already was underway and that the communist side was winning. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, some conservative journals prematurely denounced Fidel Castro's "communist" revolution in Cuba, whereas some liberal magazines featured articles praising Castro even after he acknowledged his allegiance to communism.

Despite this diversity of coverage even at the height of the Cold War, there were significant differences beginning about 1966. The changes resulted primarily from the Vietnam War and the breakdown of the Cold War consensus among the "responsible" mainstream journalists who worked for leading newspapers and magazines. Because the New York Times was the most respected newspaper among officials and journalists in Washington, and because its news and editorial judgments influenced coverage at the major magazines and television networks located in New York, the shift at the Times away from the Cold War consensus was especially significant.

During the 1950s and early 1960s, the Times effectively had supported Central Intelligence Agency interventions designed to overthrow existing governments, either by accepting official denials of U.S. involvement (for example, Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954) or by playing down coverage of planned interventions (such as Cuba in 1961). The Times also helped the government maintain numerous official secrets, including the fact that some U.S. journalists stationed abroad were part-time CIA employees who assisted the government in waging the Cold War. In contrast, when the Times learned from disgruntled officials that the Nixon administration had secretly been bombing North Vietnamese forces inside Cambodia, it printed the information and thus demonstrated the falsity of the administration's public statements on the subject.

In subsequent years the Times repeatedly exposed and denounced the CIA's (that is, Nixon's) efforts to oust Chile's Marxist president and the CIA's (Reagan's) efforts to defeat Nicaragua's Marxist leaders. The Washington Post, which had given at least as fervent support as the Times to most anticommunist policies, also challenged the government's continuing Cold War approach by the late 1960s and early 1970s. The publication of large sections of the Pentagon Papers (a classified official study of the evolution of U.S. policy in Vietnam) by the Times, Post, and Boston Globe in June 1971 was a clear sign from leading news organizations that the era of unquestioning cooperation with officials on national security issues was over.

In addition to growing differences of opinion over U.S. foreign policy, the 1960s ethos of questioning authorityan ethos reinforced by Nixon's dishonesty during the Watergate affair that cost him his presidencyalso affected relations between reporters and officials for many years thereafter. During and after Watergate, Energy Secretary James Schlesinger recalled, "the press took great delight in demonstrating that the government was wrong." In comparing Dean Rusk's relations with reporters in the early 1960s with the experience of another Democratic secretary of state, Cyrus Vance, in the late 1970s, Martin Linsky found "no sense from Vance of personal intimacy with reporters, and no sense that from his perspective they were waiting for his wisdom." Vance told Linsky that he saw the press as "playing a critically important role. The press can either make or break a policy initiative."

Many high officials in the Reagan administration believed that the government, by giving the news media a relatively free hand in covering the conflict in Vietnam, had contributed to America's failure there. Accordingly, when Reagan in October 1983 ordered U.S. troops to invade the small Caribbean nation of Grenada and overthrow its pro-Cuban government, the administration did not permit any reporters to accompany the troops. Two immediate results were the press's dependence on administration sources for information about the invasion and criticism of official news management in many news stories and editorials. The invasion revealed that conservative concerns about a monolithic "eastern liberal press" were overblown: after U.S. troops had defeated Cuban forces and installed a noncommunist government, editorials in the liberal New York Times criticized the invasion, but the moderate Washington Post concluded that "President Reagan made the right decision in Grenada."

Press coverage of the Grenada invasion and its consequences largely occurred within a couple weeks in late October and early November 1983. A relatively big story that spanned the entire decadeU.S. policy toward the civil wars in Central Americaillustrated the sharp divisions within Congress and American society that found their way into press coverage of many foreign policy issues after the mid-1960s. To the Reagan administration and its conservative supporters, the Marxist left, aided by the Soviet Union and Cuba, had gained power in Nicaragua in the late 1970s and was threatening to establish pro-Soviet communist regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala as well. Deeply concerned that communist ideology and Soviet power were expanding in "America's backyard," conservatives believed that the Marxist left needed to be defeated decisively. Liberals, who viewed the existing governments in El Salvador and Guatemala as highly repressive and feared "another Vietnam," thought that America should send neither military aid nor troops to assist anticommunist governments in those two nations or rebel "contra" forces in Nicaragua. Because of the sharp ideological divisions on this issue and most Americans' lack of knowledge about the region, U.S. policy toward Central America in the 1980s was a subject on which many reporters, editorial writers, and columnists had almost as much difficulty in obtaining accurate information and presenting balanced perspectives as did administration officials, members of Congress, academics, religious leaders, and political activists.

With the ending by early 1990 of both the Cold War and the U.S.SovietCuban contest in Central America, journalists and officials turned their attention to new issues that thankfully could no longer be placed in Cold War frames. America still had alliances and a strong general interest in peace and stability, but vital interests in specific situations were harder to define in the absence of an international communist movement. When foreign policy issues involving possible military interventions arose in the 1990s, therefore, the debate in Washington and in the press focused on whether the nation had sufficient national interests to send troops to nations like Kuwait, Somalia, Bosnia, and Haiti.

Even within the affluent news organizations, the issue of priorities became more difficult to resolve in the absence of a communist threat. "We have chosen to invest major resources in covering the former Yugoslavia, but is this the correct move?" Bernard Gwertzman of the Times wrote. "Should we care what happens to Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians?" Except in a few papers like the Times with a strong tradition of international reporting, the volume of foreign news coverage dropped sharply in both newspapers and news magazines in the 1990s.

There were positive trends as well. Reporting and commenting on the lengthy deliberations over the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) treaty in the early 1990s and over most-favored-nation trading status for China several years later, the press played important roles in the largest public discussions of America's international economic policies since the debates over tariff policy in the 1920s and early 1930s. Because the print media are indispensable for detailed analysis, and television excels in presenting vivid images, newspapers and magazines may well have had relatively greater influence than television in the debates over economic policy than in the discussions of possible military interventions.

The press also has played an important role in bringing environmental issuesincluding proposed international actions to deal with themto public attention. An example is the debate over the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to address global warming. An analysis by Brigitte Nacos, Robert Shapiro, and Pierangelo Isernia of press coverage in two national newspapers during a six-month period from September 1997 through February 1998 found that the New York Times published sixty-five articles on the subject and the Wall Street Journal published twenty-three. The authors also found that

contrary to the American media's more common coverage of foreign policy issues, government officials did not dominate that press coverage. Taken together, policy and scientific experts, a variety of organized interests (business, labor unions, environmentalists), as well as the public, were more frequently covered than officials at Washington's major news beats. As a result, the mediaespecially newspapersreflected the kind of robust debate that is especially essential in the American system of government, where decision makers pay considerable attention to public opinion.

This and other studies suggest that, with the Cold War over, the press is less likely to rely as heavily on administration and congressional sources for its news stories as it did earlier. To be sure, the views of governmental leaders in a democracy need to be publicized and evaluated, so that voters can have information on which to base judgments in future elections. But the views of othersincluding the representatives of the groups listed in the above quotationalso need to be included so that voters have a broad base of information and perspectives upon which to form their opinions. By giving detailed coverage to relatively neglected issues like international economics and the environment, and by providing greater balance between governmental and nongovernmental sources for news stories about these issues, the press may well be doing a better job in covering foreign policy issues today than it did during the Cold War.


Much of the most systematic scholarship on the press and foreign policy has focused on coverage during the many crises that occurred from the early 1960s through the early 1990s. Two studies that include systematic analysis of the Cuban missile crisis, The Kennedy Crises (1983) by Montague Kern and colleagues and The Press, Presidents, and Crises (1990) by Brigitte Nacos, agree that the Kennedy administration faced difficulties from negative press coverage of issues relating to Cuba, especially in Republican-leaning newspapers, in the months leading up to the discovery of the missiles in mid-October 1962. Conservative newspapers highlighted the charges of Republican politicians and anticommunist Cuban exiles that the administration was too weak in dealing with Castro and with a large-scale Soviet military buildup in Cuba that, contrary to administration denials, might well include nuclear weapons.

The two studies also agree that, after Kennedy went on national television and radio on 22 October to reveal the missiles' presence in Cuba and to insist upon their removal, coverage in all studied newspapers swung decisively in his favor, thus building up his reputation as a strong and sensible leader who was "in control." After Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev publicly agreed on 28 October to remove the missiles and thus handed Kennedy a widely perceived victory, coverage gradually returned to the more normal pattern of liberal support for the administration on Cuba and conservative questioning of its resolve to "stand up to" Khrushchev and Castro.

Based on their study of the missile crisis and three other crises of the Kennedy years, Montague Kern and her colleagues concluded that "the president dominates press coverage primarily in situations [such as the climatic week of the Cuban missile crisis] where competing interpretations of events are not being espoused by others whom journalists consider important." Brigitte Nacos agreed with this conclusion and added another: "The extent to which the president's domestic proponents or opponents were highlighted or downplayed in the news depended on the editorial stance of each newspaper. During all phases of the Cuban crisis there was a relationship between so-called straight news reporting and editorial positions of each news organization." This finding, confirmed in her study of other crises, suggests that editorial perspectivesespecially general support for or opposition to the administration in powercorrelated with news coverage of crises in the pro-Democratic New York Times and Washington Post and in the pro-Republican Chicago Tribune.

On the Sunday before Kennedy planned to take to the airwaves to confront Khrushchev and state the administration's policy, he learned that James Reston of the New York Times and other reporters had pieced together large parts of the story about the missiles in Cuba and about Kennedy's plan to blockade the island and demand that the missiles be removed. Fearing that premature publication of this information might derail his efforts to resolve the crisis peacefully, Kennedy phoned Reston and high-level officials of the Times and the Post and Time magazine and pleaded that details of the administration's plans not be published before Tuesday. Reston recalled that Kennedy "didn't deny what was afoot, but said that if I printed what we knew, he might get an ultimatum from Khrushchev even before he could go on the air to explain the seriousness of the crisis." Reston and the "eastern establishment" executives agreed to cooperate with Kennedy.

Kennedy's phone calls stand as striking high-level testimony about the perceived importance of the press in the policymaking process during international crisis. They also raise an intriguing question, prompted by Nacos's conclusion: if one of the reporters for the Chicago Tribune had gotten the story, would that anti-administration paper have responded as positively as the Times and the Post did to Kennedy's request not to reveal his plans?

During the Cuban missile crisis, Kennedy received highly positive, "rally 'round the flag" coverage at the time he needed it most. During the Vietnamese communists' Tet Offensive a little more than five years later, in contrast, the Johnson administration generally failed to get the positive press coverage that might have strengthened public and congressional support for America's war in Vietnam. At a time when U.S. and allied troops were being killed and wounded in unprecedented numbers, why was most of the coverage in the mainstream media unsupportive of the administration?

A major reason is that most journalists viewed the large-scale communist offensive beginning at the end of January 1968 as yet another example of the gap between U.S. officials' optimistic public assessments of America's and South Vietnam's "progress" in the war, and the reality that North Vietnam and its Vietcong allies were determined enemies who were far from being beaten. In other words, many journalists were skeptical about U.S. leaders' depictions of the war before Tet, a skepticism that the communist offensive appeared to confirm. Writing later, Don Oberdorfer of the Washington Post mentioned another factor: "One reason the press was not 'on the [government's] team' was because the country was not 'on the team.' To a substantial degree, the newsmen represented and reflected American society, and like the rest [of the public], they had no deep commitment to or enthusiasm for the war."

Several developments during the offensive also contributed to the largely unfavorable press coverage. The fact that Vietcong troops attacked targets in Saigonincluding the U.S. embassyfrightened the hundreds of American journalists stationed there and suggested that U.S. military leaders had been wrong to describe parts of South Vietnam as "secure." Another example: the widely published photo (and widely played television footage) of the shooting of a captured Vietcong suspect by a South Vietnamese brigadier general on a Saigon street raised new questions about that government's standards of behavior. And an American major's comment to a reporter about the battle to remove the enemy from Bentre"It became necessary to destroy the town to save it"increased doubts at home about whether some of America's own military practices in the war were moral.

In a detailed study of press coverage during the offensive, journalist Peter Braestrup argued that the media mistakenly portrayed Tet as a "defeat for the allies" and hence by implication a victory for the communist forces. In fact, after early reverses, America and its allies won a major victory over enemy forces throughout most of South Vietnama victory that received little coverage compared with the heavy dose of negative news early in the crisis. "Rarely has contemporary crisis-journalism turned out, in retrospect, to have veered so widely from reality," Braestrup concluded.

Although Braestrup rightly pointed out failings in press coverage, his thesis is only partly persuasive. One can agree that, from a military viewpoint, allied forces by mid-March generally had dealt communist troops at least a temporary defeat. But the Vietnam War also had large psychological and political components. From those viewpoints, the communists were strikingly successful: they convinced most Americans (including most journalists and many members of Congress) that, after three years of heavy fighting with superior equipment, America still faced capable, courageous opponents who could not be defeated in the foreseeable future, if ever. Braestrup's criticisms notwithstanding, journalists were right to portray the Tet Offensive as an impressive military attack and, more importantly, as a severe blow to Johnson's belief that America could "prevail" in Vietnam while continuing to fight a limited war there.

The third crisis, sparked by Iraq's conquest of neighboring Kuwait in August 1990, was so different from the first two situationsthem-selves very different from each otheras to demonstrate that the concept "foreign policy crisis" is itself multifaceted. Unlike the situation in Cuba or South Vietnam, a sovereign nation was conquered before U.S. leaders had time to take effective action. Moreover, the public (including the press) debate about what moves, if any, America should make in response took place with memories still strong about America's painful departure from Vietnam only fifteen years before.

Scholars rightly point out that, during the first few weeks after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on 2 August, the George H. W. Bush administration largely framed the issue in terms of the immorality of the conquest, the Hitler-like expansionism of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein that threatened such important U.S. allies as Saudi Arabia and Israel, and the necessity of restoring Kuwait's independence through either diplomacy or force. What some scholars opposed to President Bush's policy are less likely to acknowledge, however, is that the overwhelming majority of mass-circulation newspapers and magazines (and major television and radio news operations) basically agreed with the administration's arguments and willingly assisted in building public support for an active U.S. role in ending the Iraqi occupation. In newsrooms across the nation as well as in Congress, the only large-scale debates centered on whether America and its allies could achieve this objective through economic sanctions, or whether the nations opposed to the occupation also needed to be prepared to use military force in the relatively near future. A broadly based study of newspaper editorials on the Gulf crisis found them overall to be "respectful toward the president and generally supportive. When there was dissent, it was usually over tactics and timing, rather than goals and principles."

Especially helpful to the administration was support from respected news organizations that frequently had disagreed with recent presidentsespecially with Republicans like Nixon and Reaganon major foreign policies. An example was the New York Times. From the start of the crisis, political scientist Benjamin I. Page noted, editorials in the Times "condemned the Iraqi invasion and insisted upon a complete and unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait." Page also lamented the limited range of opinions expressed in the Times columns as well as editorials: "There was certainly no talk of U.S. imperialism or hegemony, or of our historical policy of trying to control Middle Eastern oil reserves." Compared with the Times, however, Newsweek was blatantly supportive of the administration. In late November it even published a column by President Bush entitled "Why We Must Break Saddam's 'Stranglehold.'"

Building upon solid but far from unanimous backing at home, during the fall of 1990 Bush gained strong support from allied nations in western Europe and the Middle East and from the United Nations Security Council. The administration and its allies (notably Great Britain) also built up a large, well-equipped military force in Saudi Arabia and threatened to go to war with Iraq if Hussein did not withdraw from Kuwait. Assuming that Iraq did not end its occupation quickly, only two important questions remained. First, would the Democratic-controlled Congress, many of whose members still had vivid memories of the Vietnam debacle, pass a resolution supporting a war with Iraq to liberate Kuwait? And second, would the mainstream media accept the unprecedented degree of control over journalists and their stories that the administration, with its own fresh memories of press coverage of Vietnam and other interventions, insisted upon imposing? When Congress and the mainstream media effectively answered "yes" to both questions, the administration's victory over potentially powerful domestic opponents was complete.

Now all that the United States and its allies had to do was liberate Kuwait, which occurred more quickly and with fewer casualtiesat least on America's sidethan most observers had anticipated. Begun with allied bombing attacks on Iraqi targets on 16 January 1991, the war ended with a cease-fire agreement six weeks later. Although systematic studies remain to be done, it appears that, given the almost total absence of congressional criticism while the nation was at war, news and editorial coverage was even more favorable to the administration during the war than it had been earlier. In this and other ways, both press coverage and the press-government relationship during the Gulf War were strikingly different from what they had been during the Tet Offensive twenty-three years earlier.

If past experience holds, one would expect continued diversity in press coverage and in press-government relations during foreign policy crises in the future. One also would expect continued diversity in noncrisis situations and in coverage of the many different kinds of foreign policy issues that draw journalists' attention.


Berry, Nicholas O. Foreign Policy and the Press: An Analysis of the New York Times' Coverage of U.S. Foreign Policy. New York, 1990. Although limited to analysis of the Times, this is a superb study of how journalists cover foreign policy issues during various stages of crises.

Braestrup, Peter. Big Story: How the American Press and Television Reported and Interpreted the Crisis of Tet 1968 in Vietnam and Washington. 2 vols. Boulder, Colo., 1977.

Broder, David S. Behind the Front Page: A Candid Look at How the News is Made. New York, 1987. A leading journalist's account of relations between the press and government, and especially valuable for the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.

Cater, Douglass. The Fourth Branch of Government. Boston, 1959. Especially useful for the presidencies of Truman and Eisenhower.

Cohen, Bernard C. The Press and Foreign Policy. Princeton, N.J., 1963. An important scholarly study of the press and U.S. foreign policy at the height of the Cold War.

. Democracies and Foreign Policy: Public Participation in the United States and the Netherlands. Madison, Wisc., 1995.

Gans, Herbert J. Deciding What's News: A Study of CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, Newsweek, and Time. New York, 1979. A study by a well-known sociologist known for effective use of interviews and for comparisons of journalistic practices at leading news magazines and television networks.

Graber, Doris A. Mass Media and American Politics. 4th ed. Washington, D.C., 1993. A standard work that includes an excellent section on the press and foreign policy; especially helpful for the 1970s and 1980s.

Hallin, Daniel C. The "Uncensored War": The Media and Vietnam. New York, 1986. A detailed study that argues that the executive branch of the U.S. government greatly influenced press coverage of the Vietnam War.

Hilsman, Roger. The Politics of Policy Making in Defense and Foreign Affairs. 3d ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1993. An insightful study by a political scientist who also was a high-level official in the Kennedy administration.

Kennamer, J. David, ed. Public Opinion, the Press, and Public Policy. Westport, Conn., 1992. Useful partly because it is more theoretical and conceptual than most other works that analyze the subject.

Kern, Montague, Patricia W. Levering, and Ralph B. Levering. The Kennedy Crises: The Press, the Presidency, and Foreign Policy. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1983.

Liebovich, Louis W. The Press and the Origins of the Cold War, 19441947. New York, 1988.

. The Press and the Modern Presidency: Myths and Mindsets from Kennedy to Election 2000. 2d ed. Westport, Conn., 2001.

Linsky, Martin. Impact: How the Press Affects Federal Policymaking. New York, 1986. Based partly on interviews, this book contains in-depth analysis of press coverage of several foreign policy issues in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Mott, Frank Luther. American Journalism; A History: 16901960. 3d ed. New York, 1962. A standard history of American journalism, it pays more attention to the press and foreign policy than most other surveys.

Nacos, Brigitte Lebens. The Press, Presidents, and Crises. New York, 1990. An excellent study that includes quantitative analysis of both news and editorial coverage in leading newspapers.

Nacos, Brigitte Lebens, Robert Y. Shapiro, and Pierangelo Isernia, eds. Decision making in a Glass House: Mass Media, Public Opinion, and American and European Foreign Policy in the 21st Century. Lanham, Md., 2000. Several chapters contain excellent analyses of press coverage of selected issues in U.S. foreign policy in the 1990s.

Newsom, David D. The Public Dimension of Foreign Policy. Bloomington, Ind., 1996. A former U.S. diplomat offers insights into the press and foreign policy and other subjects; especially useful for the 1980s and early 1990s.

Page, Benjamin I. Who Deliberates?: Mass Media in Modern Democracy. Chicago, 1996. Especially useful for press coverage of the events leading up to the war in the Persian Gulf in 1991.

Rivers, William L. The Adversaries: Politics and the Press. Boston, 1970. An analysis of the frequent conflicts between officials and journalists during the 1960s.

Rosati, Jerel A. The Politics of United States Foreign Policy. 2d ed. Fort Worth, Tex., 1999. Includes a well-argued chapter on the news media and foreign policy; especially useful for the 1980s and early 1990s.

Schneider, James C. Should America Go to War?: The Debate over Foreign Policy in Chicago, 19391941. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1989. An excellent study of the role of the press and other actors in shaping public discussion in one city.

Seib, Philip. Headline Diplomacy: How News Coverage Affects Foreign Policy. Westport, Conn., 1997. An outstanding nonquantitative study of the press and foreign policy over the past several decades.

Serfaty, Simon, ed. The Media and Foreign Policy. New York, 1991. Excellent analyses, primarily by journalists and officials, of press coverage and relationships between journalists and officials on foreign policy issues; especially insightful on the 1980s.

Thompson, Kenneth W., ed. The White House Press on the Presidency: News Management and Co-Option. Lanham, Md., 1983. Journalists and former officials discuss press coverage, including coverage of foreign policy during the 1960s and 1970s.

See also Public Opinion; Television .


On 7 May 1915 the Cunard passenger liner was sunk in the Atlantic without warning by a German submarine; close to two thousand civilians and crew perished, including 128 Americans. The following are excerpts from a New York Times editorial that appeared on 9 May.

"The rule of maritime warfare which imposes upon the commander of a ship of war the duty of providing for the safety of the passengers and crew of any vessel he may elect to destroy is plain, unmistakable in its application to every case, andeverywhere and by all civilized nations accepted as a binding obligation.

"The man in the street may have some possible excuse for ignorance of this humane usage of war, but it issurprising to hear from the lips of Senator William J. Stone of Missouri, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations,insinuated excuses or palliations of the dastardly crime committed by Germany.

"Now that we are warned that Germany has resolved to make war in disregard of the laws of God and man, like a Malay running amuck, we know what to do. The time for protests has passed. It becomes now our duty as a nation to demand that Germany shall find means to carry on her war without putting our citizens to death.

If the dispatch without warning of torpedoes against the great Lusitania with 2,000 human beings on board is to be accepted as a true manifestation of the German spirit,if she has deliberately determined that all the world shall know that this is the way in which she proposes to make war, that this is her attitude toward law,then all neutral nations are on notice that the complete defeat of Germany and eradication of the military spirit of Germany are essential to their peace and safety.

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