Was the evening news “fair and balanced” in the run-up to the Iraq War, or did it gin up support for the conflict, as many critics have claimed? In a recent Political Communication article funded in part by a Campbell Institute grant, Danny Hayes and Matt Guardino found that while the news presented a more even mix of sources and statements than many existing accounts suggest, foreign governments were used for most of the oppositional perspectives, rather than Democratic Party elites, anti-war activists, and other domestic voices.
Based on a detailed examination of every ABC, NBC and CBS Iraq-related news story that aired during the eight months prior to the invasion—more than 1,400 in all—Hayes and Guardino show that Bush administration officials were the most frequently quoted sources and that coverage generally favored a pro-war perspective. However, while domestic dissent was minimal, opposition from abroad—in particular, from Iraq, from leaders of countries such as France, and from United Nations officials—was commonly reported on the networks. Their findings, which are grounded in the first systematic analysis of mainstream news coverage during the run-up to the Iraq War, suggest that media researchers should devote more attention to the inclusion of non-U.S. views during high-profile foreign policy debates. They also raise important questions about how the news filters the communications of political actors and shapes the contours of debate, with some troubling implications for democratic accountability and policy responsiveness.
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