Fox News and its links to Hawkish support for the war in Iraq
Christopher E. Beaudoin
Department of Telecommunications
313 Radio-Television Center
Bloomington, IN 47405
[log in to unmask]
Director of Online Research
Frank N. Magid Associates, Inc.
Iowa City, IA
Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research
School of Journalism
University of Missouri-Columbia
Please send all correspondence to the first author.
Submitted for potential presentation to the Radio-Television Journalism
Division at the annual conference of the Association for Education in
Journalism and Mass Communication, Kansas City, 2003
April 1, 2003
Fox News and its links to Hawkish support for the war in Iraq
With telephone survey data from March 2003, this paper examines cable TV
news dependency and links to attitudes and behaviors related to the war in
Iraq. Fox News dependents are more supportive of the war effort than are
other cable news dependents. Fox News dependents who watch the broadcasts
more often are more supportive of the war effort than are other Fox News
dependents. Findings are discussed in terms of news content and the
concepts of media dependency and "television diplomacy."
Fox News and its links to Hawkish support for the war in Iraq
News coverage of the ongoing war in Iraq and its lead up has been
instantaneous, momentous and mountainous. In the U.S. media, coverage has
come in different forms, from different media, with different slants and
approaches. News users have had access via traditional media such as
newspaper, radio, and local and network news. In addition, Americans who
seek immediate and continuous coverage of the war have been able to turn to
the Internet and cable TV.
Coverage of the five main cable TV news outlets—CNN, CNN Headline News,
MSNBC, CNBC, and Fox—has shared much in common. The coverage has been
prolific, urgent and around-the-clock, mixing the commentaries of U.S. and
foreign diplomats and military specialists, news anchors and reporters, and
ordinary U.S. and Iraqi citizens. There appear to be important differences,
as well. Fox News coverage relies on stronger language and less on visual
images (Stanley, 2003b). Anchors have made note of American troops
"shellacking" Iraqi troops and have described Saddam Hussein as being
"twisted." In addition, Fox News is more conservative—or, at least, less
liberal. The network has been a strong proponent of the war effort. It has
displayed overt patriotism (Kirkpatrick, 2003), with anchors serving as war
cheerleaders (Stanley, 2003b). "Fox's commitment to boosting the war effort
seemed to revive the old French theory that art and journalism should be
put at the service of ideology," writes Stanley in the New York Times
(Stanley, 2003b: p. 15). "It is the definition of patriotism that cleaves
Fox from other newsrooms. Fox embraces a passionate partisanship."
Furthermore, Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly described ABC News anchor,
Peter Jennings, as being an "internationalist … who puts foreign countries
on the same plane as the United States in the war on terror" (Stanley, 2003c).
This role is not new. During the Gulf War, the media played a similar role.
For example, Ted Koppel used the pronoun "we" when referring to the U.S.
government (O'Heffernan, 1993). Support for the war takes different forms,
including overt support and the interviewing retired military officers and
the relatives of current members of the military. Such coverage goes
against the concept of objectivity, which is supposedly a hallmark of
The role of journalists has been diverse. In a matter of hours, Peter
Arnett, of NBC and National Geographic Explorer, went from insider (serving
as the last American to report from Baghdad) to outsider (being fired for
criticizing the U.S. war effort when being interviewed on Iraqi TV)
(Stanley, 2003d). Arnett's role as a CNN correspondent in the Gulf War was
much the same—as was the result (Milavsky & Galceran, 1993). Arnett's
participation in both wars shows the oddity of contemporary journalism,
where, one second, a person can interview and, the next, be interviewed. In
this way, the line between journalist and non-journalist is blurred, as is
the line between objective and subjective news reporting.
In these ways and more, it is clear that that the mass media have played an
incredibly important role in the war in Iraq. Iraqi TV has been a conduit
for the United States to keep tabs on the Iraqi leadership and, more
importantly, for Iraq to foster and spur national and international
opposition to the war. In the United States, coverage of the war has served
a mixed role—keeping Hawks and Doves, alike, informed about the day-to-day
operations and results of the war effort. The coverage in both U.S. and
Iraqi media exemplifies what O'Heffernan (1993) calls "television
diplomacy" and what Hiebert (1993) looks at in terms of public relations.
Simply put, for a war effort to be successful, it must be supported by the
public. In terms of the war in Iraq, this plays into both sides. Iraqi TV
seeks to portray Iraqi forces as an underdog achieving success against a
Zionist power, while U.S. media aim to show U.S. forces to be successful in
bringing freedom—and, ostensibly democracy—to a land plagued by the evil
regime of Saddam Hussein.
In the current paper, we explore the effects that different styles of cable
news coverage may be having on the American public. With telephone survey
data from March 2003, we examine patterns in cable TV news dependency and
their links to 1) demographics and 2) attitudes and behaviors related to
the war. Relying on important research in the area of media dependency
theory, we offer a picture of who is relying most on various cable TV news
stations for information about the war and how this coverage may be related
to American attitudes and behaviors related to U.S. involvement in Iraq. We
then examine whether amount of exposure appears to be associated with these
attitudes and behaviors.
Foreign Affair Attitudes
Attitudes are "relatively enduring orientations toward objects" (Hennessy,
1972: 27). Raven and Rubin (1983) said attitudes are "our evaluations of
objects, our 'likes and dislikes'" (p. 129), and Marlowe (1971) explained
that attitudes consist of thoughts, feelings, and action. Recent research
has articulated useful dimensions to attitudes toward U.S. foreign affairs:
isolationism, militarism, and multilateralism (Chittick & Billingsley,
1989); identity, security, and prosperity (Chittick, Billingsley, & Travis,
1995); cold war internationalists, post-cold war internationalists, and
isolationalists (Holsti, 1979); isolation and internationalism (Holsti,
1996); accomodationists, internationalists, isolationists, and hardliners
(Wittkopf, 1976, 1981, 1987); and militarism, isolationism, and containment
(Hurwitz & Peffley, 1987, 1993, 1997). Although these research studies,
importantly, indicate that American attitudes toward foreign affairs are
not random or unstructured—and that they can be predicted with demographics
such as gender, political party identification, political ideology, and
education (Peffley & Hurwitz, 1993)—the studies do not get at the important
relationship between these attitudes and news portrayals in the U.S. media.
Few studies have examined this important relationship. In one study, Snyder
(1993) found no association between mass media use and support for the Gulf
War. In another study of attitudes toward U.S. involvement in the Gulf War,
Gunter and Wober (1993) found a significantly positive relationship with
media use. In addition, Fan (1993) found that public opinion about the Gulf
War appeared to follow media content of the conflict. In other, somewhat
related studies, Robinson, Chivian and Tudge (1989) demonstrated a positive
association between media use and attitudes toward international relations,
while Yatani and Bramel (1989) found that American attitudes toward the
Soviet Union fluctuate in relation to news happenings. In an even broader
sense, the findings are mixed. Some researchers suggest that the media play
a powerful role in attitudinal development (Herman & Chomsky, 1988), while
others indicate that the relationship is negligible at best (Curran,
Gurevitch, & Woollacott, 1982).
Media Dependency Theory
Media system dependency is viewed as a macro-level theory (Ball-Rokeach,
1998), with the interaction between society and the individual at its core
(Ball-Rokeach, 1985; Ball-Rokeach & DeFleur, 1976). Media dependency
research asks respondents how dependent they are upon certain media outlets
for certain types of information (Ball-Rokeach, 1985; Grant, Guthrie, &
Ball-Rokeach, 1991; Loges, 1994; Loges & Ball-Rokeach, 1993). Related
research suggests that societal change and conflict influence media motives
and, subsequently, media dependency (Ball-Rokeach, 1998; Ball-Rokeach &
DeFleur, 1976; Tichenor et al., 1973). In summary, the theory holds that
media dependency rises in times of societal change and conflict, with this
dependency leading to heightened levels of media effects on variables such
as knowledge and attitudes.
Ball-Rokeach (1998) and Rubin and Windahl (1986) contended that personal
goals, needs and motives affect media dependencies. In what Ball-Rokeach
(1998) calls "the ecology of individual media system," media dependency
rises from an assortment of inputs including personal goals and individual
differences. Personal goals, in turn, are predicted by individual
differences and a person's sense of the environment, which includes both
personal ambiguity and threat and societal change and conflict.
The above literature gives rise to several expectations for our study. We
would expect that Fox News would have the largest number of dependents
because of its top viewing ratings in recent years. In addition, if Fox
News' coverage is rife with pro-war and patriotic appeals, it would make
sense that dependents of the channel would be more supportive of the war
than would dependents of other cable news channels. We also explore links
between cable news dependencies and behaviors related to the war in Iraq.
Finally, we would expect that the more dependents are exposed to their
cable news channel of choice, the more supportive of the war they would be.
A telephone survey of American adults was conducted from March 6 to March
27, 2003. To create the sample, we obtained email lists from 31 television
stations across the country and invited news viewers to participate. This
approach was followed to ensure a sample of news users from an assortment
of U.S. markets. The total number of emails sent was 166,781, but about 30%
were "undeliverable" and yet others—it can be assumed—went unread.
Subsequently, 6,434 telephone surveys were completed, with 373 screenouts.
No incentives were given to survey respondents. The mean length of the
telephone interviews was 19.2 minutes (sd. 1.5).
Descriptive statistics appear in Table 1.
Demographics included age, education, ethnicity (W=1), income, gender
(M=1), and political party. For age, there were nine groupings: 18-24;
25-29; 30-34; 35-39; 40-44; 45-49; 50-54; and over 55. Respondents were
asked if they viewed themselves as being Democrats, Republicans,
Independents, or other. A dummy variable was used for Republican (1) or not
(0). We measured education on an 8-point scale, from "junior high
school/middle school" (1) to "university—doctorate degree" (8). Household
income was measured on a 9-point scale, from "less than $25,000" (1) to
"$200,000 or more" (9).
There were 11 attitudinal and behavioral statements (see Appendix). Factor
analysis (principal components with Varimax rotation) indicated two factors
(see Table 2). Factor 1, which involved six statements (alpha=.81), is
labeled "support for U.S. military involvement." Factor 2, with the
remaining five statements (alpha=.72), is labeled "behaviors related to
U.S. military involvement."
There were two statements for media dependency. First, respondents
(N=6,807) were asked, "Which one of the following media do you depend on
most to get your news and information about the possible war in Iraq?"
Responses included local TV news (28.8%), network TV news (19.4%), cable
news channels (32%), newspapers (3.6%), radio (3.7%), magazines .2%), and
the Internet (10.3%). Those who responded "cable TV channels" (N=2,061)
were then asked which cable station they were most dependent upon.
Responses were CNN (26.9%), CNN Headline News (14.5%), Fox News Channel
(45.9%), CNBC (1%), and MSNBC (10.7%).
To measure exposure to their dependent news outlet, respondents were then
asked, "After you start watching <enter first-choice cable news channel>,
for how long do you watch?" Responses were as follows: five minutes (1); 10
minutes (2); fifteen minutes (3); 30 minutes (4); 45 minutes (45); 60
minutes (6); and more than 60 minutes (7).
There were three main steps to data analysis. First, multivariate analysis
of variance was used to examine whether the means of demographic measures
differed by cable news channel dependency. The findings were as follows:
gender (F=6.82, p<.001); age (F=1.73, p<.124); education (F=1.86, p<.098);
income (F=3.54, p<.003); ethnicity (F=.65, p<.662); and the Republican
dummy (F=27.09, p<.001). An a priori Tukey test indicated that gender was
significantly different in the following comparisons: CNN vs. CNN Headline
News; CNN vs. Fox News; and CNN Headline News vs. MSNBC. In the case of
income, the difference was significant only for Fox News vs. MSNBC. For the
Republican dummy variables, differences were significant for each of the
five Fox News comparisons. These findings can be better understood with
reference to Table 1. For example, 60% of Fox News viewers were
Republicans, as compared to less than 50% for each of the other four cable
Second, univariate analysis of variance, with the political dummy variable
used as a controlling factor, was employed to test whether the two war
measures (support for U.S. military involvement and behaviors related to
U.S. military involvement) were different according to cable news channel
dependency. The means for behaviors related to U.S. military involvement
did not differ significantly according to cable news channel dependency
(F=3.23, p<.112). In contrast, there were significant differences between
the means for support for U.S. military involvement according to cable news
channel dependency (F=5.24, p<.047). Tukey tests indicated significant
differences between cable news channel means for this factor in terms of
each of the five Fox News comparisons. Thus, Fox News dependents have
higher levels of support than do the dependents of the other cable news
Third, hierarchical regression analysis was implemented. The Republican
dummy variable was inserted in the first step, with the exposure measure in
the second step. Separate analyses were run on dependents of the cable news
channels. In the analyses, the dependent variables were support for U.S.
military involvement and behaviors related to U.S. military involvement.
Results are depicted in Tables 3 and 4. As noted in Table 3, the exposure
measure was positively associated with support for U.S. military
involvement in the Fox News and MSNBC models. Thus, the more dependents
watch these news channels, the more supportive they are of the war effort.
As noted in Table 4, there is one significant association between exposure
and behaviors related to U.S. military intervention. It is in the CNN
model, indicating that dependents who watch more CNN will have higher
levels of expected behaviors than dependents who watch less.
In a general sense, descriptive analysis indicated the importance of cable
news television in the United States. When asked about what news media
people were relying on for information related to the potential war in
Iraq, 32% indicated cable TV news. The only figure close to that was 28.8%
for local TV news. Furthermore, among the cable news dependents, Fox News
was the top choice, with almost 46% of the viewers. The next closest
channel was CNN, at 26.9%.
Multivariate analysis of variance rendered an interesting picture of what
type of Americans are dependent on the five cable news channels. Most
interesting here was the Republican dummy variable. As expected, Fox News
had a significantly more Republican audience than the other channels.
These analyses set the stage for the main thrust of the paper. We sought
to examine whether support for U.S. military involvement and behaviors
related to U.S. military involvement would differ by cable news dependency.
We found that behaviors did not differ, when controlling for political
party. Thus, it does not appear that the cable news channels have differing
effects on dependents when it comes to the list of war-related behaviors.
For example, if Fox News coverage was laden with sensational stories and
gory images, Fox News dependents may be expected to have higher levels of
fear related to the war and, as a result, higher levels of reactionary
behaviors. This, however, was not the case, suggesting either that coverage
of the war does not diverge in a way that would spur fear- or
concern-related behaviors or that coverage of the war, even if divergent in
this way, does not render dependents with different levels of behaviors
that result from U.S. military intervention in Iraq.
In contrast, there were significant differences for support for U.S.
military involvement. In this case (see Table 1), Fox News dependents were
more supportive of the war effort than were dependents of the other cable
news channels. This ties in well with dependency theory, which indicates
that media dependency rises during times of societal change and conflict,
as do its effects on various dependent variables. Our analysis suggests
that people who are dependent on Fox News have different attitudes when it
comes to the lead-up to the war in Iraq. In comparison to dependents of
other cable news channels, Fox News dependents favor U.S. action against
Saddam Hussein. They oppose the pre-war withdraw of troops in the Middle
East. They oppose additional attempts at diplomacy, believe that public
demonstrations can undermine U.S. involvement in Iraq, and support U.S.
troops no matter what happens. They are more pro-military, more Hawkish,
while dependents of the other four cable news channels clump together in a
more Dove-like fashion.
Because our analysis does not suggest a direction of causation, we do not
know why Fox News dependents hold higher levels of support for the military
effort than do the other cable news dependents. We controlled for political
party to get around the potential explanation that such differences are
based in party membership. If we had not done so, it would have made sense
that Republicans would be more pro-war simply because of their allegiance
to President Bush. There are two other possibilities. First, via selective
exposure, it could be that Fox News draws viewers, because they are
stronger proponents of military action in Iraq, are more dependent upon Fox
News' pro-war coverage. This model suggests that people rely on media-use
behaviors that allow them to "attain and sustain perceptual control of
particular events" (Zillmann & Bryant, 1985: p. 2). Second, via a media
effects model, it could be that Fox News instills in people more pro-war
attitudes. This model, we think, is most interesting and leads to several
interesting questions. What aspects of Fox News broadcasts, even after
controlling for political party, would lend themselves to having these
differing effects on the American public? Would Fox News' more sensational
coverage play a role, or is it possible that a political ideology measure
would account for more variance than our measure of political party
membership? It certainly seems that the war cheerleading and patriotic
nature of Fox News coverage could spur this type of attitudinal development
Hierarchical regression was then used to explore further the role of the
cable news channels. Exposure to Fox News and MSNBC was positively
associated with levels of support for U.S. military involvement—and
exposure to CNN was positively associated with levels of behaviors related
to U.S. military involvement. In addition, though the correlations were not
significant, the standardized coefficients were also positive for CNN and
CNN Headline News. Thus, exposure seems to go hand-in-hand with the
development of pro-war attitudes. As mentioned above, Fox News dependents
have significantly more positive attitudes toward U.S. involvement in Iraq.
The regression findings expand upon this, suggesting that the more
dependents watch Fox News, the more pro-war they will be. This, again, can
be explained in two ways. First, via selective exposure, it is possible
that Fox News dependents who are pro-war watch Fox News more often than Fox
News dependents who are less pro-war. Second, via a media effects model, it
could be that exposure to Fox News encourages dependents to have more
positive attitudes toward U.S. involvement in the war.
The univariate analysis of variance and hierarchical regression findings
tie in with the common critique that Fox News is bold, sensational,
patriotic, and pro-war. This type of coverage, it appears, is associated
with strong, Hawkish perspectives of U.S. military action in Iraq. In terms
of the concept of "television diplomacy," it, thus, looks as though Fox
News' portrayals of the war effort may be playing a positive effect in the
grand U.S. military effort there. Fox News coverage appears to be fostering
pro-war attitudes, which are an important element of a contemporary war
These findings, we hope, will foster further research and discussion about
the nature of news coverage and its effects, especially within the realm of
U.S. military action in the Middle East. We hope future researchers will
continue to examine relationships between cable news coverage and American
attitudes toward foreign policy. Such research could also examine different
attitudinal and knowledge-related dimensions to how the dependents of
different cable news channels view the war. In addition, we hope that
journalists at cable news channels such as Fox News and CNN will pay heed
to our findings and better understand the potential ramifications of their
coverage of U.S. military efforts.
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Rotated Component Matrix
Attitudes & Behaviors related to the war in Iraq
U.S. should take action
Approval of President Bush
U.S. should give sanctions more time
U.S. should pull troops out
Demonstrations undermine U.S. military
There should be support for U.S. troops
Avoid any airplane travel
Avoid going to public gatherings
Stock up on goods or products
Avoid any overseas travel
Drive less to save gas
Variance accounted for
Support for U.S. military involvement
The United States should take action against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.*
The United States should pull all of its troops out of the Middle East.
The United States should give sanctions and trade restrictions against Iraq
more time to work. (reversed)*
Public demonstrations against U.S. involvement in Iraq undermine U.S.
There should be public support for U.S. troops no matter what happens.*
How much do you approve of the way President Bush is handling the situation
* Responses from "strongly disagree" (1) to "strongly agree" (5).
** Response from "strongly disapprove" (1) to "strongly approve" (5).
Behaviors related to U.S. military involvement
How much do you expect to do each of the following things if war between
the United States and Iraq does occur?
Drive less to save gas and avoid high gas prices.
Avoid any overseas travel you may have been planning.
Avoid any airplane travel within the United States you may have been planning.
Stock up on good or products that may become scares in a war.
Avoid going to public gatherings such as movies, concerts, or sporting
events that may attract a crowd.
Responses from "much less likely" (1) to "much more likely" (5).