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Subject: AEJ 03 KirchJ HIS Influence of Contemporary Political Environments On Media Coverage of Historical Events
From: Elliott Parker <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:AEJMC Conference Papers <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Mon, 22 Sep 2003 05:22:14 -0400
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The Influence of Contemporary Political Environments
On Media Coverage of Historical Events

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to explore whether news coverage of historical
events is influenced by the contemporary political and social environment
of the nation. It does this by analyzing newspaper coverage of two national
commemorations: the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's journey to
America, which was observed in 1992 at a time of renewed interest in the
culture and historic suffering of Native Americans, and the upcoming 200th
anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition, which is being celebrated at
a moment when Americans are feeling renewed patriotism following the
September 11 terrorist attacks. The results indicate a major difference in
how the two events were covered, with the Lewis and Clark anniversary
receiving much more positive news coverage than did the Columbus event.
Previous research strongly suggests that this difference in coverage could
be associated with the contemporary political and social context of each
anniversary. The scholarly literature shows that history is in a constant
state of flux, as stories of the past change based on new evidence and the
needs of contemporary circumstances.
4

The Influence of Contemporary Political Environments
On Media Coverage of Historical Events

Introduction
        Historians have long recognized that "there is rarely one unassailable
historical perspective about anything."[1]  A figure like Christopher
Columbus can be portrayed as a man of "deep conviction" who "carried
Christian civilization across the Ocean Sea"[2] or as a gold-seeking
opportunist who enslaved the Indian populations of the Caribbean and
decimated entire native communities within a few years of "discovering" the
New World.[3]  Understanding these often conflicting interpretations of the
past is key to understanding how a society comes to view itself.  The
stories that emerge from the pages of history are not merely a collection
of facts from a textbook, they are memories of a past experience so
powerful, they become "profoundly intertwined with the basic identities of
individuals, groups, and cultures…"[4]  More than that, the images of the
past create a national mythology—a mythology that can be used by a society
to justify the political actions it takes today.[5]
        There is no place where these historical memories appear more than in the
news media, which play a vital role in "shaping the values and attitudes of
a society."[6]  Journalists frequently turn to history to bolster their
news stories, using references from the past to provide context for current
events, compare contemporary policies with those of previous
administrations, and to commemorate anniversaries of key dates in the
memory of a nation.[7]  But if history is open to interpretations, which
versions are disseminated by the news media?  To whom do journalists turn
for historical information, and what forces come into play that shape the
images of the past that newspapers and broadcast stations present to their
audiences?
The Influence of Contemporary Political Environments On Media Coverage of
Historical Events
        The purpose of this paper is to answer these questions by exploring
whether the coverage of historical events is influenced by the contemporary
political and social environment of the nation.  I will do this by
analyzing newspaper coverage of two national commemorations: the 500-year
Columbus anniversary in 1992 and the upcoming 200-year anniversary of the
Lewis and Clark expedition.  These two events were chosen because each
could be subject to many interpretations.  The Columbus voyage to North
America and the Lewis and Clark expedition of the West can both be
portrayed as great adventures that opened the doors to western
civilization, or they can be painted as symbols representing the conquest
of one culture over another.  Moreover, the two anniversaries make a good
comparison because they each came along during different times in the
consciousness of America.  The Columbus anniversary was celebrated at a
time when popular culture was expressing a renewed interest in Native
Americans, as illustrated by such movies as Dances With Wolves, Black Robe,
and Thunderheart.  By contrast, the Lewis and Clark anniversary is coming
at a point of intense patriotism following the September 11, 2001,
terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
        Given the different political and social climates surrounding the two
anniversaries, this paper will ask two questions:
•       Is the coverage of the Columbus anniversary different from the coverage
of Lewis and Clark?  If so, in what way is this coverage different?
•       Did the contemporary political and social climate affect how each figure
from American history was portrayed by the news media?

The Influence of Contemporary Political Environments On Media Coverage of
Historical Events
        These questions are important because they shed light on how the news
media frame issues of historical importance and what forces are behind
those frames.
Literature review
        It is important to study how the news media present history because of the
vital role newspapers and broadcast stations play in shaping public
attitudes about society.  It has long been argued that the news media act
as an agenda-setter for the public.[8]  T.J. Jackson Lears groups
journalists with teachers, preachers, and other "experts" who have the
power to "define the boundaries of common-sense 'reality.'"[9]  Other
studies have found support for the notion that the news media—and in
particular, television—can act both as a cultural forum that presents a
multiplicity of meanings to events as well as a tool that spreads a
society's dominant ideology.[10]  Moreover, the meanings and messages
presented through the media have impact not only on the public but on the
nation's leaders as well.  Shanto Iyengar and Adam Simon have demonstrated
that television news coverage of the 1991 Persian Gulf War "affected
Americans' political concerns and the criteria with which they evaluated"
the president.[11]
        What each of these studies suggests is that reporters and editors have the
power to frame issues in a way that affects how the public perceives both
the reality of today's events as well as the images of history.  But if
journalists routinely frame issues for their audience, what factors
determine the frames that reporters use?  William Gamson has argued that
"the frames for a given story are frequently drawn from shared cultural
narratives and myths,"[12] while Dietram Scheufele has maintained that
frames are created by the professional norms of journalists as well as
"external sources" such as "political actors, authorities, interest groups,
and other elites."[13]  As Scheufele writes:  "Frames
The Influence of Contemporary Political Environments On Media Coverage of
Historical Events
suggested by interest groups or political actors as sound bites are adopted
by journalists and incorporated in their coverage of an issue or event."[14]
        One might argue that stories about historical events are even more
susceptible to framing because of the very nature of history.  Spencer
Crew, for example, has explained that history is "not merely a linear
process, but one which is filled with twists and turns and new ways of
looking at and understanding events."[15]  Likewise, Michael Schudson has
argued that "the past is forever subject to reconstruction and rewriting to
accord with present views,"[16] an opinion shared by David Thelen, who
points out that historians must account for the fact that "people construct
memories in response to changing circumstances."[17]
        More importantly, "new ways" of looking at history are often contested by
different groups, each of which tries to push its own historical
perspective into the mainstream.  Vietnam Veterans have struggled with the
U.S. government over the meaning of the Vietnam War,[18] while Veterans
groups forced the Smithsonian Institute's National Air and Space Museum to
cancel a controversial exhibit in 1995 that would have challenged "the
widely held collective memory of the atomic bombings at the close of World
War II…"[19]  Such battles influence how journalists present the
past.  They determine not only what is said about history, but which
version of history is told in the first place.  For as Theodore Prosise has
pointed out, "What a nation memorializes and how it memorializes events
will influence the public's knowledge about the past."[20]
        The scholarly literature described above raises several points that are
important for this paper.  First, the scholarship strongly suggests that
the stories told by the news media are framed in ways that construct a
reality for the audience.  Second, how
The Influence of Contemporary Political Environments On Media Coverage of
Historical Events
journalists choose to frame those stories is based on several factors and
is subject to influence from outside parties, including political actors
operating within a certain political context.  And third, history is in a
constant state of flux based on new evidence, changing memories, and the
needs of contemporary circumstances.  Taken together, these points help
support the notion that the contemporary political and social environment
can influence how historical events are covered in the media.  The next
step for this literature review, then, is to briefly outline the climate
surrounding the Columbus and Lewis and Clark anniversaries.
        At the time of the quincentenary Columbus anniversary in 1992, America was
in the midst of a renewed interest in Native American culture.  Popular
movies such as Dances With Wolves, Black Robe, and Thunderheart altered the
images of the past, "portraying whites as savages and Indians as a
civilized people living in harmony with the land."[21]  In addition,
several books were published in the early 1990s that explained the historic
suffering of native cultures at the hands of American expansion;[22] South
Dakota's tourism climbed as the public found a renewed interest in the
state's Indian heritage;[23] and General George Armstrong Custer's name was
removed from the national battlefield monument near the Little Big Horn
River where he and his 7th Cavalry were killed at the hands of Sioux and
Cheyenne warriors in 1876.[24]  The new interest in Native Americans
boosted the confidence of American Indians, who successfully raised their
voices against the dominant ideology of America and began to exert some
influence over their future. According to an article in a 1990 issue of
Maclean's magazine:
Indians have not been well treated at the trading post of North American
culture.  But over the past decade, while fighting for land claims, they
have also begun to reclaim their culture.  Native performers, writers and
artists are making their voices heard.  And as

The Influence of Contemporary Political Environments On Media Coverage of
Historical Events

aboriginal culture becomes hot property in the commercial mainstream, they
are challenging non-native attempts to portray it.[25]

        This is a far different situation from the political and social
environment leading up to the 200-year anniversary of Meriwether Lewis and
William Clark's expedition to the American West, which occurred from 1803
to 1806.  The tone of the Lewis and Clark anniversary was set early when
President George W. Bush unofficially opened the bicentennial celebration
with a speech that defined the expedition as a "monument to the American
spirit, a spirit of optimism and courage and persistence in the face of
adversity,"[26] words that were as appropriate for history as they were for
a 21st century America facing the unknown risks of a war on terrorism.
        Press reports since the September 11 terrorist attacks have been filled
with references to the upsurge in patriotism that Americans are
feeling.  Flag companies reported a slight surge in sales as Memorial Day
2002 approached,[27] the military's "chronic pilot shortage" began to ease
because of a "surge of post-Sept. 11 patriotism,"[28] and new Hollywood
films like We Were Soldiers were released in a "parade of war movies" that
were "riding a wave of patriotism since the terrorist attacks."[29]  Unlike
the time during the Columbus anniversary, there are few reports, if any,
about native cultures standing up to challenge America's historical heroes.
        The strong sense of patriotism has affected journalists as well.  In a
Columbia Journalism Review article on the one-year-anniversary of the
terrorist attacks, several Washington reporters acknowledged that life had
changed dramatically in the nation's capital.  Said National Public Radio's
Nina Totenberg: "It's crossed my mind from time to time that you don't want
people to think you're unpatriotic."[30]  Others said that
The Influence of Contemporary Political Environments On Media Coverage of
Historical Events
journalists had struggled to "sort out what their roles as journalists are
versus what their role as citizens should be," while others pointed out
that reporters had begun using the term "we" in press conferences when
referring to the United States, a clear break from a reporter's obligation
to be independent of the government.[31]
        As the literature indicates, the Columbus anniversary was recognized in a
different political and social environment than has greeted the upcoming
Lewis and Clark celebration.  Given that, has the coverage been different?
Methodology
The content analysis compared coverage of the 500-year Columbus Day
anniversary in 1992 to the coverage of the upcoming 200-year anniversary of
the Lewis and Clark exploration of the American West.  News stories from
the New York Times and the Boston Globe were used to assess coverage of the
Columbus anniversary.  These two newspapers were chosen because they are
based in cities with large Italian populations with a particular interest
in Christopher Columbus and his journey to North America.  Lewis and Clark
coverage was analyzed using stories from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The
Oregonian of Portland, and the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald.  These three
newspapers were chosen because their states were touched by the
exploration, and each state is planning events to celebrate the anniversary.
        The Columbus sample was derived from a Lexis-Nexis search that identified
all stories that ran in the Times and the Globe from October 5 to October
13, 1992, because this was a period of intense coverage around the October
12 Columbus Day holiday.  The search generated 13 stories.  The Lewis and
Clark sample was also collected through a search of the Lexis-Nexis
database, but this sample includes all stories that ran in the
The Influence of Contemporary Political Environments On Media Coverage of
Historical Events
three newspapers over a six-month period ending in November 2002.  A larger
sample period was needed for the Lewis and Clark search because there have
been far fewer stories written on Lewis and Clark given that the
anniversary celebration is still more than a year away.  This search
identified ten stories for the sample.
        Each story was coded to identify the newspaper in which it appeared as
well as its general location in the newspaper (front page or inside metro,
for example).  The newspaper stories were also coded so that each article
could be identified as either a Columbus or a Lewis and Clark story.  In
addition, codes were developed based on the topic of the report, the
story's main story line, the primary focus of the story, and whether the
story was evaluated as positive, neutral, or negative.  The analysis also
coded stories to identify which ethnic groups were quoted in the articles.
        Stories were coded based on four possible "topics."  Stories that were
historical in nature had a topic of either "Columbus's journey" or "the
Lewis and Clark expedition."  Stories about the anniversaries had a topic
of either "Columbus Day anniversary" or "Upcoming 200th anniversary of
Lewis and Clark."  Newspaper articles were also coded for their main story
line, which could include articles about anniversary events, stories about
protests and demonstrations, stories about the debate over the legacy of
the historic figure, articles about peripheral events planned as part of
the anniversary, and business issues surrounding the anniversary, such as
reports about business openings and closings on the holiday.  The analysis
also coded stories for their main focus.  For example, stories were coded
to identify whether they portrayed the historical figure as an
explorer/discoverer, a conqueror/exploiter, an undisputed hero, or a
controversial figure.

The Influence of Contemporary Political Environments On Media Coverage of
Historical Events
        Each story also was evaluated for how it portrayed the historic
figures.  Positive stories were those that used celebratory language to
describe the historic figures, thus placing them in a positive light.  For
example, a story would be coded as positive if the anniversary was
portrayed as a celebration or if the historic figures were described as
brave, heroic, or fair.  Stories were coded as neutral if all sides of an
issue were fairly represented in the piece and the tone left neither a
positive nor a negative impression of either Columbus or Lewis and
Clark.  Stories were evaluated as negative if the language exhibited a tone
that placed the historic figure in such a controversial light that his
faults clearly outweighed his attributes and the reader was left with a
generally negative impression.  For example, stories that highlighted
controversy or referred to the historic figure as an exploiter were coded
as negative.
        Finally, each story was coded to identify which ethnic groups were
represented in the report, including the viewpoints of Italian Americans,
Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanics, and White Americans.  A
story was considered to have included a certain ethnic perspective only if
a person from that ethnic group was actually quoted in the piece or if the
group's general opinions were summarized in the report.  A story was not
considered to have a particular ethnic perspective if that group was merely
named in the report without outlining the group's opinions.
Results
        The sample included thirteen stories about Columbus, nine that ran in the
New York Times and four published by the Boston Globe.  There were ten
stories about Lewis and Clark, four that appeared in the St. Louis
Post-Dispatch, four that appeared in the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald, and two
that ran in The Oregonian.
The Influence of Contemporary Political Environments On Media Coverage of
Historical Events
        Analysis of the coded data indicates that the Lewis and Clark coverage has
been far more positive than was the coverage of Columbus 10 years
ago.  Seven of the Lewis-and-Clark stories, or 70 percent of the sample,
were evaluated as portraying the explorers positively while three were
coded as neutral.  By contrast, only one Columbus story (8 percent of the
sample) was coded as positive while eight (61 percent) were neutral and
four (31 percent) were negative.  [See Figure 1.]
Figure 1

Evaluation
Columbus Stories
Lewis & Clark Stories
Positive
1
7
Neutral
8
3
Negative
4
0


        There are four reasons that explain why there is such a discrepancy in the
coverage.  First, there is a stark difference in the language and tone used
in the two samples.  The Lewis and Clark stories were lighter in nature
than the Columbus reports.  Lewis and Clark were called "the duo,"[32]
while other stories reported that the American values represented by Lewis
and Clark included "honesty and integrity and equality and fair
dealing,"[33] even though the Indians were treated anything but
fairly.[34]  Moreover, the newspapers portrayed the upcoming commemoration
as a festivity, with one report saying that "the nation celebrates the
200th anniversary" of the Lewis and Clark mission.[35]  The language in the
Columbus sample was much more controversial and negative.  For example, the
newspapers reported that Columbus was "largely ignored" in one event in
Spain, the country that funded Columbus's four trips to North
America.[36]  Reporters were also quick to point out that honoring Columbus
on his holiday had "its
The Influence of Contemporary Political Environments On Media Coverage of
Historical Events
advantages—and now, perhaps, disadvantages"—for local politicians.[37]  The
Columbus sample was also full of references such as this: "the Vatican has
taken pains to disassociate the Pope's arrival [in the Dominican Republic]
from Columbus,"[38] or observations that this was "one of the most highly
charged Columbus Days in recent history."[39]
        Second, the Columbus coverage was more negative because of how Columbus
was portrayed in the press.  The Italian explorer was presented as a
controversial figure or as a conqueror in nine of the 13 stories, or almost
70 percent of the sample, while he was presented as an explorer in only
four stories, or about 30 percent of the time.  He was never portrayed as a
hero.  In one story, for example, the Times reported that protesters
attended a Columbus Day parade holding signs that read "Genocide
Avenue."[40] By contrast, Lewis and Clark were portrayed as explorers in
nine of the ten stories and as heroes in one.  None of the stories in the
Lewis and Clark sample portrayed them as controversial figures or as
conquerors.  Instead, the stories about Lewis and Clark reported that the
two men "have always captured the national imagination,"[41] "completed a
brave voyage,"[42] and "blazed" a trail to the Pacific.[43]
        A third reason that explains the difference in coverage rests with the
story lines reported by the five newspapers.  The newspaper articles about
Columbus had story lines that naturally emphasized the negative elements of
the 500-year anniversary.  For example, of the thirteen stories written
about Columbus, seven (or 54 percent of the sample) had story lines that
featured scholars and other sources debating the Columbus legacy—a story
line that has not been pursued in the Lewis and Clark coverage so
far.  [See Figure 2.]  This difference in coverage is important because
stories that focused on
The Influence of Contemporary Political Environments On Media Coverage of
Historical Events
legacy tended to be more neutral or negative than other story lines.  Of
the seven stories that focused on legacy, four were neutral and three were
negative.  Likewise, one of the Columbus stories contained a story line
that featured protests and demonstrations against the holiday, another
category that is almost inherently negative.
Figure 2

Story Lines Covered
Columbus Stories
Lewis & Clark Stories
Number
of stories
Percentage of sample
Number
of stories
Percentage of sample
Anniversary Events
2
15%
1
10%
Protests & Demonstrations
1
7.7%
0
0%
Debate over Legacy
7
54%
0
0%
Peripheral Events
0
0%
4
40%
Business Concerns
3
23%
2
20%
Other
0
0%
3
30%

The debate over Columbus's legacy was reported mostly in the Times, which
published six of the seven stories in this category.  The debate became so
intense, in fact, that the Times felt compelled to ask whether Columbus was
"a good guy."[44]  In another piece, the newspaper lamented, "poor
Columbus."[45]  The debate over Columbus's legacy went beyond historians
and scholars and was portrayed as something that was sweeping across the
country.  In one article, the Times reported that while 64 percent of those
polled at the time considered Columbus a hero, his upcoming anniversary had
been rejected by cities like Berkeley, California, and Denver.[46]  Said
the Times:
To paradegoers around the country yesterday, Christopher Columbus was
distinguished, a navigational genius who did not care about conventional
wisdom and the idea that the earth was flat.  To protesters, he was
disgusting, a missionary who spoke of gold more than of God.[47]

The Influence of Contemporary Political Environments On Media Coverage of
Historical Events
        The Globe also got into the act, reporting that "history has come full
circle this year, as Native Americans, Latinos and African-Americans have
challenged the Columbus legacy."[48]  The debate over his legacy even made
its way to Spain, where the Seville World's Fair, which had been organized
as "the central event in Spain's celebration of the Columbus
quincentenary," passed "with barely a word of thanks to the man who made
the $2.2 billion extravaganza possible."[49]  Reported the Times:
  …in the end [Columbus] was an unwanted guest, an embarrassing reminder of
a great adventure that turned rapidly into a bloody conquest…Whatever his
merits, Spain concluded, Columbus should not be allowed to spoil the party.[50]

        There were only two stories in the Columbus sample that contained the
generally positive story line of "upcoming anniversary events."  By
contrast, the Lewis and Clark sample included story lines that lend
themselves to positive portrayals.  For example, one story focused on the
upcoming anniversary celebrations while four stories were about peripheral
events tied to but not directly part of the anniversary, such as the
construction of a memorial or the opening of a new museum exhibit.  There
were no articles in the Lewis and Clark sample that contained story lines
highlighting protests and demonstrations against the celebration.
        Finally, the fourth reason that Columbus was portrayed more negatively is
linked to the diversity of viewpoints expressed in the news reports—a
diversity that is missing from the Lewis and Clark coverage.  The
Native-American perspective was presented in six Columbus stories, or 46
percent of the sample, but in only one of the Lewis and Clark stories.  The
African-American viewpoint appeared in four Columbus stories, or 31 percent
of the sample, but in only one of the Lewis and Clark stories, or 10
percent.  The

The Influence of Contemporary Political Environments On Media Coverage of
Historical Events
White-American perspective was in eight Columbus stories, or 62 percent of
the sample, and in all ten Lewis and Clark reports.  [See Figure 3.]


Figure 3

Ethnic Group Represented
Columbus Stories
Lewis & Clark Stories
Number
of stories
Percentage of sample
Number
of stories
Percentage of sample
White American
8
62%
10
100%
Native American
6
46%
1
10%
Italian American
4
31%
0
0%
African American
4
31%
1
10%
Hispanic American
4
31%
0
0%

        One of the most telling statistics, however, is the comparison between
Native and Italian Americans in the Columbus coverage.  Native-American
sources were quoted in more stories about Columbus (46 percent)  than were
Italian Americans, whose views were present in only four stories, or 31
percent of the sample.  This is surprising given that both New York and
Boston have sizable Italian populations.  Moreover, when Italian Americans
were quoted, they were often on the defensive, such as when one Italian
American said: "Columbus is the last hero we have.  He discovered
America.  Why don't they leave the guy alone?"[51]
        The Columbus articles included direct quotes from Native Americans as well
as historical context that pointed out how Indians were treated.  For
example, in one piece about the Pope's arrival in Latin America as part of
the 500th anniversary, the Times

The Influence of Contemporary Political Environments On Media Coverage of
Historical Events
reported how church officials had praised an early friar in the Dominican
who had denounced the brutalities suffered by the natives.  Quoting from
the papers of the friar himself, the Times reported:
"I myself who am writing this and saw it and know most about it can hardly
believe that such was possible," the friar wrote in his diaries of the
destruction of the Taino Indian population, within 30 years of Columbus's
arrival …[52]

        The voices of Native Americans echoed throughout the coverage of the
Columbus anniversary.  One Seneca woman was quoted as saying:  "For Native
Americans, every Columbus Day is like salt in our wounds.  These are days
of mourning."[53]  Linda Coombs of the Wampanoag nation went further,
saying in one Times piece, "What Columbus did was worse than the
Holocaust."[54]
        Quotes like these are in stark contrast to coverage of Lewis and Clark,
where the Native-American perspective is virtually absent.  There was only
one story in the Lewis and Clark sample that included native perspectives,
and in this example the Indian viewpoint was muted and buried at the end of
the report.  The story, which ran in the World-Herald, quoted a Chippewa
woman saying that Native Americans see the 200th anniversary of Lewis and
Clark's expedition as a "commemoration rather than a celebration,"[55] a
far less controversial statement than the "Holocaust" analogy referenced
above.  Throughout the rest of the World-Herald story, the Native-American
viewpoint is presented from the perspective of a white scholar who had
portrayed William Clark as part of a historical re-enactment in St. Paul,
Nebraska.  The scholar, one of five re-enactors who entertained an audience
of 700 that day, explained that, to Indians, "actions speak louder than
words."  He added later that Lewis and Clark's goal was "to make a red

The Influence of Contemporary Political Environments On Media Coverage of
Historical Events
man into a white man," a statement that went unquestioned in the
report.[56]  Later, the story reported:
[Clark] disagreed with "those in General Jackson's
administration"—referring to Andrew Jackson, the president in Clark's last
year—who believed "that a military response is always what we should
demonstrate to the Indians, no matter what."
        Instead, Clark favored showing off white America's commercial might and
greater numbers alongside occasional military displays and
punishments.  That would convince Indians that "to oppose us, to stand up
and try to resist, is pointless, it's futile," he told his audience.[57]

        There is nothing wrong with portraying how white Americans viewed the
Indians during the early 1800s.  However, this story contains no
counterweight that explains how Native Americans may have felt at the time
or how they feel today about such attitudes.
        In most of the Lewis and Clark coverage, Native Americans were treated as
faceless props whose plight and suffering in the century after the
expedition does not register on the radar screen.  The Indians were
referred to simply as "native dwellers," while their clothes and religious
artifacts were called "American Indian garb."[58]  In stories about Lewis
and Clark's interactions with the natives, reports referred to the Indians
as if they were nothing more than part of the landscape for the Americans
to explore.  Reported the World-Herald:  "On August 3, 1804, Lewis and
Clark held a council with Indians."[59] While Lewis and Clark were
mentioned by name, the Native Americans were simply "Indians."  They didn't
even warrant an article—such as the Indians—which would have added at least
a semblance of distinction.  By referring to them only as "Indians," the
newspaper made these Native Americans even more anonymous.  One press
report did refer to the suffering of Native Americans in American history,
but this viewpoint was also expressed from a white source's
perspective.  "Native

The Influence of Contemporary Political Environments On Media Coverage of
Historical Events
Americans can say 'Lewis and Clark was the beginning of the end for us,'"
the source was quoted as saying, "but [President Thomas] Jefferson's intent
was genuine."[60]
        Native Americans were also belittled in the Lewis and Clark reports, which
reported that one upcoming anniversary celebration would feature a
"tomahawk throwing" contest.[61]  At the same time, white Americans were
portrayed as heroes.  For example, in one article about John Colter, a
member of the Lewis and Clark expedition, the Post-Dispatch pointed out
that Colter "is famed for outrunning the Blackfoot Indians naked."[62]
Conclusions
        The results of the content analysis provide an answer to the first of the
paper's two research questions.  The coverage of the upcoming Lewis and
Clark anniversary has been far more positive than was the news coverage of
the Columbus anniversary.  This is due mostly to the fact that Native
Americans had a stronger voice in the Columbus stories than they have had
in the Lewis and Clark reports.  In addition, journalists writing about the
Columbus event focused on story lines that were much more sensitive and
negative in nature, such as the debate over the explorer's legacy or the
demonstrations that were planned to protest the Columbus Day
festivities.  The Lewis and Clark stories have focused mostly on the
upcoming celebration, with most of the reports portraying the two men as
explorers rather than exploiters or conquerors.  Journalists have used
mostly white American sources for these reports, with only one direct
reference to a Native American.
        The second research question—whether the contemporary political and social
environment influenced the coverage—is harder to answer directly.  The
content analysis by itself cannot draw a direct link between the news
coverage and the current political
The Influence of Contemporary Political Environments On Media Coverage of
Historical Events
climate.  However, there is at least circumstantial evidence to suggest
that the tone of the coverage—negative for Columbus, positive for Lewis and
Clark—was impacted by the political and social climate in which each story
was reported.  We know, for example, that the Columbus anniversary came at
a time of renewed interest in Native-American culture and history while the
Lewis and Clark celebration is coming on the heels of the September 11
terrorist attacks, a time of vulnerability when Americans are arguably
looking for heroes, new and old.  Past research has shown a direct
correlation between how history is remembered and the needs of the present
time.[63]  Moreover, Crew has reminded us that historical understandings
are in a constant state of flux as new evidence comes to light.[64]
        Given all this, it seems fair to conclude that Columbus received harsher
coverage because reporters, like Americans in general, had a greater
awareness of Native Americans, were more willing to quote multiple
perspectives in their news reports, and were more willing to question the
legacy of a man whose explorations led to the conquest of native
cultures.  By contrast, journalists today—some of whom have expressed
concern about looking unpatriotic—appear less willing to challenge the
dominant paradigm of Lewis and Clark at a point in history when Americans
are feeling vulnerable and looking for heroes.  The adversity Lewis and
Clark faced as they crossed the harsh environment of the West seems
similar, as President Bush has implied, to the adversity that today's
America faces in its war against terrorism.
        Still, further research would be needed to draw a more definitive
connection than this paper can provide.  Additional research could consider
other factors to explain why Columbus was treated more negatively—such as
looking at whether Columbus's higher
The Influence of Contemporary Political Environments On Media Coverage of
Historical Events
historical status may have subjected him to more intense scrutiny.  In
addition, this content analysis could provide a more thorough picture of
the coverage if its sample size was larger, something that might be
achieved in the near future when Lewis and Clark coverage increases in
response to the actual anniversary.


[1]  Spencer R. Crew, "Who Owns History? History in the Museum," The
History Teacher, 30 (November 1996): 85-86.
[2]  Samuel Eliot Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher
Columbus (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1942), 670, 671.
[3]  Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States, 1492-Present,
paperback version (New York: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 1999), 1-22.
[4]  David Thelen, "Memory and American History," The Journal of American
History, 75 (March 1989): 1117.
[5]  Ibid, 1127.
[6]  T.J. Jackson Lears, "The Concept of Cultural Hegemony: Problems and
Possibilities, The American Historical Review, 90 (June 1985): 572.
[7]  Betty Houchin Winfield, Barbara Friedman and Vivara Trisnadi, "History
as the Metaphor Through Which the Current World is Viewed: British and
American Newspapers' Uses of History Following the 11 September 2001
Terrorist Attacks," Journalism Studies, 3, no. 2 (2002): 291-292.
[8]  Maxwell E. McCombs and Donald L. Shaw, "The Agenda-Setting Function of
Mass Media," Public Opinion Quarterly, 36 (Summer 1972): 176-187.
[9]  Lears, "The Concept of Cultural Hegemony," 572.
[10]  Steve M. Barkin and Michael Gurevitch, "Out of Work and On the Air:
Television News of Unemployment," Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 4
(March 1987).
[11]  Shanto Iyengar and Adam Simon, "News Coverage of the Gulf Crisis and
Public Opinion: A Study of Agenda-Setting, Priming, and Framing,"
Communications Research, 20 (June 1993): 381.
[12]  William A. Gamson, "News as Framing," American Behavioral Scientist,
33 (November/December 1989): 161.
[13]  Dietram A. Scheufele, "Framing as a Theory of Media Effects," Journal
of Communication, 49 (March 1999): 115.
[14]  Ibid, 116.
[15]  Crew, "Who Owns History?" 84.
[16]  Michael Schudson, Watergate in American Memory: How We Remember,
Forget, and Reconstruct the Past (New York: BasicBooks, 1992), 205.
[17]  Thelen, "Memory and American History," 1118.
[18]  Harry W. Haines, "'What Kind of War?': An Analysis of the Vietnam
Veterans Memorial," Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 3 (March 1986).
[19]  Theodore O. Prosise, "The Collective Memory of the Atomic Bombings
Misrecognized as Objective History: The Case of the Public Opposition to
the National Air and Space Museum's Atom Bomb Exhibit," Western Journal of
Communication, 62 (Summer 1998): 316.
[20]  Ibid, 338.
[21]  Brian D. Johnson, "Storm on the Range," Maclean's, 13 April 1992, 71.
[22]  The books included Black Hills, White Justice by Edward Lazarus, In
the Spirit of Crazy Horse by Peter Matthiessen, and The Lance and the
Shield: The Life and Times of Sitting Bull by Robert M. Utley.
[23]  Catherine Watson, "Dances With Wolves: Fans are Moved to Visit Where
Kevin Danced," Star Tribune of Minneapolis, 19 July 1992, 1G; Jayne Clark,
"Hit Movie Can Spark Tourist Boom Where it was Filmed," The Gazette of
Montreal, 10 April 1993, F7.
[24]  Mitchell Smyth, "Custer Loses Again: His Name Comes Off Montana
Battlefield," Toronto Star, 29 June 1991, H2.
[25]  Brian D. Johnson with Diane Turbide and Pamela Young, "Tribal
Tribulations," Maclean's, 19 February 1990, 52.
[26]  Scott Lindlaw (The Associated Press), "Bush Opens Lewis and Clark
Celebration," The Record of Bergen County, New Jersey, 4 July 2002, A06.
[27]  Bill Murphy, "A Special Salute: Holiday to Honor Fallen Evokes
Post-9/11 Patriotism," Houston Chronicle, 27 May 2002, A35.
[28]  Dave Moniz, "Pilots Show Uniform Response to 9/11," USA Today, 3 June
2002, 8A.
[29]  The Associated Press, "War Film Rides Wave of Patriotism," Ottawa
Citizen, 4 March 2002, B2.
[30]  Ted Gup, "Washington, New Climate, Old Culture: Working in a Wartime
Capital: An Uneasy Quiet and a Sense of Mission," Columbia Journalism
Review, September-October 2002, 20.
[31]  Ibid.
[32]  Diane Toroian, "Museum Previews Explorers' 'Real Stuff,'" St. Louis
Post-Dispatch, 31 October 2002, A1.
[33]  Todd von Kampen, "Chautauqua Offers Plains Speaking," Omaha
World-Herald, 13 July 2002, 1A.
[34]  Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (New York: Washington Square
Press, 1981); Edward Lazarus, Black Hills, White Justice: The Sioux Nation
Versus the United States, 1775 to the Present (New York: HarperCollins
Publishers, 1991).
[35]  Julie Anderson, "Park Exhibits to Honor Lewis, Clark," Omaha
World-Herald, 17 July 2002, 5B.
[36]  Alan Riding, "Seville Journal: It Was a Nice Fair (Just Don't Mention
Columbus)," New York Times, 13 October 1992, A4.
[37]  Michael Janofsky, "Voyage on Fifth Avenue Brings Out Politicians,"
New York Times, 13 October 1992, B3.
[38]  Howard French, "Pope Arrives in Dominican Republic," New York Times,
10 October 1992, 4.
[39]  Kim Blanton and Bob Hohler, "Merchants' Defiance, Confusion Mark the
Holiday," Boston Globe, 13 October 1992, Metro/Region, 1.
[40]  James Barron, "He's the Explorer/Exploiter You Just Have to
Love/Hate," New York Times, 12 October 1992, B7.
[41]  Bill Graves, "Council for Lewis, Clark Gala Hits Wall," The
Oregonian, 20 July 2002, A01.
[42]  Michael Kelly, "'Setting Record Straight' on Bluff," Omaha
World-Herald, 23 May 2002, 1B.
[43]  Bill Graves, "Lewis, Clark Bicentennial Group Retools," The
Oregonian, 2 August 2002, C01.
[44]  Barron, "He's the Explorer/Exploiter."
[45]  Riding, "It Was a Nice Fair."
[46]  Barron, "He's the Explorer/Exploiter."
[47]  Ibid.
[48]  Patti Hartigan, "1492 and our Voyages of Rediscovery," Boston Globe,
11 October 1992, B1.
[49]  Riding, "It Was a Nice Fair."
[50]  Ibid.
[51]  Fox Butterfield, "Columbus Runs into Storm in Boston," New York
Times, 11 October 1992, 18.
[52]  Howard French, "Pope's Mass at Dominican Monument to Columbus," New
York Times, 12 October 1992, B7.
[53]  Sam Dillon, "Schools Growing Harsher in Scrutiny of Columbus," New
York Times, 12 October 1992, A1.
[54]  Butterfield, "Columbus Runs into Storm in Boston."
[55]  Von Kampen, "Chautauqua Offers Plains Speaking."
[56]  Ibid.
[57]  Ibid.
[58]  Toroian, "Museum Previews Explorers' 'Real Stuff.'"
[59]  Kelly, "'Setting Record Straight' on Bluff."
[60]  Ibid.
[61]  Toroian, "Museum Previews Explorers' 'Real Stuff.'"
[62]  Suzanne Hill, "Area Man Explored West With Lewis and Clark, But Now
He's Lost: Historians, Family Are at Odds Over Site of Colter's Grave," St.
Louis Post-Dispatch, 5 August 2002, West Post, 1.
[63]  Schudson, Watergate in American Memory; Thelen, "Memory and American
History."
[64]  Crew, "Who Owns History?"
Selected Bibliography


Ambrose, Stephen E.  Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson,
and the         Opening of the American West.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.

Baker, William D., and John R. O'Neal.  "Patriotism or Opinion Leadership?:
The Nature and  Origins of the 'Rally 'Round the Flag' Effect." Journal of
Conflict Resolution 47  (October 2001): 661-687.

Barkin, Steve M., and Michael Gurevitch.  "Out of Work and On the Air:
Television News of      Unemployment." Critical Studies in Mass Communication 4
(March 1987): 1-20.

Brown, Dee.  Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the
American West. New      York: Washington Square Press, 1970, 1981.

Butzer, Karl W.  "The Americas Before and After 1492: An Introduction to
Current         Geographical Research." Annals of the Association of American
Geographers 82  (September 1992): 345-368.

Crew, Spencer R.  "Who Owns History?: History in the Museum." The History
Teacher 30      (November 1996): 83-88.

Gamson, William A.  "News as Framing." American Behavioral Scientist
33      (November/December 1989): 157-161.

Gans, Herbert J.  Deciding What's News: A Study of CBS Evening News, NBC
Nightly News,   Newsweek and Time. New York: Vintage Books, 1980. Original
edition, New York:      Pantheon Books, 1979.

Gup, Ted.  "Washington, New Climate, Old Culture: Working in a Wartime
Capital: An Uneasy      Quiet and a Sense of Mission." Columbia Journalism
Review, September/October 2002,         20.

Haines, Harry W.  "'What Kind of War?': An Analysis of the Vietnam Veterans
Memorial."      Critical Studies in Mass Communication 3 (March 1986): 1-20.

Iyengar, Shanto, and Adam Simon.  "News Coverage of the Gulf Crisis and
Public Opinion: A       Study of Agenda-Setting, Priming, and Framing."
Communication Research 20 (June         1993): 365-383.

Lazarus, Edward.  Black Hills, White Justice: The Sioux Nation Versus the
United States, 1775     to the Present. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1991.


Lears, T.J. Jackson.  "The Concept of Cultural Hegemony: Problems and
Possibilities." The     American Historical Review 90 (June 1985): 567-593.

McCombs, Maxwell E., and Donald L. Shaw.  "The Agenda-Setting Function of
Mass Media."    Public Opinion Quarterly 36 (Summer 1972): 176-187.

Morison, Samuel Eliot.  Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher
Columbus. Boston:       Little, Brown and Company, 1942.

Prosise, Theodore O.  "The Collective Memory of the Atomic Bombings
Misrecognized as                Objective History: The Case of the Public Opposition to
the National Air and Space              Museum's Atom Bomb Exhibit." Western Journal
of Communication 62 (Summer 1998):      316-347.

Scheufele, Dietram A.  "Framing as a Theory of Media Effects."  Journal of
Communication 49                (March 1999): 103-122.

Schudson, Michael.  Watergate in American Memory: How We Remember, Forget,
and                     Reconstruct the Past. New York: BasicBooks, 1992.

Thelen, David.  "Memory and American History." The Journal of American
History 75 (March               1989): 1117-1129.

Winfield, Betty Houchin, and Barbara Friedman and Vivara
Trisnadi.  "History as the Metaphor             Through Which the Current World is
Viewed: British and American Newspapers' Uses of        History Following the 11
September 2001 Terrorist Attacks." Journalism Studies 3, no. 2  (2002):
289-300.

Addendum


Variable Number Column  Category Names and Codes                        Descriptions

V01                     1-2             Story ID Number

V02                     3               Newspaper

1.  New York Times
                                        2.  Boston Globe
                                        3.  St. Louis Post-Dispatch
                                        4.  The Oregonian
                                        5.  Omaha World-Herald

V03                     4               Placement of Story

1. Front Page
2. First Page of Metro Section
3. Inside Front Section
4. Inside Metro Section

V04                     5               Topic of Story

                                        1.  Christopher Columbus's journey
                                        2.  Columbus Day 500th anniversary
                                        3.  Lewis and Clark expedition
                                        4.  Upcoming 200th anniversary of Lewis and Clark
                                        5.  Other

V05                     6               Main Story Line

                                        1.  Anniversary events (planning of or coverage of parade)
                                        2.  Protests and demonstrations
                                        3.  Debate over legacy
                                        4.  Peripheral events planned as part of anniversary
                                        5.  Business concerns regarding the anniversary
                                        6.  Other
 Variable Number        Column  Category Names and Codes                        Descriptions


V06                     7               Primary Focus of Story

                                        1.  Columbus as explorer/discoverer
                                        2.  Columbus as conqueror/exploiter
                                        3.  Columbus as undisputed hero
                                        4.  Columbus as controversial figure
                                        5.  Lewis and Clark as explorers
                                        6.  Lewis and Clark as conquerors/exploiters
                                        7.  Lewis and Clark as undisputed heroes
                                        8.  Lewis and Clark as controversial figures

V07                     8               Evaluation of the Story

                                        1.  Positive
                                        2.  Neutral
                                        3.  Negative

                                        Ethnic Perspectives included in the story

                                        Ethnic Group            Yes             No

V08                     9               Italian American        1               2
V09                     10              Native American 1               2
V10                     11              African American        1               2
V11                     12              Hispanic American       1               2
V12                     13              White American  1               2
V13                     14              Other                   1               2




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