The Road to War: Breaking the Code
Denise St. Clair
Please address correspondence to:
Denise St. Clair
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
University of Wisconsin-Madison
5009 Vilas Hall
821 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53706-1497
Phone: 608.262.0535 Fax: 608.262.1361
E-mail: [log in to unmask]
Submitted to the Critical and Cultural Studies Division, AEJMC - April 1, 2003
St. Clair and Tajima are doctoral students in the School of Journalism at
the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This paper was completed as part of
AMP: Analyzing Media Perspectives, a media literacy group organized and run
by the authors of this paper.
This paper evaluates six newspaper articles from six newspapers around the
world to assess through the use of framing analysis whether the coverage of
President Bush's September 13, 2002 speech to the United Nations urging the
world to go to war with Iraq represents the dominant ideology of the
country in which the paper is produced. This study builds on Entman's work
on framing, specifically in regard to the reliance on official sources.
Everywhere a person turns, the media are there to supply thoughts, ideas,
opinions, and information. Newspapers are considered one of society's
primary sources of current events. A "paper of record," is history in the
writing. Yet, are newspapers simply cataloging history? Are they simply
reporting what happens objectively, authoritatively? If they are not, if
there is something more behind the coverage of current events found in
newspapers, what does this say about the information that people receive
from such esteemed news sources? Perhaps there is more to news and
newspapers than is immediately apparent.
Through further investigation it becomes clear that newspapers are not
just sources of information, newspapers (and media in general) are consumer
products. They are also a product of the ideological environments in which
they exist and the social context in which they are produced. Understanding
these realities allows a reader to see that newspapers from around the
globe are covering news in a manner that best suits the ideological and
social realities of their home country's leadership and, thus, what they
perceive to be the interests of the majority of their readers. This is
exemplified by the current situation in Iraq.
Since September 11, 2001 terrorism has been the primary focus of the
United States government. Soon after the ensuing war on terror began, the
government began to turn its focus from Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden to
Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Questions about their chemical and biological
weapons programs began to surface, and then concerns about the Iraqi
government's affiliation with al Qaeda appeared in the media. In early
April 2001, President George W. Bush began to discuss the need to force a
regime change in Iraq.
All of this culminated in a speech to the United Nations Security Council
on September 12, 2002, where President Bush challenged the world to take
responsibility and act against Iraq. The President's strong words took the
world by storm and newspapers worldwide covered the speech. An interesting
question is how did different nations' newspapers cover the same event?
And, why should there be any difference in this coverage if newspapers are
simply objectively reporting the "truth" as it happens? An investigation of
this news coverage shows that there coverage does vary, and suggests that
there are ideological reasons this is so.
Framing - A lens
Framing theory can help to show how a dominant reading can be accessed,
and it illustrates why understanding the dominant or preferred reading of a
text is so important, particularly in terms of news coverage. Framing is a
theory used not only in communications but in a number of fields throughout
the social sciences and humanities. Despite this fact, there is not yet an
agreed standard or paradigm, particularly in communications.
Robert M. Entman has recognized this and has worked to develop a starting
point from which communications can build a clear understanding and
operationalization of framing. According to Entman (1993),
Framing essentially involves selection and salience. To frame is to select
some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a
communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem
definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment
recommendation for the item described. Typically frames diagnose, evaluate,
and prescribe.Frames, then, define problems.diagnose causes.make moral
judgments.and suggest remedies (p.52).
Salience means "making a piece of information more noticeable, meaningful,
or memorable to audiences" (Entman, 1993, p. 53). Framing involves the
communicator, the receiver, and the culture. Whether consciously or not, a
communicator, or journalist, provides salience to some ideas over others.
Readers then look to these texts and walk away with the ideas that are most
salient, and they understand these based on the understanding they have of
words and symbols within their cultural sphere. Here framing involves a
reciprocal relationship between the reader and the text - it is a two-way
exercise. Framing is also defined more by what is left out than what is
included in a text (Edelman, 1993; Sniderman et al., 1991). Framing can
provide salience to one set of ideas or facts and diminish the salience, or
eliminate altogether, others.
In terms of a dominant or preferred reading, framing "provides an
operational definition for the notion of dominant meaning" (Entman, 1993,
p. 56). Readers approach a text with their own sets of ideas and beliefs -
their schemata. "To identify a meaning as dominant or preferred is to
suggest a particular framing of the situation that is most heavily
supported by the text and is congruent with the most common audience
schemata" (Entman, 1993, p. 56). Therefore, framing is about locating the
preferred reading in terms of what most people would see or understand from
reading a text. This is not to say that everyone would obtain this meaning
from the text, but that the majority of readers would. A number of studies
have suggested that, though some readers have the ability to negotiate a
text through their outside knowledge or other information, most average
readers do not possess the tools they need to read against the dominant
frames, either in terms of needed information or cognitive ability;
therefore, the average reader will understand the text only in terms of the
dominant frame (Kahneman & Tversky, 1984; Iyengar, 1991; Zaller, 1992).
As readers are generally without the needed tools to combat dominant
frames, so are journalists. As a result, journalists are not able to work
against the dominant frame and provide objective, balanced news coverage.
Coverage is shaped by "media manipulators," including professional practice
and editors (Entman, 1993, pp. 56-57). Controlling framing means having
power - power to shape public opinion and inform action. Zaller (1992)
feels that political elites control framing and they can thus determine
public opinion. Framing allows those in power to determine what the public
sees as truth.
Entman (1991) helped to put news framing into context and explain the
nuances and importance of framing in a study of news coverage of both the
1983 Korean Air Lines and 1988 Iran Air incidents. Entman (1991) explains
that "news frames are constructed from and embodied in the keywords,
metaphors, concepts, symbols, and visual images emphasized in a news
narrative" (p. 7). Through these devices, a salient idea is made easier to
understand and easier to remember than other ideas. As Zaller (1992) notes,
political elites tend to be in control of frames, or as Entman notes, they
tend to "sponsor" frames (Entman, 1991, p.7), due to the fact that,
especially in terms of foreign and/or breaking news, official sources are
the only available sources.
Because readers do not have the tools they need to combat frames and
journalists are generally directed by practice, policy, and elite sources,
it becomes very difficult for readers to form their own interpretations of
the events in question. When an event is covered consistently across news
sources pushing one dominant frame, "politically impressive majorities will
come to congruent understandings.[thus] the dominant frame seems most
likely to affect political outcomes" (Entman, 1991, p. 8).
Entman (1991) sees five traits of media texts that create frames. One is
importance, the ability to "enlarge" an idea to draw attention to it or
"shrink" an idea to diminish the coverage of it (p. 9). The second trait is
agency, which explains who is responsible for a given action (p. 11).
Entman (1991) shows that headlines are often a good sign of agency. Next,
there is identification. Identification discusses who is affected by an
event (p. 11), or how the victims are represented (p. 15). Fourth there is
categorization, which involves labeling incidents, "which [tend] to place
them in categories that conventionally either elicit or omit moral
evaluation" (p. 18). Finally, there is generalization. Generalization
involves reducing an event to some core idea or concept (p. 20).
Framing rests of making one idea seem "natural". Entman (1991) explains
that "Comparison reveals that such [word choices that create what is
accepted as a natural idea] are not inevitable or unproblematic but rather
are central to the way the news frame helps establish the literally `common
sense' (i.e., widespread) interpretation of events" (p. 6). Therefore, the
dominant, hegemonic reading comes across as "truth" to the average reader.
Interesting, as well, when looking at framing is that it sees a problem
with polysemy. Entman (1991) shows that polysemy does not mean that a
reader will often (or ever) have the ability to discern anything beyond the
dominant reading, because, as discussed earlier, the average reader does
not have the tools to critique a text the way a researcher may. As such,
polysemy does not mean that the average reader will be able to see all
sides of a given story when the dominant frame pervades the majority of
media sources (p. 22). Texts are inevitably polysemic, but because dominant
frames are so omnipresent, the majority of readers will tend to accept the
dominant frame and oppositional ideas will be pushed aside. This, in
Entman's (1991) assessment, means that framing must be studied further in
terms of audience autonomy (p. 24).
Entman (1991) also believes that framing theory needs to give more
attention to media autonomy. His study of the Korean Air Lines and Iran Air
incidents showed that there was an administrative dominance in news frames
- the American presidential administration at each moment dictated the
dominant news frame. Entman (1991) would like to see more studies to show
if in other situations the same scenario develops (pp. 24-25).
Framing is a very important concept because it shows how elites can exert
power over the public, and how the ideas of those in power can become the
basis of public opinion. This is a critical concept when analyzing news
coverage of foreign events, events that the average reader will likely only
come in contact with through the media. Assessing the frame of a text can
provide an insight into the role that media texts play in society and in
A Note on Subjectivity
Analyzing frame is inherently subjective. The reader/analyst comes to this
lens with her own ideology and understandings. From here it is the job of
the reader/analyst to use their vantage point to decode meaning and frame
and justify their conclusions. Although there are tools that can be used to
arrive at common or more accepted dominant readings, it is always possible
that another reader will see an alternative.
The Analysis of News Coverage
To attempt to begin to understand the nature of news coverage of a
potential war with Iraq, it is necessary to look at coverage comparatively
to see both what was reported in each paper and what was excluded, and thus
get a better sense of each individual text. As such, six newspapers were
selected for this study. For a complete list of papers and information
regarding location, ownership, and circulation, see table 1.
These six newspapers were selected in an attempt to sample news and ideas
from different regions of the world on an issue that is in some way
pertinent to each of the nations informed by these newspapers. To evaluate
this issue, front page coverage of a potential war with Iraq from September
13, 2002 was analyzed. This is the day after President Bush addressed the
United Nations General Assembly asking the world to take a stand against
Saddam Hussein. In total, six articles were analyzed, one from each newspaper.
To understand the texts in this study in terms of ideology, social
context, and dominant meaning, it is important to first get a basic
understanding of the policy toward Iraq and the relationship with the
United States, the primary source in this coverage, of each country
represented in this analysis.
Israel and the United States have a history of strong, positive relations.
However, Israel has noted that they believe that President George W. Bush
is the greatest ally they have ever had in the White House (Statements by
US President George Bush., 2002). The Israeli government strongly supports
the United States' position on Iraq. The Israelis see a link between their
Palestinian problem and the Iraqi regime. They have reported terrorist
connections between the two (ISA uncovers Iraqi supported Palestinian
terrorist cell, 2001). Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu echoed the
sentiments of Ariel Sharon's current Israeli government when he stated,
"The international terrorist network is.based on regimes: on Iraq, on Iran,
on Syria, on Taliban Afghanistan, Yasser Arafat's Palestinian authority,
and several other Arab regimes such as the Sudan. These regimes are the
ones that harbor the terrorist groups." (Statement by Former Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu., 2001). The Israeli government would like to see Saddam
Hussein taken from power.
The United States' policy toward Iraq has been a subject of world wide
debate and is the subject of texts analyzed here. Recently, President
George W. Bush made a speech when he signed the Congressional resolution
allowing the use of force in Iraq. Regarding Iraq, President Bush had this
The Iraqi regime is a serious and growing threat to peace. On the commands
of a dictator, the regime is armed with biological and chemical weapons,
possesses ballistic missiles, promotes international terror and seeks
nuclear weapons. The same dictator has a history of mass murder, striking
other nations without warning; of intense hatred for America; and of
contempt for the demands of the civilized world (President Signs Iraq
The United States position toward Iraq is clear and direct - Iraq is a
threat to national security, the Gulf regions' security, and to the world
The United Kingdom has strongly supported the United States' position on
Iraq from the beginning. In late September 2002, Prime Minister Tony Blair
presented a dossier to a special session of the British House of Commons
outlining the threat of Saddam Hussein. It spoke of Iraq's chemical and
biological weapons and weapons of mass destruction (Ensor, 2002). This
document was the first attempt at providing evidence to support the United
States/United Kingdom policy to take issue with Iraq. The US and UK have
shown great solidarity on this issue.
China feels strongly that the situation with Iraq should be dealt firmly
within the United Nations framework, and is against any hasty decisions to
rush to war. Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan stated, "China has always held
that regional conflicts should be resolved in accordance with the purposes
and principles of the UN Charter, and force should not be used as a threat
in disputes between nations" (UN's Role in Solving Iraqi Issue Emphasized,
2002). China and the United States have had positive relations of late,
largely aided by China's rise to preferred nation's status in terms of US
Pakistan holds a precarious position in this situation. For many years
Pakistan supported the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which maintained
close links to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Yet, after the terrorist
attacks of September 11, 2001, Pakistan sided with the Bush Administration
and has since come to play a crucial role in the United States' war on
terror. Recently, Islamist parties have won power in the Pakistan political
system, a reality many attribute to the growing resentment of US terror
policies and their role in the country and in the region. President Pervez
Musharraf has pledged to continue supporting the US and their efforts in an
attempt to maintain security in the region, but this is likely at the
expense of the wishes of the Pakistani people (Peters, 2002; Ahrari, 2001).
Saudi Arabia and the United States have been allies for decades. Saudi
Arabia supported the 1991 Gulf War and allowed the United States to use the
country as a base. However, they clearly stated that they do not want the
US to use force against Iraq, that they oppose ousting Iraqi President
Saddam Hussein. They have also repeatedly stated publicly that the US
cannot use its land or air space in a fight (Where they stand on Iraq:
Saudi Arabia, 2002). The United States is not interested in harming its
relations with Saudi Arabia, a nation that is critical to OPEC and American
oil interests. Their disapproval this time around creates an interesting
situation for both countries. The Saudis support the United States in
business and often in politics. But the Saudis are Arab and they are
Muslim, a reality that is often more important in situations such as this.
Understanding how these governments stand on the issue of a potential war
with Iraq and the relations they have with the United States informs an
analysis of the news coverage evaluated here.
The day of analysis, September 13, 2002, was the day after President Bush
spoke at the UN; therefore, each paper is analyzing the speech and is often
using quotes from it to do so. However, not each newspaper did so in the
same way. Representations of ideology and socio/political context are
evident in each. In this analysis, the texts illustrated four primary
issues and representations. Thus, I specifically evaluated how the texts
represent Iraq and Saddam Hussein, the United States and George W. Bush,
the United Nations, and Iraqi voices.
Iraq and Saddam Hussein
In the Jerusalem Post Saddam Hussein is portrayed as enemy. In the
article, it is noted that Bush spoke of "danger imposed by Iraq."
Steinberg, the article's author, paraphrased how Bush discussed "the
dangers posed by Saddam Hussein's reign of terror and tyranny." The article
explains that Bush "recited Saddam's defiance.," and that Bush explained
"the cruel repression of Iraqi citizens and minorities." Also, the article
noted that Bush's speech linked Hussein with the Taliban regime in
Afghanistan and Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority under the single
framework of "`outlaw groups and regimes that accept no law or morality.'"
All of these references portray Hussein as an evil enemy. Overwhelmingly
the discussion is of the man, not the country. Once, the country is
considered a "danger," but so is the man. The man has been responsible for
"terror," "tyranny," and "repression". Only once in reference to Iraq or
Hussein are the President's own words used in the article. The majority of
the language used is that of the journalist. This language is derogatory
Also interesting is that the article is sure to point out the similarities
between Hussein and Arafat, another Arab nemesis of Israel. Framing
discusses the importance of understanding what is said in reference to what
is not said. Left out of this article is the fact that Bush also discussed
the need to find a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, which includes
the creation of a free and democratic Palestinian state. These are issues
key to Israel, but not necessarily in the interest of the dominant
ideology. Israel has been avoiding an equitable Palestinian state.
The article says that Bush linked the Taliban and Arafat directly. Bush
did say that ".our principles and our security are challenged today by
outlaw groups and regimes that accept no law of morality and have no limit
to their violent ambitions" (Bush, 2002), but the only regime or group
mentioned by name following this is that of Iraq and Saddam Hussein.
Nowhere is Arafat mentioned. Therefore, points have been left out and
included are references that make Hussein evil and Arafat evil by
extension. The journalist and the paper make this link because it serves
Israel's dominant ideological position, not because it is an accurate
account of Bush's remarks.
In the New York Times, Bush's own words are used more frequently, though
reference to Iraq and Hussein are not limited to them. For instance, the
article notes how Bush stated, "Saddam Hussein's regime is a grave and
gathering danger." And, how Bush explained that "In one place and in one
regime, we find all these dangers in their most lethal and aggressive
forms." Bush is quoted as saying,
Tens of thousands of political opponents and ordinary citizens have been
subjected to arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, summary execution, and
torture by beating and burning, electric shock, starvation, mutilation and
rape.Wives are tortured in front of their husbands, children in the
presence of their parents - and all of these horrors are concealed from the
world by the apparatus of a totalitarian state.
Bush states, "To assume this regime's good faith is to bet the lives of
millions and the peace of the world in a reckless gamble." The article
notes that Bush stated, "A regime that has lost its legitimacy will also
loose its power." Also, as in the Jerusalem Post article, Bush is quoted
saying, "In one place and in one regime we find all these dangers in their
most lethal and aggressive forms." A senior official was also quoted as
saying "Iraq is an outlaw regime."
Beyond Bush's own words, the article's authors, Sanger and Bumiller, state
that the speech was an "indictment of a decade of Iraqi crimes." They note
that the White House report on Iraq was entitled "A Decade of Deception and
Defiance." And, that "[Bush] went to great lengths to paint a vivid picture
of Mr. Hussein as an enemy of civilization."
Many exact quotes from President Bush are used. All paint Hussein again as
enemy and villain, and the state of Iraq as dangerous. The quotes used in
this article are specific and graphic. In one quote the exact atrocities
that Saddam Hussein's regime is alleged to have carried out are listed. The
reader sees terms like "execution," "torture," "electric shock,"
"starvation," "mutilation," and "rape". These terms are not only vivid but
emotionally charged. Hearing of a man that commits or allows mutilation and
rape to be committed, and who lets his people be starved and tortured, can
only be evil. Especially if he lets these atrocities happen in front of
families. Through Bush's words, the reprinting of this graphic sentence
shows that the newspaper is willing to use emotionally driven language to
illustrate who and what Saddam Hussein is in the American opinion. Here
there are victims - the Iraqi people and the world - and a clear aggressor
- Saddam Hussein.
Not only are the quotes that are used creating Hussein as enemy and
villain, but the commentary made by the article's authors are also pushing
this image. Bush did not call Hussein "an enemy of civilization," the
newspaper did. He also did not specifically refer to Iraq's actions as
"crimes," as the newspaper does. Using the words "enemy" and "crimes"
further illustrates Hussein and Iraq as evil and menacing.
A shorter article, the one in the Financial Times, does not have as much
space to dedicate to the issue. However, there are significantly fewer
references to Iraq and Hussein specifically, even when taking length into
account. Bush's words are used twice. He is quoted saying Iraq is a "grave
and gathering danger." And that ".a regime that has lost its legitimacy
will loose its power." Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United
Nations, is quoted telling the UN that they have a ".duty to
act.when.`faced [with] a grave threat to world peace.'"
There are no comments from the article's authors, Harding and Hoyos,
regarding Hussein or Iraq. Also interesting is that one of the comments
about Iraq being a "grave threat" is from Annan; Bush is not the only
source. Here, there are references to the country, not the man. The country
is a "danger" and without "legitimacy," but the man is not characterized.
The article from the China Daily is from a Chinese news agency out of
Xinhua. There are only two references to Iraq and Saddam Hussein. One is
from Kofi Annan who stated, "If Iraq's defiance continues, the Security
Council must face its responsibilities." The second is from the author,
".Bush demanded the UN enforce its own resolutions to force Saddam to disarm."
The first thing to notice is that Bush's own words are not used. Instead,
there is the concern of the Secretary General stating Iraq's "defiance".
Iraq is the aggressor, they have agency and have done wrong. But the
newspaper states that it is "Saddam" that President Bush is "forcing" to
disarm. It is the man, not the country. It is an issue between two men.
Hussein is not the only aggressor here. Bush is doing some "forcing" as well.
Dawn produced an article from their staff writers, but no specific author
is named. Many quotes in Bush's own words are used. It is an article closer
in length to the New York Times piece. Again, the reader is told that Bush
felt Iraq was a "grave and gathering danger." And that the ".[Security
Council] resolutions are being unilaterally subverted by the Iraqi regime."
The paper noted that Bush said Iraq must end all "illicit trade." Dawn
points out that Bush pointed to the use of force, "Our action will be
unavoidable and a regime that has lost its legitimacy will loose its
power." Bush was also quoted as saying, "If an emboldened regime were to
supply [chemical or biological] weapons to terrorist allies, then the
attacks of Sept 11 would be a prelude to far greater horrors." Again
weapons are referred to when Bush stated, "we may be completely certain he
has nuclear weapons when, God forbid, he uses one.[Iraq will] be able to
build a nuclear weapon within a year.Iraq likely maintains stockpiles of
.chemical agents." And, terrorism is emphasized, "our greatest fear is that
terrorist will find a shortcut to their mad ambitions when an outlaw regime
supplies them with the technologies to kill on a massive scale." References
are made to the Iraqi victims when Bush discussed that the Iraqi people had
suffered too long in "silent captivity." The article editorializes to say,
"[Bush] argued that Iraq represents an imminent threat."
The majority of the information or representations regarding Iraq are in
President Bush's words. There is a characterization of a dangerous criminal
that partakes in "illicit trade" and victimizes his own people. There are
many references to terrorism and the "far greater horrors" that could come
from an "outlaw regime" supplying terrorists. The threat of the Iraqi
regime is emphasized, largely through showcasing its possession of
devastating weapons and its potential link to terrorism. Interesting to
remember is that Pakistan itself has nuclear capabilities as does its main
nemesis, India. Terrorism and war are major concerns for Pakistan, as are
the warring abilities of those in the region. Focusing on these points is
understandable in this social and political situation. Here, however, it is
more the country, and less the man, that is the threat.
The Arab News has very different references toward Iraq and Saddam
Hussein. Bush's words are only paraphrased as the article writes that Bush
will ".put a stop to a decade of defiance by Baghdad and address the `great
and gathering danger' that it will use weapons of mass destruction."
Finally, the article states that the ".United States would be ready to take
its own steps to punish Saddam Hussein."
United States official sources are not showcased in this fourteen
paragraph article. The focus is that it is Bush and the United Sates that
will "stop" any "defiance," on their own if necessary. The aggressor here
is the United States who will "punish Saddam Hussein." The regime is noted
as being "defiant," but it is the man who will be "punished". The United
States is on a mission to get one person. The article presents this as a
A very important final note about the representation of Iraq and Hussein
in this day of coverage is the way that Hussein, himself, is referred to in
the majority of articles. Hussein is often referred to as "Saddam,"
particularly by the United States' leadership. It is interesting that
President Bush did not refer to Hussein by his first name in the address he
gave at the United Nations, but he often does. This was a practice begun by
his father, Former President George H. Bush, in the events leading to and
including the Gulf War. There is no other internationally recognized leader
who is referred to by his first name. This is a sign of disrespect, an
illustration that Hussein is not considered a worthy and legitimate leader
by the United States and their allies.
In the news coverage evaluated here, the Jerusalem Post refers to
"Saddam" three times in the short article and uses "Saddam Hussein" twice.
The New York Times, however, makes no reference to "Saddam". The leader is
only referred to as "Saddam Hussein," "Mr. Hussein," or even "President
Hussein." One explanation for the lack of the use of "Saddam" is that the
New York Times claims to be the United States' paper of record. This more
balanced language use could be an attempt to maintain this position. The
Financial Times only refers to Hussein as "Saddam" in the headline of the
article, but uses "Mr. Hussein" throughout the text of the piece. In the
China Daily, there is one use of "Saddam," and the leader is referred to as
"President Saddam Hussein" throughout the rest of the article. The same is
see in Dawn, where there is one reference to "Saddam" and one to "President
Saddam Hussein." The Arab News also makes one reference to "Saddam's regime."
The reference to "Saddam" also has another important implication.
Throughout the coverage it has been distinguished when the blame or the
aggression is considered to be that of the country or the man. When the man
is referred to as simply "Saddam," simply as an individual decontextualized
from his position of power, then there is an even greater sense of agency
given to him. It is this one evil man that needs to be taken care of and
removed. It is one person's fault that there is danger, horror, tragedy,
and terrorism. It also evokes emotion and anger that just one man could do
all this, create so much pain and suffering for the world and for the Iraqi
The United States and George W. Bush
In addition to this news coverage making characterizations of Iraq and
Saddam Hussein, there are also a number of references representing the
United States and President Bush. The Jerusalem Post speaks highly of the
United States and Bush. The article editorializes that Bush spoke with
"conviction and strength." That "Bush presented detailed evidence." The
article states that the ".US stands ready to fulfill its moral and legal
obligation." Finally, the article notes ".while the US and Britain take the
morally required actions.others.opt to sit on the sidelines."
The United States and Bush are referred to as "strong," "moral," and
"legal," in direct opposition to the characterization of Iraq and Hussein.
Again, the reader is exposed to value-loaded words such as "moral". Someone
who does what is "moral" is a good person, someone who wants the best for
those around them. The US and UK are also explained to be taking the
"morally required actions." Again, very positive and emotionally charged
representations. Also important is that the article mentions "detailed
evidence" in Bush's accusations about Iraq. The paper is justifying Bush's
comments and requests and telling the reader they are warranted.
The New York Times states that a "forceful, blunt address" was made. It
stated that Bush used "prosecutorial language." And, that "[Bush] referred
obliquely to an assassination attempt against his father." The article
notes that "even wile Mr. Bush was pressing for a diplomatic solution, he
was continuing to refine options for an attack." That ".he also made clear
the United States would act alone if the United Nations hesitated."
Here Bush is portrayed again as "forceful". Stating that he used
"prosecutorial language" shows that there is a criminal to be caught, that
someone is doing wrong (the aggressor, Iraq), and that there is a nation
and a leader willing to "attack" if necessary to take care of the problem.
This phrase also legitimizes Bush's words and actions. Where Hussein is
continually given agency, here Bush is personally made the victim, again
suggesting this is a personal issue between two men. The fact that the
article makes mention of the "assassination attempt against his father,"
shows that the newspaper recognizes the President has a personal stake in
this issue and that it is not only the Iraqi people or the nations of the
world that are at risk, but him and his family personally. Again, this
draws out emotion and evokes concern and sympathy, and perhaps even anger.
There is only one reference in the Financial Times that could be
considered a characterization of Bush and the United States, but it is in
Bush's words. The newspaper notes that, according to Bush, liberating the
Iraqi people is a "great moral cause and a great strategic goal." Again,
the actions of the Bush Administration are referred to as "moral," but the
coverage does not leave it at that. They also point out that it is
"strategic" showing that there is more behind this effort than simply
wanting to make the world a better place. It illustrates that the US has
something to gain from this initiative.
The China Daily makes no references to Bush or the United States
specifically and Dawn repeats the information used by the Financial Times.
They paraphrase, "Liberty for the Iraqi people, [Bush] said, was a great
moral cause and a great strategic goal." They also mention that Bush said
that he was ".willing to go it alone." The article shows that again, these
are considered "moral" actions that are thus necessary and beneficial. But
they also show there is more behind this, for the move is also "strategic".
Again, victimization of the Iraqi people is illustrated for they need to be
liberated. And, the issue is shown to be personal again when they say Bush
is willing to take action alone. Of course, this means the United States
will go in and act regardless of the United Nations' actions, but it is the
man who is emphasized here.
The Arab News provides more references to Bush and the United States in
its coverage. They are the only newspaper in this analysis to note that
".[Annan] opened the session with a warning to the US.while not mentioning
the US by name, Annan made no secret of his disdain for the appetite in
Washington to attack Iraq with or without international support." The
article also states that,
The decision of President Bush, responding to pressure from several
allies, including Britain, at least to bring the issue to the UN was
welcomed by many delegates. But governments around the world continue to
worry about consequences if the US loses patience with the diplomatic
process and attacks alone.
Finally, the article refers to comments made after the speech by US
Democratic Senator Tom Daschle, saying there are ".fresh signs of
ambivalence at home." for Bush in the United States.
Here the reader sees that there is not universal support for President
Bush's desired course of action. The reader is told that Annan "made no
secret of his disdain." Also, Washington is characterized as having an
"appetite.to attack Iraq." This is a very different characterization than
the "moral" actions referred to above. Also, the US is said to have the
potential to lose "patience with the diplomatic process." The Untied States
is shown to be the aggressor once again. They have an "appetite" for war.
They are also shown to be less justified and more just out to get Iraq.
They are not a fully responsible regime if they may "lose patience" and
start a war without international support.
Unlike Iraq and Saddam Hussein, the United States fairs a much more
favorable representation in this coverage overall, though there are
qualifications. Where Hussein is evil and the aggressor, Bush is strong,
moral, and the victim and the champion of all victims in this situation.
The United Nations
The United Nations is a key actor in this coverage. The speech was made to
the General Assembly and it is this body that was being called to action
against Iraq. The Jerusalem Post summarizes that Bush noted "The League of
Nations.talked itself into irrelevance.and the UN is on the verge of the
same fate." The article mentions that "Bush changed the focus of the
debate.to the failure of the UN and the international community." They said
that Bush noted that ".if the UN fails to act now, it will be rendered
impotent." The article editorializes that the leaders of the world will now
"decide if the UN will survive or disappear into irrelevance, like the
League of Nations."
Overwhelmingly, the United Nations is referred to as weak and useless.
Comparing the United Nations to the League of Nations leads the reader to
associate failure with the international body. The article actually states
that the UN is a "failure" in this matter and needs to be set on the right
path by Bush. Bush did discuss the need to act where the League of Nations
did not, but such terms as "rendered impotent" were not used. This
characterization creates negative images of the UN. The United Nations is
not portrayed encouragingly here.
The New York Times again quotes Bush to say "we want to make sure the
United Nations does not turn into a League of Nations." However, the
newspaper editorializes and states that the League "collapsed in 1940,
largely for having failed to confront Hitler." The article paraphrases the
President and wrote, "Mr. Bush said that in facing down Iraq, the United
Nations' relevance was at stake, suggesting that is would become a
toothless institution if it failed to enforce its mandates." The article
does note here that Kofi Annan "has been openly critical" of US plans to
attack unilaterally, but it goes on to say that he "said the United Nations
had to act." In Mr. Annan's words it is noted, "the Security Council must
face its responsibilities."
Despite the fact that it is known that the United Nations is not fully
behind the US plans, the quote by Kofi Annan here shows more the idea that
the UN does have to do something, that they do have to "act" and face their
"responsibilities". This legitimizes the President's words. Again the
"relevance" of the United Nations is the focus, as is its fight not to
become "toothless". Also a focus in this article is the comparisons between
the United Nations and the League of Nations. It is particularly important
to point out, however, that the authors of the article do not stop there.
They go on to link the United Nations failure to the rise of Hitler. This
is very significant. During the Gulf War period, comparisons between
Hussein and Hitler were made frequently (Dorman & Livingston, 1993; Iyengar
& Simon, 1993; Conners, 1998; Seaver, 1998). The research shows that
between Iraq's August 2, 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the start of the Gulf
War on January 15, 1991, the Washington Post and the New York Times
published 228 articles comparing Hussein to Hitler (Dorman & Livingston, 1993).
The image in the minds of the average reader of Hitler are powerful.
Hitler is remembered an the embodiment of evil, as the worst aggressor the
world has seen in modern history, as the single man responsible for such
crimes against humanity as the Holocaust. The mention of Hitler in this
article plays on the emotions of a reader in a striking way. The
characterization of Hussein as enemy is brought to a new level. Important
to note here, as well, is that in the Jerusalem Post article it does state
that "In the 1930s, democratic Europe chose appeasement and paved the way
for the war and the Holocaust. Now, President Bush challenged the
international community." Here, the reader sees another distanced but
significant reference to the Holocaust. An event that the world will never
forget is linked with the likes of Saddam Hussein and the potential war
The Financial Times piece notes that, "Mr. Bush warned that Iraq's
defiance of the UN resolutions threatened to make the world body
irrelevant." The article also quotes a US Administration official who was
paraphrasing the President, "Is the UN going to be a force for the future
or is it going to go the way of the League of Nations."
The UN is again referred to as on the verge of being made "irrelevant" if
it does not act against Iraq. There is also a reference to the League of
Nations, but there is not further editorialization regarding what this
could mean. The fact that President Bush is concerned about the UN's
resolve is shown, but the negativity shown toward the UN in the pieces
above is not as strong here.
China Daily discusses the UN by paraphrasing Bush's concerns, "Insisting
that Iraq's refusal to abide by previous resolutions threatened the
authority of the UN, Bush said the US will work with other members of the
UN Security Council on a new Iraq resolution." What is very different from
the previous coverage evaluated is that this article mentions that,
"Annan.put Iraq second on a list of four threats to world peace.The
Israeli-Palestinian conflict was ranked No 1 and after Iraq came
Afghanistan and the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir."
The coverage in the China Daily changes the tone of UN representation
here. It suggests that it is Bush who is "insisting" that the authority of
the UN is "threatened". It is less the institution that is being made to
look as a failure and more that there is one leader who believes this is
the case. Also, it is significant that the article shows that the UN, as
represented by Annan, does not see Iraq as the body's or the world's
primary concern - this is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (something else
that was not mentioned in the Israeli coverage). This article puts the
resolve of the UN on this issue into perspective.
Dawn makes few references to the United Nations. They paraphrase Bush to
say that he felt ".the conduct of the Iraqi government was a threat to the
authority of the United Nations." But the piece goes on to say, "In an
effort to involve the United Nations in his expected military offensive
against Iraq, [Bush] said, `We want the United Nations to be effective and
respectful and successful.'"
Again, the article points out that it is Bush, not the entire world, that
feels the authority of the United Nations is at risk. Then, the article
qualifies Bush's remarks against the UN. The language insinuates that Bush
is only going to the UN in an attempt to make the UN feel inadequate, so
that it will go along with the plans he intends to carry out regardless -
an attack on Iraq. This suggests that Bush is using the UN and only
speaking negatively toward them to guilt them into submission.
The Arab News quotes Bush, "Will the United Nations serve the purpose of
its founding.or will it be irrelevant?" But the article goes on to point
out that "The speech.will trigger an immediate and heated debate in the
Security Council." And that, "a Security Council consensus.seems a far
cry." They state that ".France, Russia, and China.have been strongly
opposed to the use of force against Iraq in the past." And that "The
Council's permanent members have been deeply divided since Operation Desert
Fox - carried out unilaterally by the US and Britain without UN approval -
launched to punish Iraq in December 1998."
Here there is a very different characterization of the UN. Bush is again
seen as the one who sees the UN as potentially "irrelevant," but it goes on
to illustrate that the world is clearly divided on the issue and it shows
there is specific potential for opposition. The mention of Operation Desert
Fox as being "unilateral" and "without UN approval" shows a disdain for the
United States' post-Gulf War actions against Iraq. Also, again, Iraq is
noted as being "punished" by the United States and Britain. The US is
portrayed nearly alone in its fight and again as the one with agency.
The United Nations sees two characterizations in this coverage. It is
either portrayed as a "failure" like the League of Nations, a failure that
allowed Hitler to rise to power. Or, it is portrayed as an institution that
merely Bush fears is loosing its potential to be effective in the world
Considering it is Iraq that is the focus of this issue, it is important to
see if the Iraqis are represented in this coverage. Are they given an
opportunity to react to Bush's speech or to the accusations that have been
made against them? In the Jerusalem Post there are no Iraqi voices. Instead
there are only references to the Arab world in general as being
"anti-Western," "anti-American," and "anti-Israel". These references
suggest that the Iraqi position is not represented or necessary because it
The New York Times coverage also lacks Iraqi voices. The Financial Times,
however, has a quote from Mohammed al-Douri, the Iraqi ambassador to the
United Nations. He states that Bush's comments are the ".longest series of
fabrications [motivated by] revenge, oil, political ambitions and also the
security of Israel." Here the Iraqis are given the opportunity to
delegitimize Bush's speech. It also shows the ideology of Iraq by
mentioning that one of the motivations of Bush's interest to go after them
is "the security of Israel." Iraq and Israel have had a history of
confrontations and, for Iraq, the United States' alliance with Israel will
always be problematic.
Neither the China Daily or Dawn provide Iraqi voices, but the Arab News
gives ample opportunity for the Iraqis to speak. The article paraphrases
al-Douri and says that "he dismissed [the speech] as motivated by revenge
and political ambition." It then quotes him saying "[Bush] chooses to
deceive the world and his own people by the longest list of fabrications
that have ever been told by a leader of a nation." The article also notes
that "Iraqi television warned that Bush risks setting the region on fire if
he attacks Iraq. `An aggression (against Iraq) would start an
uncontrollable fire, and the United States too will pay a (heavy) price
because Iraq is not easy prey as the American adventurers imagine.'" The
Arab News provides its readers with another perspective. Again al-Douri is
given the opportunity to challenge the legitimacy of Bush's comments.
Allowing Iraqi voices provides readers with a larger picture of what is
going on in reaction to Bush's comments. It shows that the United States is
not operating in a vacuum but as part of a larger world community. It also
shows that the Iraqi state is an active party in this situation and not
without the ability to defend itself or act as well.
Additional Commentary and Qualifications
In some of the coverage, key elements, either additional commentary or
information, must be mentioned in order to fully see the characterizations
being made and/or the tone and intent of the coverage. This is particularly
true of the New York Times and Dawn. In the New York Times, it is mentioned
that Bush's speech at the United Nations was not the only effort he made
that day to encourage world leaders to go along with his agenda. There was
also a meeting at the World Financial Center near Ground Zero. The authors
The seven-story-deep pit where the World Trade Center once stood was a
stark backdrop, and a reminder of his warning earlier in the day that if
Iraq's weapons of mass destruction fell into the hands of terrorists, `the
attacks of Sept. 11 would be a prelude to far greater horrors.'
Although the President did mention September 11 and terrorism, he did not
specifically link Iraq with the event. This coverage does. In the American
context, and around the world, September 11 brings up the worst fears
people have of terrorism and aggression. Linking Hussein and Iraq with this
horrible event is a clear move by the newspaper to further vilify Hussein
and frighten people into seeing that he needs to be dealt with.
Dawn presents an interesting scenario. In their coverage many of their
comments are qualified. They commented that Bush feared for the UN ".unless
[they] forced Baghdad into disarmament." They characterized the United
States' actions as ".Washington's military offensive against Baghdad." In
fact, two references were made to Bush's "military offensive." They were
the only newspaper to note that "A few hundred anti-war protestors
demonstrated outside the UN building as President Bush spoke." And they
noted that "Observers at the United Nations describe the speech as
Here it becomes evident that although Pakistan is a new ally of the United
States in the war against terror, they are apprehensive about the United
States' actions and desires. They state that "Baghdad" is being "forced" to
disarm. They are being made to do something against their will, which as
written suggests that what they are being made to do may not be necessary.
By referring to "Baghdad" twice in their qualifications, the reader is more
likely to see a city, a place where innocent people live, as opposed to a
person or a regime that should be attacked. This is a way to show all Iraq
as more of the victim than the aggressor. The US is made to be the
aggressor here for they are taking part in a "military offensive." Also by
noting that there were protestors and that the speech was "unusually
harsh," the newspaper is criticizing the US and showing that even in the US
there is not full support for the President and his plans.
These comments and qualifications need to be taken into consideration when
evaluating this coverage. Simply because the majority of the language or
references lean a particular way, say in favor of Bush and his comments, it
does not mean that the overall tone of the article suggests the same thing.
An Analysis of Frame
Now that the intricacies of the language have been evaluated it is
possible to discuss frame. Of interest to Entman is the relationship
between official sources and frame. This research provides an interesting
evaluation of this. The Jerusalem Post article has only one source, George
Bush. There are eight sources in the New York Times article. Of them six
are US officials, including Bush and Vice President Cheney. There are six
sources in the Financial Times article. Three are US officials, two are
affiliated with the UN, and one is Iraqi. There are two sources in China
Daily - Bush and Annan. Dawn has four sources, all US officials. And, the
Arab News has six sources. Two are US officials, two are affiliated with
the UN, one is Iraqi, and one is Qatari.
Except for Dawn, the balance of sources seems to correlate with the frame
of the article. The Jerusalem Post article is entirely based on Bush and it
is entirely pro-Bush, in line with the dominant ideology in Israel. The New
York Times relies nearly entirely on official US sources and is totally in
favor of the ideology of these sources, the ideology of the United States.
The Financial Times provides a balanced article and balance in its sources,
this is consistent with frame, but less so with the British dominant
ideology. China Daily splits its sources and provides more neutral
coverage, though the tone does lead more anti-war than balanced. Finally,
the Arab News has fewer official US sources and is clearly not in favor of
US policy. It is in favor of the non-US sources provided and this follows
with the dominant ideology in Saudi Arabia.
Ideology and News Coverage
This analysis set out to look at news coverage of the potential war with
Iraq through the lens of framing. Framing suggests a strong role for the
dominant ideology and the dominant reading. The discussion of framing above
suggests the nature of the dominant/hegemonic reading. In terms of
ideology, this coverage does show that regardless of the fact that all of
these newspapers are covering the same event with the same primary source,
the language used, the commentary offered, and the selection of "facts"
included allow each newspaper to display the ideology of their home
government, with one exception.
Israel is clearly pro-US and against Iraq, and much of the Arab world.
This comes through clearly in this coverage. The United States' paper is
supposed to be an unbiased record of history, yet regardless of the attempt
to use neutral language, the article is fully supportive of the American
dominant ideology - Saddam Hussein is the enemy and he must be stopped.
China Daily shows the position of China. They are more interested in the
United Nations taking the lead role and would prefer if war was not an
option. Dawn, though trying to keep up appearances with the United States,
still shows Pakistan's favor of their Muslim brothers over US aggression.
The Arab News shows that Saudi Arabia is not in favor of US desires to go
after Iraq and it hints at the anti-American sentiment alive and well in
Saudi Arabia. The dominant ideology of each is fully supported.
The one exception here is the Financial Times of London. Britain has been
the Untied States' most outspoken ally in this matter. Tony Blair has shown
the will and desire to go after Iraq militarily and has provided
intelligence to back this. Yet, the coverage in the British newspaper was
balanced. It showed all sides of the issue and did not favor one over the
other. This is, as previously stated, what could be considered
journalistically responsible and beneficial to all readers. Yet, it
challenges the hegemony of the British leadership. Why only the Financial
Times took this position in its coverage of Bush's speech to the General
Assembly of the United Nations is worthy of further study.
This Study and Beyond
This study was limited particularly by language and access. Newspapers
were only included in the study if they were in English. This made it
impossible to see representations of other key players in this discussion,
particularly other Security Council nations with the veto power - France,
Germany, and Russia. It also made it impossible to get certain primary Arab
voices. A study of al Jazeera, for instance, would greatly add to this
evaluation considering it is one of the primary news sources in the Arab
world. There were also limitations as a result of access. Some English
language papers that may be more widely circulated in a given region were
not available to evaluate.
Further study of this issue would be greatly aided with qualitative
in-depth interviews with the local users of these media. This would allow
for a better understanding of how news is read within a specific
social/political/ideological context. It would also allow the researcher to
take the next step and see if the news coverage as written brings a reader
to a specific action.
However, this study does show that through the use of framing theory it is
easy to see how news coverage is related to the ideological leanings of a
particular state. Also, it shows that there is a dominant reading - the
reading that the average person is likely to have of a news article. But,
there are also deeper implications of this reading. If the coverage is
simply taken at face value, the reader could be lead to a certain set of
ideas and actions - ideas and actions supportive of the dominant ideology.
Because this coverage is made to seem "natural" and simply "the truth" it
becomes difficult for individuals in a society to come to their own
independent decisions. This promotes the status quo and discourages open
War is not something to be taken lightly and if each nation is only
provided with the views of those in power, leadership will never be
challenged. Issues will never be debated. The majority of the coverage here
shows that there is a lack of diversity in the perspectives being offered
to news readers. This is a serious problem for democracy. In order for
citizens to be active and informed they need all the information, not just
one side. If people are to be truly part of their political and social
context, they must be given the tools to operate effectively within it. The
news coverage leading up to the war with Iraq shows that these tools are
not being provided. Democracy is at risk.
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~The Road to War: Breaking the Code~
Table 1: Newspapers in Analysis
Hollinger International - media conglomerate based in Chicago, IL. (Show
great editorial autonomy despite international ownership.)
30,000 daily and 50,000 on Fridays (the third widest circulated paper and
those near it have circulations comparable to the Jerusalem Post.
New York Times
1851, New York
New York Times Company - media organization, whose flagship is the New York
Monday-Saturday circulation of 1,056,016 and Sunday circulation of
1,668,650. Third largest paper in the US. Considered the US paper of record.
Pearson - a company with many interests including business education.
Daily circulation is 2,150,000.
China Daily Newspaper Corporation.
Daily circulation of 300,000. (The largest paper in China is the Communist
Party Paper, People's Daily, and has a circulation of 2,150,000, but the
ideas espoused in this paper are similar to those presented in the People's
Daily, just in English.
Pakistan Herald Publications.
Daily circulation of 80,000, which is respectable circulation for an
English language paper in Pakistan. The largest papers are in Urdu.
Saudi Research and Marketing Co.
A nationally distributed paper with a circulation of 110,000. It is one of
the top three papers in the country.