PR Goes to War:
The Effects of Public Relations Campaigns on Media Framing of the Kuwaiti and
Foreign governments are increasingly hiring American public relations firms to
represent their causes to the American public, often in deals involving
millions of dollars (O'Dwyer, 1993; Choate, 1994).
Manheim and Albritton (1984) note that "one of the most interesting trends in
political image-making in recent years has been the growing use of professional
public relations consultants by national governments" (p. 641).
At a time when some nations are complaining about not getting enough attention
from the Western news media, many Americans may not know that other nations are
hiring U.S. public relations firms to present their cases, sometimes with the
effect of altering U.S. foreign policy.
Two recent international conflicts D the Gulf War and the war in Bosnia D
involved striking examples of the use of American public relations firms to help
foreign governments in their efforts to persuade the American public. In the
first case, the public relations firm of Hill & Knowlton was hired shortly after
the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait by a group called Citizens for a Free Kuwait. Hill
and Knowlton presented the Kuwaiti point of view in the United States during the
months before the Gulf War began. In the second case, Ruder-Finn Global Public
Affairs represented the governments of Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo
and presented their cases during part of the Bosnia war.
How effective are these kinds of public relations efforts? Some writers argue
that at least one of these campaigns may have influenced the United States
decision to go to war against Iraq ("The Invention of a Holocaust," 1992;
MacArthur, 1992b; Stauber and Rampton, 1995).
There is not a lot of evidence about the effectiveness of these kinds of
campaigns. This paper is intended to examine some data concerning their possible
effects. The campaigns could be expected to have effects at a number of
different levels, including media framing of the international crisis
situations; the schemata, attitudes and beliefs of policy makers; and the
schemata, attitudes and beliefs of the public.
This study focuses on the effects on media framing of the public relations
efforts involved in the crises in Kuwait and Bosnia. The political persuaders
involved in these efforts were attempting to define the issues involved in these
crises for the media and subsequently for the public. Little communication
theory has been developed to explain the possible effects on American public
opinion and policy of these kinds of communication campaigns on behalf of
foreign powers. The possible effects seem much greater than most of our
communication theory would suggest. Manheim (1994) has suggested a special kind
of power of communication in the international area because the public has
little knowledge or direct contact with events.
Grunig suggests, more or less on the basis of the limited effects model, that
the effects of the Hill & Knowlton campaign on behalf of Kuwait must have been
small and argues that these campaigns only nudge people a little further in a
direction they are already going. But this special area of communication D
public relations firms arguing the cases for regions of the world where the U.S.
public has little direct knowledge D may be an exception to the standard limited
This study investigates the notion that an important key to the success of
these kinds of public relations efforts is skillful manipulation of frames,
which are then picked up by the media.
Much has been written recently about the definitions of media frames, the
various ways frames can shape the content of the news, and the potential effects
they have on audience thinking about news events (Tankard, et al., 1991; Entman,
1993). The concept of media frames identifies a new way for the mass media to
have important effects D by shaping the way an audience apprehends and
conceptualizes significant issues.
Less attention by researchers has been given to the question of where media
frames originate. What are the determinants of or influences on media framing?
Several writers have noted with regard to the related topic of agenda setting
that we have a great deal of thinking and research on the effects of media
agendas but much less dealing with who sets the media agenda (Westley, 1976;
Koch, 1991). The same point can be made with regard to framing.
One obvious source of possible influence on media content could be special
interest groups or other groups with particular causes. The potential influence
of such groups becomes even greater when they hire professional public relations
This study looks at public relations firm influence on mass media framing of
two recent conflicts D the Gulf War and the Bosnia War. In doing so, it
provides some information about how special interest groups working with public
relations help can exert powerful influences on media framing, which might, in
turn, exert powerful influences on public opinion and public policy
The Two Cases
Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990. Hill & Knowlton took on the campaign for
Citizens for a Free Kuwait on Aug. 10. By the end of the war, Hill & Knowlton
had received nearly $10.8 million from the Kuwaitis.
The agency's efforts included press kits (containing a 154-page book titled The
Rape of Kuwait), advertisements, speaking engagements, and video news releases
(Rothschwalb, 1994; Stauber and Rampton, 1995).
One of Hill & Knowlton's executives was Craig Fuller, who had been Vice
President Bush's chief of staff, and who still kept close ties with the Bush
administration (Trento, 1992; MacArthur, 1992b).
Hill & Knowlton used the Wirthlin Group, Ronald Reagan's longtime polling firm,
to survey the American public and identify the issues that would help persuade
the American public to go to war (Judd, 1995). The polls found that atrocity
stories were the issue most likely to generate the desired anti-Iraqii sentiment
in the American people (Stauber and Rampton, 1995)
The public relations firm put together on Oct. 10, 1990, a meeting of the
congressional Human Rights Caucus. The Caucus, itself partly supported by Hill
and Knowlton, heard a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl named Nayirah testified that she
had witnessed Iraqi soldiers removing babies from incubators in Kuwaiti
hospitals so the incubators could be sent to Iraq. Hill & Knowlton personnel
were responsible for coaching witnesses that appeared before the caucus, writing
testimony, providing video to illustrate the testimony, and making sure the
media were present. The baby incubator story was also a prominent part of a
Hill & Knowlton-engineered presentation Nov. 27 before the United Nations
The Kuwaiti baby story was not initially challenged by journalists, although it
was later. On Jan 6, 1992, shortly before the beginning of the Gulf War, an
op-ed piece in The New York Times by John MacArthur, the publisher of Harper's,
pointed out that "Nayirah" was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the
United States and that the incubator story was not supported by evidence
Conflict in the Balkans began soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the
end of the Cold War in November, 1989. War broke out between Serbs, Croats, and
Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina in March, 1992. Ruder-Finn Global Public Affairs
began working for the Republics of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina to help them
get their points of view across to the international community. The company
arranged interviews with major media news operations, put out radio news
specials, and sent faxes to journalists, politicians, academicians, and
representatives of humanitarian organizations. It arranged meetings between
Bosnian officials and vice presidential candidate Al Gore, Undersecretary of
State Lawrence Eagleburger, and 10 senators, including George Mitchell and
The French journalist Jacques Merlino interviewed James Harff, director of
Ruder-Finn, about the company's work in Bosnia (Merlino, 1993). He quoted Harff
as saying the turning point in the company's anti-Serb campaign came in August,
1992, when it engineered the support of several American Jewish organizations in
speaking up on the side of the Bosnian Muslims, giving the company the
opportunity to equate the Serbs with the Nazis in the public mind. HarfF
stated, "Almost immediately there was a clear change of language in the press,
with the use of words with high emotional content, such as 'ethnic cleansing,'
'concentration camps,' etc., which evoked images of Nazi Germany and the gas
chambers of Auschwitz. The emotional charge was so powerful that nobody could go
against it" (Merlino, 1993).
Harff later challenged the accuracy of the Merlino book, stating that
Ruder-Finn made no profit on its relationships with Croatia or Bosnia but acted
out of its concern about the immorality of Serbian aggression (Harff, 1994).
The two cases of political persuasion in the international arena by public
relations firms offer a useful comparison if looked at as examples of "insider"
versus "outsider" public relations.
The public relations efforts of Citizens for a Free Kuwait were exercised
"inside," through direct access to the president of the United States, a
consummate insider, who sought an aggressive policy against Iraq (Trento, 1992;
MacArthur, 1992b). President Bush committed himself to war against Saddam
Hussein shortly after Iraq invaded Kuwait, then worked to convince his generals,
the Congress, and the American public to join him ("The Gulf War," 1996). He
did so with the help of the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton and his former
chief of staff, Craig Fuller, who had joined the firm. The public relations
problem for Hill & Knowlton thus became not changing American foreign policy,
but helping administration insiders with which the firm worked daily to push it
in the desired direction.
In contrast, "outside," the public relations firm Ruder-Finn was engaged, first
by Bosnia-Herzegovina and later by the republics of Kosovo and Croatia, without
visibly important administration ties. Ruder-Finn and its clients,
consequently, were forced to use more basic tools of public relations:
case-building, building relationships with news people and policy-makers, the
rapid exploitation of unique news or political opportunity D and focusing all
through the application of communication technology: telephones, computers, and
faxes to sell the case in American media. The Ruder-Finn case required changing
the frame of the public debate in order to alter U.S. foreign policy from the
In both cases, the firms and their clients had to create a bogeyman (Alinsky,
1971), much as previous administrations have done to win a commitment to war.
Ironically, that task may have been tougher in the case "inside" than "outside."
In the case "inside," creating a bogeyman of Saddam Hussein required a literal
reversal of U.S. policy toward an ally. In the years following the 1973 Arab
oil embargo, the United States began massive shipments of arms, aircraft and
munitions to the Persian Gulf and notably to Iraq, then supported Iraq and
Saddam Hussein in the war against Iran. When shortly before his invasion,
Hussein hinted at his intentions in Kuwait with U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie,
Glaspie gave him no sign of a lessening of U.S. support ("The Gulf War," 1996).
In contrast, American and European intentions in the Balkans were far less
well-defined and thus were more open to re-framing. Although President Bush and
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher decried the reports of butchery in the
Balkans, President Clinton was preoccupied throughout his first year in office
with improving the domestic economy and passing a health care proposal as the
economy's first remedy. U.S. policy toward the Balkans was a lesser concern.
U.S. commitments were less clear D and American foreign policy, consequently,
was more open to shaping by the efforts of "outside" public relations.
As a direct consequence, both cases offer a unique view of public relations'
slippery slope, through a "key event" in each.
In the case "inside," the president was committed to his war policy, and his
generals came around to that point of view by the end of September, 1990, once
their commander-in-chief committed all the resources to the war effort they
requested. What remained, then, was to convince Congress and the American
people. At that moment D October, 1990 D Hill & Knowlton prepared the
"Nayirah" incident, since decried as a transparent deception intended to trick
the Congress and the public to acceding to the war.
By contrast, "outside," the record of atrocities committed by the sides in the
Balkan struggle, was muddied for years, with Croats, not Serbs, accused of the
first "ethnic cleansings" (Jacobsen, 1996, p. 659). Indeed, Ruder-Finn
apparently used an American reporter's misreport in early August, 1992
(Merlino, 1993, p. 94) to shift public opinion in the United States by imposing
a new, Ruder-Finn frame in American media blaming the Serbs entirely for
atrocities, a position at odds with the United Nations' documented record.
Cutlip (1987) traces the history of public relations efforts for foreign
governments, showing that Hamilton Wright's work in 1905 promoting U.S.
occupation of the Philippine Islands was some of the earliest. He also discusses
the work that public relations pioneer Ivy Lee did for Nazi Germany in the 1930s
D work which led rather directly to the passage in 1938 of the Foreign Agents
Several authors point out conditions that could allow political persuasion in
an international context to be particularly effective.
Kecskemeti (1973) emphasizes the importance of a homogeneous message stream.
He points out that taking a propaganda approach to political issues involves
defining and presenting them as choices between "well intentioned" and "evil"
actors (p. 863).
He says political propagandists "translate the opponent's program into their
own homogeneous symbolism, so that it will carry a thoroughly negative
orientation" (p. 863).
Both Kecskemeti and Snow et al. (1986) stress that the political communicator
strives for messages that "resonate" with an audience.
Manheim and Albritton (1984) note agenda setting has tended to ignore an
important part of the political communication process D "systematic attempts by
external actors to manipulate the media agenda, and through it the public and
policy agendas" (p. 643).
They suggest that structured attempts by foreign nations to manipulate the ways
in which they are portrayed in the United States press are relatively likely to
succeed for these reasons: 1. Foreign affairs are relatively unobtrusive, with
the audience having little direct contact with events. 2. The American mass
media, because of their reluctance to devote staff and resources to foreign
affairs, will be particularly vulnerable to manipulation of their international
coverage. 3. Information-gathering about foreign affairs is difficult even for
public officials, and they are forced to rely on the media for information in
Manheim and Albritton (1984) present evidence that six public relations
campaigns on behalf of foreign nations had an effect on two dimensions of news
coverage (as measured in The New York Times): visibility and valence.
Grunig (1993) takes an opposing view from that of Manheim and Albritton on the
effectiveness of public relations work for foreign nations. He states, "In
short, the Hill and Knowlton campaign probably encouraged decision makers and
public opinion to move in a direction in which they were already headed."
He describes the Hill and Knowlton campaign, which used surveys to identify
Iraqi atrocities against the Kuwaitis as the number one issue the American
public would respond to, as an application of the two-way asymmetrical model D
one of his four models of international public relations.
He says, "More than anything, such typical international public relations
activities may simply increase the income of public relations firms." Bennett
and Manheim (1993) describe the narrowness of the media coverage of the Gulf
crisis, which focused on a few cues. They point out that the public
overwhelmingly relies on news cues proviced by elites (p. 332), and that news
organizations routinely leave policy framing and issue emphasis to political
elites, usually government officials (p. 332).
They point out that the public did not know a lot of relevant information,
including the fact that George Bush's oil company had been the first U.S. firm
to develop Kuwait's oil fields (p. 334).
They argue that "the absence of prior knowledge was critical" to the
communication efforts in the Gulf crisis (p. 334).
Bennett and Manheim note that "Misinformation, stage-managed impressions,
carefully crafted words and images, and other highly sophisticated
information-management efforts were employed at all stages" (p. 333).
They point out that "No image was more widely used than the analogy between
Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler, a frame that drove administration rhetoric
almost from the start" (p. 348).
Judd (1995) discusses the use of "coded language" in political persuasion. He
notes that "A typical network news program is composed of a collage of
soundbites overlaid with anchors' voice-overs. Since actual discourse is too
complicated and takes too long, the utilization of code language is a necessary
adjunct of soundbite news."
Pratt (1994) summarizes the Hill & Knowlton version of the Citizens for a Free
Kuwait controversy. He presents arguments for and against H&K accepting the
account. He faults Hill & Knowlton primarily for not corroborating Nayirah's
testimony before she went on the witness stand.
Entman (1993) points out that journalists, because they lack knowledge of
framing, often allow skillful media manipulators to impose their dominant frames
on the news.
Entman says 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" (p. 52).
Entman notes that communication texts contain frames "which are manifested by
the presence or absence of certain keywords, stock phrases, stereotyped images,
sources of information, and sentences that provide thematically reinforcing
clusters of facts or judgments" (p. 52).
Entman notes that "frames highlight some bits of information about an item that
is the subject of a communication, thereby elevating them in salience" (p. 53).
Entman identifies four framing functions:
1. Frames define problems.
2. Frames diagnose causes.
3. Frames make moral judgments.
4. Frames suggest remedies.
In a separate article, Entman (1991) discusses President Reagan's use of the
"moralizing frame" in describing the Soviet fighter plane shooting down of Korea
Air Lines Flight 007 and the way this frame influenced media coverage. He
points out that Reagan used such keywords as "massacre," "tragedy," and
In the two cases under study here, the public relations firms exercised great
care in choosing frames that would resonate with the target audiences. In the
Kuwait case, this was the "atrocity" frame. Polling efforts by the Wirthlin
Group showed that this was the frame that would have the most emotional meaning
for the public.
In the Bosnia case, it was the "Holocaust" frame. James Harff of Ruder-Finn
explained how the PR firm took advantage of the first stories of Serbian
concentration camps to rally Jewish support for the Muslims.
It is useful to apply Entman's four framing functions to the public relations
firm messages about these two cases:
1. Definition of problem D Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
2. Cause of problem D Iraqi aggression. More particularly, Saddam Hussein.
3. Moral judgments D atrocities by Iraqis, with particular focus on the story
of babies being removed from incubators. Comparisons of Saddam Hussein with
4. Remedies D military action by the United States and its allies against
1. Definition of problem D civil war in Bosnia.
2. Cause of problem D Serbian efforts at moving undesirable people out of their
areas, or "ethnic cleansing."
3. Moral judgments D "ethnic cleansing," atrocities by Serbs, use of
"concentration camps" and "death camps" by Serbs.
4. Remedies D U.S. support for those opposing Serbs (Bosnia and Croatia).
Entman identifies four framing locations: the communicator, the text, the
receiver, and the culture. He suggests that the culture is the stock of commonly
In the cases of Kuwait and Bosnia, the PR firms tapped into the powerful
cultural frames of wartime atrocities, concentration camps, racial
extermination, Hitlerism and Nazis.
Particular keywords and stock phrases used to invoke these frames included, for
the Kuwaiti case, comparisons of Hussein to Hitler and repetition of the baby
incubator atrocity story.
Particular keywords and stock phrases used to invoke these frames in the Bosnia
case included "ethnic cleansing," "concentration camps," and "death camps."
In the case of international affairs, framing effects can be particularly
powerful because the audience has not yet formed appropriate schemata relating
to the situations. This provides an opportunity for political persuaders,
whether inside or outside, to associate the new and somewhat unknown situations
with existing powerful cultural frames. As Ruder-Finn executive James Harff has
noted, it is important to get there first.
Statement of the Problem
The study attempts to find evidence relating to these questions: What impact
did the public relations efforts in these two cases have on media framing? To
what extent were they successful in getting the media to accept their framings?
In a more specific form, the research questions become:
1. In the Kuwait case, do news media references to the baby incubator story
increase after the Oct. 10, 1990, congressional Human Rights Caucus meeting?
2. In the Bosnia case, do news media references to "ethnic cleansing,"
"concentration camps," and "death camps" increase after the turning point in the
Ruder Finn campaign in August, 1992?
In the Kuwait case, indicators of the atrocity frame were the words "baby" or
"babies" occurring in the same story with "incubator" or "incubators."
In the Bosnia case, indicators of the Holocaust frame were the keywords "ethnic
cleansing," "concentration camps," and "death camps."
The Lexis-Nexis database was used to search for the keywords in a sample of
five major daily newspapers. The sample consisted of The New York Times, The
Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune as large-circulation dailies and The San
Francisco Chronicle and The Atlanta Journal and Constitution to include some
For each case, the Lexis-Nexis search was carried out by month for a period
starting three months before the month of major PR campaign activity and ending
six months after that month.
For the Kuwaiti case, the sample was enlarged to the Lexis-Nexis "major paper"
file for some additional analysis.
For the Kuwaiti case, the month of major campaign activity was judged to be
October, 1990, when "Nayirah" testified before the congressional Human Rights
Caucus about the baby incubators in Kuwait hospitals.
For the Bosnia case, the month of major campaign activity was judged to be
August, 1992, the month that James Harff identified as the beginning of the
major Ruder Finn success against the Serbs.
The impact of the PR campaigns on media coverage was investigated with time
series analysis. For each set of keywords, column charts were constructed to
show the numbers of stories for each month. Column charts were examined for
patterns likely patterns to be indicative of an independent variable at a given
time having an influence on a different measure repeated over time (Campbell and
Stanley, 1963). The design follows the Campbell and Stanley imperative that the
independent variable and its time of application be specified before examining
the outcome of the time series. Stories were also examined to see the context
in which the various keywords appeared and for possible evidence of the sources
of the keywords.
Stories describing the removal of babies from incubators in Kuwait hospitals
began appearing in September, 1990, the month before the congressional Human
Rights Caucus meeting (see Figure 1). In the study sample of five newspapers,
there were actually more stories dealing with this topic in September than in
October. Thus, the data from the sample of five major newspapers for the Kuwaiti
case do not fit one of the common patterns suggesting that an independent
variable is having an effect (Campbell and Stanley, 1963).
Of the 39 stories in the five-paper sample that mentioned the Kuwaiti baby
story, 16, or nearly half, came from The New York Times. The Washington Post and
The Chicago Tribune had five articles merntioning the story. The San Francisco
Chronicle had one story, in October, dealing with the Kuwaiti baby story, and
The Atlanta Journal and Constitution had four, but all appeared after the war
Because there were so few stories dealing with the removal of babies from
incubators in the five sample newspapers, the search was repeated using the
MAJPAP file, a Lexis-Nexis file that includes 20 major newspapers. This chart
shows a similar pattern, with 27 stories in September and 26 in October. The
number for November goes up to 35, however, producing a time series that
provides better evidence for the notion that the Congresional caucus meeting led
to an increase in the number of stories using this frame (see Figure 2).
In time series analysis, it is also important to look for plausible competing
hypotheses that offer likely alternative explanations for the shift in the time
series. In examining the stories reporting the baby incubator story, it was thus
necessary to look for other sources of the story besides the Hill &
Knowlton-sponsored Congressional caucus meeting.
The first report of the incubator story appeared Sept. 5, 1990, in Britain's
Daily Telegraph. The story reported a meeting in Saudi Arabia between British
Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd and various exiled leaders of Kuwait, including
the emir, Sheikh Jaber al-Sabah. In this article, Yahya al-Sumait, the Kuwaiti
Housing Minister, is reported to have said that babies in the premature unit of
one hospital had been removed from their incubators so that the equipment could
be carried off to Iraq.
An article from Reuters published in The Los Angeles Times on Sept. 7 told of
171 Americans being released from Kuwait. Two women who identified themselves
only as "Rudi" and "Cindy" said Iraqi troops took premature babies out of
incubators in Kuwait.
A Cox News Service story published in The San Diego Union-Tribune on Sept. 8
quoted "Ruthie" from Memphis, Tenn., as saying the Iraqis "are taking babies
out of incubators." Her husband was reportedly still in Kuwait.
A commentary by Glenn Frankel in The Washington Post on Sept. 10 raised some
questions about the incubator stories. Headlined "Iraq, Kuwait Waging an
Old-Fashioned War of Propaganda," the article pointed out the difficulty of
verifying the atrocity claims. It also noted that similar stories were being put
out by the Iraqis, who said that U.N.-mandated sanctions were causing children
of Iraq to die because they are being deprived of their food and medicine.
Several stories in The Louisville Courier-Journal (Sept. 12 and 18) quoted
Louisville native Debbie Edelen Hadi, who had escaped from Kuwait, as saying
babies were being taken off incubators. Hadi, who left a husband in Kuwait, is
reported in the Sept. 18 article to have said that she saw soldiers take infants
from incubators and put them in garbage bags.
A story in The Washington Post on Sept. 29 reported that President Bush had met
with the emir of Kuwait. The article quotes National Security Adviser Brent
Scowcroft as saying the emir told Bush that Iraqis were removing babies from
incubators and taking terminally-ill patients off life support systems and
shipping the equipment to Iraq.
The only article in the "incubator" and "baby" search of the sample of major
papers to report on the congressional Caucus on Human Rights meeting in which
Nayirah testified appeared in The Los Angeles Times on Oct. 11. The story gives
more emphasis to Deborah Hadi's testimony than it does to Nayirah's.
An article in The Chicago Tribune on Feb. 8 included a kind of reversal of the
Kuwaiti baby story, with reports of Iraqi babies dying at a Baghdad hospital
because electrical shortages caused by bombings halted the operation of
It was only after the war that ABC-TV reported that Iraqi soldiers were
innocent of blame in leaving premature Kuwaiti babies to die by taking away
their incubators. The network quoted the director of Kuwait's primary health
care system, Dr. Mohammed Matar, and his wife, Dr. Fayeza Youssef, who ran the
maternity hospital, as saying the 312 babies died because no one stayed to care
for them (Chigaco Tribune, March 17, 1991).
Stories using the phrase "ethnic cleansing" appeared as early as May, 1992, but
they peaked in August, the month that Ruder Finn intensified its campaign (see
Figure 3). Stories using the phrases "concentration camp" and "death camp"
showed sharp spikes in August, the beginning month of the Ruder Finn campaign
(see Figures 4 and 5). These time series patterns, with dramatic increases in
numbers of stories at about the time of the intensification of the Ruder Finn
campaign, do fit one of the patterns from which it is reasonable to infer a an
effect of an independent variable (Campbell and Stanley, 1963).
As with the previous case, however, it is important to examine the
circumstances for competing rival explanations for the increase. The stories
were examined to look for these kinds of plausible rival explanations, as well
as general information about the context in which the Holocaust frame keywords
were being used.
The terms "ethnic cleansing" and "concentration camps" appeared in stories in
May, 1992, the earliest month of our sample. A story in The New York Times on
May 20 reported that the foreign minister of Bosnia, Haris Silajdzic, said at a
news conference in Washington that the world was standing on the sidelines as it
had done in the face of Nazi atrocities in the 1930's. Silajdzic said that
Bosnian towns and cities were undergoing "ethnic cleansing" under Serbian guns
and that whole neighborhoods of non-Serbs were being herded into what he called
The Washington Post for May 31, 1992, quoted State Department spokesperson
Margaret Tutwiler as citing reports that Serb leaders in Banja Luka have mounted
what they call an "ethnic cleansing" operation aimed at forcibly expelling large
numbers of non-Serb residents from the area. "We reiterate [the U.S. position]
that 'ethnic cleansing' is totally abhorrent and savage," Tutwiler said.
A June 4 story in The New York Times showed that charges of concentration camps
were being made by both sides. The article quoted Serbs who used the term
"concentration camp" to describe two internment camps set up by the Muslim Slav
and Croat forces in a former military barracks at Konjic, a town about 12 miles
south of Bradina, and at another in Butorovic Polje, about 10 miles farther
The Chicago Tribune was more likely than The New York Times or The Washington
Post to report atrocities by Muslim Slavs and Croatians. The newspaper for June
4, 1992, reported that 2,000 to 4,000 Serbs were held up to five days in a
mile-long tunnel by Muslim Slav and Croatian militiamen "cleansing" the
countryside of Serbs.
The New York Times reported on June 21 that a civilian named Fodahija Hasonovic
said that during the first 10 days of June he was one of about 700 Muslim Slav
civilians held in what he called "a concentration camp" at the village of
Karakaj, about seven miles from the town of Zvornik.
As with the Kuwaiti baby story, many of the first accounts of Serbian
concentration camps came from refugees leaving the war zone (The New York Times,
An editorial in The New York Times on Aug. 4 stressed the Holocaust frame
keywords "ethnic cleansing" and "concentration camps" in its argument for the
parallels between the actions of the Serbs and the atrocities of the Nazis.
The Washington Post for Aug. 4 reported that the Bush administration had
confirmed reports that Croats and Slavic Muslims were being tortured and killed
in Serb "detention camps."
The Washington Post, in an editorial on Aug. 5, put the blame for most of the
atrocities on the Serbs: "What the Serbs, principally, are doing is grievous and
unforgivable. Their acts include aggression, territorial conquest, 'ethnic
cleansing,' bombardment of cities and reportedly D for those who still need a
clincher D death camps."
On Aug. 6, Bush publicly directed American spy agencies to train their full
resources on the question of whether there were concentration camps in
Bosnia-Herzegovina (The New York Times, Aug. 7).
The Chicago Tribune, on Aug. 6, quoted Marjolaine Martin, deputy chief of the
Red Cross mission in Zagreb, Croatia, as saying that terms like genocide,
massacre, and death camps "are being misused" if they were applied to actions by
warring armies in the conflict.
The Atlanta Journal and Constitution reported on Aug. 6 that an unidentified
Red Cross official in Croatia said that "all three parties in the war" D ethnic
Muslims, Serbs and Croats D have detention camps."
The New York Times of Aug. 6 reported that there had been no pictures yet of
what some have charged are detention centers for former Yugoslavs of non-Serbian
extraction, but that news programs had made up for that by illustrating the
reports with the still-painful photographs of prisoners found in Hitler's
The Washington Post for Aug. 7 reported that President Bush denounced the
"vile policy of ethnic cleansing" practiced by Serbs in the former Yugoslav
republics and announced measures to penalize Serbia.
An editorial in The Atlanta Journal and Constitution on Aug. 7 took a strong
anti-Serb position and stated "Humankind has lived with all too many holocausts
in this century. How can we close our eyes to what looks very much like one
The lead of a story in The New York Times on Aug. 8 presented several of the
keywords of the Holocaust frame: "Scenes of sealed trains, emaciated inmates of
prison camps and women and children fleeing 'ethnic cleansing' operations in the
Balkans have begun to stir European consciences with ugly reminders of the Nazi
brutality of half a century ago."
The New York Times said on Aug. 12 that "Serbian detention centers, which the
Bosnian Government refers to as concentration camps, are said to hold tens of
thousands of people."
The New York Times reported on Aug. 16 that Simon Wiesenthal, the Nazi-hunter
and a survivor of the Nazi camp at Mauthausen, had rejected comparisons between
the Serbs' camps with those of the Nazis. "It trivializes the Nazi camps," he
The New York Times published an article on Aug. 23 reporting that U.S.
intelligence officers had not been able to substantiate the charges of "death
camps" run by Serbs. The article quoted Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence S.
Eagleburger as saying: "On the basis of what we have so far, I think it's best
to say the evidence is unpleasant conditions. A terrible thing to have happen,
but I am not sure I would at this stage go to the point of saying 'death camp'
if what we mean by that is an Auschwitz or a Belsen."
The New York Times published a strong anti-Serb editorial on Aug. 27 in which
it discussed Serbian concentration camps as if they were a fact.
The results of this study provide only slight support for the possibility that
the political persuasion campaign of Hill and Knowlton had an effect on media
framing of the Kuwaiti crisis. The study provides more support for the notion
that Ruder-Finn activities influenced the media framing of the Bosnia war, but
even that evidence is not conclusive.
The study provides clear evidence that the incubator baby story was appearing
in the news media before the congressional Human Rights Caucus. It showed up
eight times in September in the five-paper sample, and 27 times in September in
the major paper sample. It is also clear that the earliest reports of the
incubator story came from the exiled emir of Kuwait and from refugees coming out
of Kuwait. President Bush talked to the exiled emir in September and was
mentioning the incubator story in speeches and press conferences before Nayirah
testified before the congressional caucus. The refugees telling about the
incubator incidents were often American women married to Kuwaiti men. These
women were typically identified in stories by first name only, a type of
identification not usually permitted by the news media with news of major
Much of the writing about Hill & Knowlton's involvement in a public relation
campaign on behalf of Kuwait in the months preceding the Gulf War has focused on
the public relations firm's role in engineering the congressional Caucus on
Human Rights at which "Nayirah" testified about Iraqis removing babies from
incubators in Kuwaiti hospitals. Lituchy (1995) describes the caucus as "one of
the most hideous examples of disinformation ever used to launch a war." An
article in Living Marxism ("The Invention of a Holocaust," 1992) said "the
Kuwaiti babies story turned out to be an invention by the Washington PR firm,
Hill & Knowlton." Stauber and Rampton (1995) state that "Given the narrowness
of the vote (in the U.S. Senate), the babies-thrown-from-incubators story may
have turned the tide in Bush's favor" (p. 173).
Despite these claims of the power of the baby incubator story, this study found
little evidence that the congressional caucus had an impact on media framing of
the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The incubator story did appear in the news media,
but not with great frequency (in comparison, for instance, with the "ethnic
cleansing" and "concentration camp" frame for the Bosnia case). And the earliest
stories came from the exiled emir and refugees from Kuwait, not the caucus.
This is not to say that the incubator story was true D it seems clear that is
was false or exaggerated for propaganda purposes. But it is to say that there
is not much evidence that the Hill & Knowlton sponsored Caucus on Human Rights
had a major impact on media framing of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
Of course, the Kuwaiti baby story may have had impacts in other areas besides
media framing. There may ahve been a more direct effect on policy makers, for
instance. Several members of Congress who advocated war against Iraq seemed
particularly outraged by the atrocities they perceived the Iraqis as
perpetrating (MacArthur, 1992b).
The study provides stronger support for the possibility that the public
relations campaign of Ruder Finn had an effect on media framing of the Bosnia
crisis. Stories using the term "ethnic cleansing" showed a fairly regular
increase from May, 1992, to February, 1993. The month of August deviates from
this regular trend by having a much larger number of stories. The month of
August also shows dramatic spikes for the terms "concentration camp" and "death
camp." The term "concentration camp" appears in almost as many stories in August
as it does in the other nine months combined. The term "death camp" appears in
more stories in August than it does in the other nine months combined.
Our results show that the Holocaust frame was prominent in news media coverage
of the Bosnia war during August, the month that James Harff says was the
beginning of the successful period of the Ruder-Finn campaign. Television news
programs even used pictures from Nazi concentration camps to illustrate news
reports from Bosnia.
It is difficult to say whether this prominence was due to the Ruder-Finn
campaign, however. Stories using these keywords were also appearing in the
three months prior to August. And there are some plausible alternative
explanations. It is possible that powerful influentials such as President Bush
and Margaret Thatcher, who were probably not directly under the influence of
Ruder-Finn, were contributing to the widespread use of these terms.
Furthermore, the news media were not unanimous in acceptance and transmission
of the Holocaust frame. Examination of stories in the sample shows there was
considerable debate over whether the Holocaust terminology was appropriate.
Overall, the examination of these two cases provides mixed evidence for the
effect of political persuasion campaigns by public relations firms on media
framing. In the Kuwaiti case, there is little evidence from this study that the
baby incubator story had the major impact on media framing that some writers
have attributed to it. In the Bosnian case, the evidence is clearer for a
Holocaust frame appearing in the media, although it was present before the key
month in the Ruder-Finn campaign, August, 1992. Also, the prominence of the
Holocaust frame could be due to other causes, including the rhetoric of
President Bush, Margaret Thatcher, and others, that emphasized the Holocaust
This study should be repeated with other cases involving public relations firms
engaged in political persuasion for nations other than the United States. As
Campbell and Stanley point out, the findings from time series analyses should
"not be regarded as definitive until frequently replicated in various settings"
In addition, this study only looked at one possible effect D the effect of
political persuasion campaigns on news media framing of international crises.
Additional studies should be undertaken to look at other possible effects of
these kinds of campaigns, including their effects on the views of policy makers
such as members of Congress.
Finally, the study suggests at least one recommendation for journalists D
reporters should maintain strict rules of verification when reporting on tension
spots around the globe. They should not rely on anonymous or first-name only
sources as the primary sources for critical information, as key reporters did in
transmitting initial stories of the Kuwaiti incubator babies.
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