The New York Times coverage of Somalia
The New York Times coverage of Somalia 1992-94:
A content analysis
A paper presented to AEJMC 1999
School of Telecommunications
The New York Times coverage of Somalia 1992-94: A content analysis
This paper content analyzes 200 articles that dealt with the situation in
Somalia during 1992-1994. The study contributes to the tradition of research in
two areas: Information flow, and press-government relations. The results show
that more than 55 percent of The New York Times sources were U.S. officials. The
Times contribution to agenda setting regarding U.S. policy in Somalia was
minimal. The study suggests that the closer the reporter's location to policy
makers, the less critical the reporter will be. Correlation between reporters'
geographical locations and their viewpoints on subjects of their reports
requires further investigation.
The New York Times coverage of Somalia
The New York Times coverage of Somalia 1992-94: A content analysis
This paper content analyzes The New York Times coverage of Somalia from
December 2, 1992 to March 31, 1994. During this time span, the paper focuses on
three main phases that witnessed important events in Somalia. The first phase
extends from December 2, 1992 to June 4, 1993; the second phase is from June 5,
1993 to October 2, 1993 and; the third phase ranges from October 3, 1993 to
March 31, 1994.
During these phases the paper explores the nature of the Times coverage of the
Somali conflict, with a special emphasis on themes and news direction. The paper
asks the following research questions: 1. Did New York Times coverage of
Somalia focus on all aspects of life in Somalia? 2. Did the Times reporting on
crisis themes in Somalia constitute a pattern? 3. To what extent did the Times
contribute to policy formulation on Somalia?
The paper also posits the following hypotheses. Firstly, the New York Times
coverage on Somalia was part of its reporting on Africa, and is not expected to
be positive. Secondly, because reporters tend to rely on government officials
for political information, the Times coverage of Somalia is likely to adopt the
U.S. policy. Thirdly, the closer the reporter's geographical location to the
source of information, the more supportive the reporter is to the source's
Review of the literature
In his seminal study The Press and Foreign Policy, Bernard C. Cohen examines the
foreign policy environment and the role of the press in the decision-making
process. He describes journalists as recorders of events as well as
participants in policy making. James Reston's The Artillery of the Press, urges
the press to be more active in news gathering and in criticizing the
administration foreign policy. In his study Impact: How the Press Affects
Federal Policymaking, Martin Linsky concludes that policy makers think the press
plays an important role in agenda setting as well as policy evaluation.
A host of studies have found that the press adopts the official frame of
reference in news reporting. Leon Sigal's Reporters and Officials, asserts that
more than half of The New York Times sources in political reporting are
government sources. Mark Hertsgaard in his On Bended Knee: The Press and the
Reagan Presidency, suggests that the press succumbed the Reagan administration's
propaganda. Nicholas O. Berry's Foreign Policy and the Press: An Analysis of
The New York Times' Coverage of U.S. Foreign Policy, argues that "Notions
heralding the potency of the press in foreign policy and, conversely, the
malleability of the press by the foreign policy establishment are simply
In their edited book, The News Media in National and International
Conflict, Andrew Arno and Wimal Dissarayake maintain that reporters use
"storylines" that conform to accepted "conventional scenarios." Douglas
Kellnerdiscusses the role of the media play in portraying minorities. Said
contends that media played a predominant role because they edit, gate-keep, and
interpret foreign affairs.  Concerning conceptual analysis, two theories
pertain to portrayal of Somalia in The New York Times. These theories are
Ball-Rockeach and DeFleur's  media dependency theory, and the news framing
theory as articulated by Todd Gitlin, and Robert Entman.
Many studies have investigated newspapers' inclination to focus on
negative reporting. A number of studies have referred to media bias in covering
African news. Jack Haskin argues that crises news "appears to be overselected
from the real world." Anthony Bonnah-Koomson who studied The New York Times
coverage of Africa during 1977-1988 found that 54.7 percent of reports on Africa
were noncrisis oriented whereas 45.3 were crisis oriented. Wilhoit and
Weaver have found that stories "reporting violent conflict were twice as likely
to appear in the regional wire news about Africa than in trunk news." Jo
Ellen Fair discusses the press coverage of food aid to Africa and argued
that The New York Times' coverage focused on crisis themes. Mustapha Masmoudi
refers to unfair depiction of developing countries in the Western media.
Lisa Brock refers to depiction of Africa as "primitive" and "tribal" in western
media. Chris Patterson maintains that western media coverage of Southern
Africa focus on negative reporting. Hassan El Zein and Anne Cooper discuss
reporting of crisis and noncrisis events in Africa and argue that "more
economic, environmental, science, and human interest news ought to be
A number of studies have examined the U.S. policy on Somalia. Jonathan Johnston
analyzes the U.S. policy in Somalia, and discusses the relations between the
U.S. and the UN. Walter Clarke and Jeffery Herbst explore the lessons
learned from "armed humanitarian intervention" in Somalia. John L. Hirsh and
Robert B. Oakley focus on the U.S. intervention in Somalia, during Operation
Restore Hope. They describe the role of U.S. in providing relief supplies
to Somalia. They also discuss the confrontation between Gen. Mohammed F. Aidid
and UN that derailed the peace process in Somalia. Jacqueline Sharkey examines
how media influenced U.S. policy in Somalia.
Somali factors, particularly clan structure substantially affected the U.S.
policy in Somalia. Many scholars have studied the Somali social structure with
emphasis on clan affiliation. A number of scholars discuss the complexity and
primacy of the Somali clan system and its impact on the Somali conflict. M. I.
Lewis highlights the primacy and subtleties of the Somali clan structure.
Ali K. Galaydh discusses clan politics and depicts it as "lineage ideology."
S. Samatar describes the fragmented social structure in Somalia as a recipe for
"institutionalized instability." According to Lyons and A. I. Samatar (1995)
Barre's manipulation of clan politics had led to the creation of clan-based
political parties. The authors discuss the complexity of the Somali clan
system and its impact on the Somali conflict. They also discuss the conflict
between Ali Mahdi and Gen. Aidid.
The New York Times is chosen as a media for this research a number of reasons.
The Times is known for its role in agenda setting, and influence in
decision-making. The Times is also known for its prestige, objectivity and
journalistic excellence. Bernard Berelson argues that "the presence of the New
York Times in many samples is attributable to its wide distribution in libraries
as well as to its convenient index."17 John Miller and Harold Fisher state
that "The quality and completeness of Times's International coverage is directly
traceable to eyewitness reporting by its foreign staff." 18 In this
regard, the Times maintained a foreign office in Nairobi, Kenya. Moreover, it
sent some of its staff to report from Mogadishu, Somalia in 1992, 1993 and 1994.
The dates selected for this study extend from December 2, 1992 to
March 31, 1994. This period witnessed important events in Somalia. For this
reason, the Times issues from December 2, 1992 to March 31, 1993 were chosen as
a universe for this study. A thorough search was conducted on Lexis-nexus
Universe, as well as The New York Times Index (disc). The search found hundreds
of stories written on Somalia between December 2, 1992 and March 31, 1994. To
select a manageable quantity (197) a rotated sampling method was used.
Berelson discusses rotated sampling and argues that "By this method the sample
is composed of every nth issue or item, or of issues or items selected on some
sort of staggered basis."19 Earl Babbie calls this approach "systematic
sampling with a random start."20 Klaus Krippendorff advises that a sample should
be representative by giving each unit "the same chance of being represented in
the collection of sampling units."21 Three days (Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday)
were randomly selected. Issues of the Times published on these days from
December 2, 1992 to March 31, 1994 were carefully analyzed. Stories were chosen
as units of analysis.To ensure the reliability of the study, three coders
(including the author of this paper) were selected to code 20 percent of the
sample. The coders were given twenty copies of the Times and coding sheets (See
the appendix 1). They were asked to code the news stories in the categories
detailed on the coding sheets. The coders' previous experience with the coding
process, and familiarity with the subject resulted in a high level of agreement.
Inter-coder reliability for this study was 96 percent. The level of
significance for this study is set at 0.05. Having achieved these results the
author of this paper coded the rest of the articles (177 articles).
An overwhelming majority of the Times coverage of Somalia from December 2, 1992
to March 31, 1994 focused on crisis themes. As table 1 indicates themes of clan
fighting account for 30.44 percent, fighting involving Somalis and the U.S.
forces 17.64 percent, and lawlessness and banditry accounted for 16.26 percent
of the stories. Non-crisis themes account for only 8.30 percent of the total
themes. News about political reconciliation in Somalia occurred only 20 times.
Other positive stories included three stories about economic rehabilitation and
one story about police rehabilitation. There were no news stories about
rehabilitation of educational facilities or rehabilitation of the judiciary.
There were many positive stories in Somalia but the Times confined itself to
Mogadishu and focused on the confrontation between the U.S. forces and Gen.
A correlation matrix shows a statistically significant relationship between
crisis themes and U.S. sources (X2 = 0.000; df = 9; p < 0.05).
One interesting aspect of the Times coverage of the Somali conflict was its
focus on the U.S. official sources for information. From December 2, 1992 to
March 31, 1994, U.S. sources account for more than 55 percent of the total
sources. As table 2 shows, non-U.S. sources constitute less than 45 percent of
the total sources. But even this percentage is inflated because some of the
sources cited as UN sources were actually U.S. officials sent by the U.S.
Government to assist UN in Somalia. Moreover, many aid workers cited by the
Times were U.S. citizens working for U.S.-based non-governmental organizations,
namely CARE, WORLD VISION and American Medical Corps (AMC). Thus, the U.S.
sources share some of the 7.90 percent, which is the share of non-governmental
organizations. President Clinton, the White House and the Department of
Crisis and None-crisis Themes
New York Times
December 2, 1992 - March 31, 1994
*N = 289
Crisis Theme s Frequency of themes Percent
Clan fighting/civil war 88 30.44
Fighting involving Somalis and U.S. 37 12.80
Fighting involving Somalis and UN 51 17.64
Famine / starvation 37 12.80
Banditry / lawlessness 47 16.26
Disease / epidemics 5 1.73
Political reconciliation 24 8.30
*N = The total number of crisis and none-crisis themes.
(X2 = 0.000 ; df = 9 ; p < 0.05 ).
State officials account for 19.58 percent of the total sources, whereas the U.S.
military sources account for 31.26 percent.
Interestingly, Somali sources constituted as low as 15.45 percent of the total
sources. Gen. Aidid and his supporters accounted for 5.84 percent of the total
sources and his rival Mohamed Ali Mahdi accounted for 2.06 percent. Ordinary
Somalis and intellectuals were rarely cited by the Times during the period under
During the Operation restore Hope few U.S. sources were critical of Gen. Aidid.
As table 3 illustrates, from December 2, 1992 to June 4, 1993, about 13 percent
of U.S. sources were critical of him, and 87 percent were ambivalent. There is
a statistically significant relation between the U.S. sources and their position
on Gen. Aidid (X2 = 0.019, and df = 3; p < 0.05). During the second phase from
June 5, 1993 to October 2, 1993, U.S. sources became more critical of Gen.
Aidid. On June 5, 1993, the U.S. and
the UN accused Gen. Aidid of orchestrating the killing of twenty-three Pakistani
peacekeepers. The UN Security Council passed a resolution calling for the
arrest of those responsible for the attack. Admiral Howe (a retired U.S.
admiral) who was the UN Secretary General's Special Representative to Somalia,
ordered the arrest of Gen. Aidid. The Navy Rangers (an elite U.S. force) tried
to arrest him, but he eluded them. However, they succeeded in arresting his top
A number of U.S. military in Somalia were killed during their confrontation with
Gen. Aidid's militia. Thus, it was not surprising to see U.S. sources critical
of Gen. Aidid (81.4 percent of U.S. sources were critical of Gen. Aidid, and
18.6 percent were
ambivalent). However, statistical analysis showed no significant relation
between the source and their position on Gen. Aidid (X2 = 0.505, and df = 6).
Direction of Sources
December 2, 1992 - March 31, 1994
N* = 291
Type of source Frequency of source Percent
Pentagon 37 12.71
U.S. Military in Somalia 54 18.55
Admin/State Dept. 57 19.58
U.S. Legislature 16 5.49
UN military / civilian 41 14.08
International NGOs 23 7.90
Aidid / USC/SNA 17 5.84
Ali Mahdi / USC/ Manifesto 06 2.06
Ordinary male Somalis 16 5.49
Ordinary female Somalis 6 2.06
Other 18 6.18
*N = The total number of sources.
The New York Times coverage of Somalia
December 2, 1992 - March 31, 1994
Frequencies and percentages
Position on Gen. Aidid
Dec. 2, 93 - June 4, 93
June 5, 93 - Oct. 2, 93
Oct. 3, 93 March 94
Position on U.S. policy
* There is a statically significant relationship between U.S. sources and
position on Gen. Aidid (X2 = 0.001; df = 7; p<0.05).
The U.S. Government became less critical of Gen. Aidid after October 3, 1993.
On that day a bloody confrontation occurred between the Rangers and Gen. Aidid's
militias, as the Rangers swooped from a helicopter and tried to arrest him. As
his militia fought back, eighteen Rangers were killed and seventy-eight were
injured. Somali casualties were estimated to range from 200 to one thousand.
The Clinton administration reviewed its policy on Somalia, and abandoned the
hunt for Gen. Aidid. Under public pressure the administration decided to
withdraw the U.S. forces from Somalia by March 31, 1993. Reacting to the shift
in U.S. policy the Times coverage became moderately critical of Gen. Aidid.
About 25 percent of its stories were critical of Gen. Aidid, and 37 percent were
ambivalent. There is a statistically significant relationship between the U.S.
sources and the position on Gen. Aidid (X2 = 0.001, and df = 7).
From December 2, 1992 to March 31, 1994 about 36.5 percent of the Times sources
were critical of Gen. Aidid, and 63.5 percent were ambivalent (See Table 3). A
correlation matrix for the whole period (December 2, 1992 to March 31, 1994)
shows a strong correlation between U.S. sources and the position on Gen. Aidid.
The relationship is statistically significant (X2 = .001, and df = 7; p < 0.05).
But it appears that there is no correlation between reporters' geographical
locations and their positions on Gen. Aidid (X2 = 0.421 ; df = 4 ; p < 0.05).
However, the correlation matrix suggests that the closer the reporters'
locations to Washington, the more favorable is their reporting on the U.S.
policy in Somalia.
The majority of the Times coverage of the U.S. role in Somalia from December 2,
1992 to June 4 1993 was supportive of U.S. About 84.8 percent of the stories
were supportive of Operation Restore Hope in Somalia (Only 6.5 percent were
critical). Support for the U.S. policy in Somalia decreased from June 5, 1993
to October 2, 1993. During this time the U.S. forces in Somalia were actively
hunting for Gen. Aidid. Almost 81.4 percent of the stories were supportive of
the U.S. policy, whereas 7 percent were critical. Some stories were also
ambivalent (11.6 percent). Statistical analysis shows no significant
correlation between the U.S. sources and the U.S. policy in Somalia during this
period (X2 = 0.991, and df = 6).
Support for the U.S. presence in Somalia decreased further from October 3, 1993
to March 31, 1994. The Clinton administration decided to change its policy on
Somalia as early as August 1993. However, no active measures were made to
direct U.S forces in Somalia to implement the new policy. The killing of
eighteen U.S. Rangers by Gen. Aidid's militia on October 3, 1993, was
instrumental in spurring the Clinton administration to implement its new policy
on Somalia. Television footage depicting Somalis dragging the body of an
American soldier on the streets of Mogadishu shocked viewers in the U.S.
Americans reacted to that horrifying scene with visceral outrage, and put
pressure on the Clinton administration to withdraw the U.S. forces from Somalia.
The Times coverage of the U.S. presence in Somalia reflected these sentiments.
Support for the U.S. policy in Somalia diminished to 45.5 percent, and criticism
increased to 30.6 percent. About 24.2 percent of the stories were ambivalent of
the U.S. presence in Somalia. During this period, statistical analysis shows no
significant correlation between the U.S. sources and their position on the U.S.
policy on Somalia (X2 = 0.250, and df = 12; p < 0.05).
The Times coverage of the U.S. role in Somalia was very supportive from
December 2, 1992 to March 31, 1994. As Table 3 indicates 71.6 percent of the
stories were supportive of U.S. policy, 14.2 percent were critical, and 14.2
percent were ambivalent. A correlation matrix shows no significant relationship
between the U.S. sources and the position on the U.S. policy in Somalia (X2 =
0.352, and df = 7; p < 0.05). However, a correlation matrix shows that the
relation between reporters' geographical locations and the U.S. policy is
statistically significant (X2= 0.004 ; df = 8 ; p< 0.05 ).
The results of this study indicate that the pattern of negative reporting on
Africa continued to occur in the Times coverage of Somalia. The Times focused
on crisis themes in Somalia and under-reported noncrisis themes. Though the
overall situation in Somalia was a conflict situation there were many success
stories in many parts of Somalia. However, like U.S. and UN, the Times was
bogged down in Mogadishu and ignored other parts of Somalia ( 39 percent of the
stories during the first phase focused on Mogadishu; 86 percent during the
second phase, and; 66 percent during the third phase). Moreover, the Times
coverage of events in Mogadishu was descriptive rather than analytical. The
Times did not conduct investigative reporting that was expected from a
prestigious newspaper. Its overall analysis was not an in-depth analysis of the
One of the main characteristics of the Times coverage of Somalia was its
relatively heavy reliance on the U.S. sources. The Times reporters relied on
the U.S. officials for information on the situation in Somalia and tended to
adopt the U.S. official policy on Somalia. Had the Times reporters been able to
distance themselves from the influence of the U.S. officials, the Times could
have contributed in alerting the Clinton administration to the lingering
difficulties in Somalia before the crisis of October 3, 1993.
In conclusion the New York Times coverage of Somalia from December 2, 1992 to
March 31, 1993, focused on crisis themes. The Times concentrated its reporting
on Mogadishu and overlooked positive developments in other regions of Somalia.
The Times extensive reliance on the U.S. sources led it to adopt the U.S.
Government viewpoint. The Times was mildly critical of the U.S. role in
Somalia, even after Clinton administration acknowledged its mistakes and
corrected its policy. The findings of this study suggest that there is a strong
correlation between the reporter's position on a subject and the news source's
viewpoint. The findings of the study corroborate Leon Sigal's conclusion that
more than half of the Times reporting relies on U.S. official sources for
political information. The study also suggests that the closer the reporter to
the center of decision-making, the less critical the reporter will be. However,
further studies are needed to examine the correlation between reporters'
geographical locations and their viewpoints on subjects of their reports.
Moreover, reporters' support for their governments' policies needs further
There are some measures that can be done to make the Times coverage of Somalia
in particular and Africa in general more objective. Firstly, the Times can
increase its reporters and desk editors' interest in African stories by
arranging visits to Africa. Secondly, the Times can enhance its reporters and
desk editors' cultural sensitivity to help them understand and appreciate
African cultures and social structures. Thirdly, the Times can highlight U.S.
interests in Africa, to strengthen the bonds between its readership in U.S. and
the African people. These simple measures can help in reducing Africa's
marginality in the U.S. media, and improve its image in the U.S.
 Bernard C. Cohen, The Press and Foreign Policy (Princeton, N.J.:Princeton
University Press, 1963), 4.
 James Reston, The Artillery of the Press, (New York: Harper & Row,1966).
 Martin Linsky, Jonathan More, Wendy O'Donnell, and David Whiteman, Impact:
How the Press Affects Federal Policymaking (New York, W.W. Norton, 1986).
 Leon Sigal, Reporters and Officials (Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Health,1973).
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Phillip Davidson, in Mass Communication and Conflict Resolution (New York:
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1976-1990," In Beverly G. Hawk (Ed.), Africa's Image (Westport: Connecticut:
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Armed Humanitarian Intervention (Boulder, Colorado, Westview Press, 1997).
 L. Hirsh and Robert Oakley, Somalia and Operation Restore Hope:
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Press, 1995), 49.
 Jacqueline Sharkey, "When Pictures Drive Foreign Policy," Mass Media
(Annual Edition, 95/96), 140-144.
 M. I. Lewis, A pastoral democracy. (London: Oxford University Press,
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 Said S. Samatar, Said, S. "How to run an SNM gauntlet," Horn of Africa
Review, 13, (1990) 1-2
 T. Lyons, & A. I. Samatar,. Somalia: State collapse, multilateral
and strategies for political reconstruction, (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings