Synopses & Reviews
A sobering look at the intimate relationship between political power and the news media, When the Press Fails
argues the dependence of reporters on official sources disastrously thwarts coverage of dissenting voices from outside the Beltway.and#160;The result is both an indictment of official spin and an urgent call to action that questions why the mainstream press failed to challenge the Bush administrationand#8217;s arguments for an invasion of Iraq or to illuminate administration policies underlying the Abu Ghraib controversy. Drawing on revealing interviews with Washington insiders and analysis of content from major news outlets, the authors illustrate the mediaand#8217;s unilateral surrender to White House spin whenever oppositional voices elsewhere in government fall silent.and#160; Contrasting these grave failures with the refreshingly critical reporting on Hurricane Katrinaand#8212;a rare event that caught officials off guard, enabling journalists to enter a no-spin zoneand#8212;When the Press Fails
concludes by proposing new practices to reduce reportersand#8217; dependence on power.
and#8220;The hand-in-glove relationship of the U.S. media with the White House is mercilessly exposed in this determined and disheartening study that repeatedly reveals how the press has toed the official line at those moments when its independence was most needed.and#8221;and#8212;George Pendle, Financial Times
and#8220;Bennett, Lawrence, and Livingston are indisputably right about the news mediaand#8217;s dereliction in covering the administrationand#8217;s campaign to take the nation to war against Iraq.and#8221;and#8212;Don Wycliff, Chicago Tribuneand#160;and#8220;[This] analysis of the weaknesses of Washington journalism deserves close attention.and#8221;and#8212;Russell Baker, New York Review of Books
and#8220;A compelling argument that utilitarian concerns have largely replaced ethical imperatives in public policy discourse. . . . Essential.and#8221;
andldquo;The most comprehensive investigation into how news coverage influenced American public opinion during the run up to the Iraq War, Going to War in Iraq presents a novel and well-written analysis that will make a lasting contribution to the scholarly literatures on American politics, international relations, public opinion, and political communication.andrdquo;
andldquo;Investigative journalism is important for democracy and imperative in times of war. Going to War in Iraq engages key issues regarding leadership and public opinion and reflects in a crucial way on the importance of a free press based on the best norms and activity of print journalism in the United States.andrdquo;
andquot;A fascinating, detailed, and sometimes surprising scholarly analysis of how Americans, starting in 2001, came to consent to the prospect of waging war against Saddam Husseinandrsquo;s Iraq.andnbsp; Feldman, Huddy, and Marcus not only challenge key aspects of the conventional wisdom about this historical pivot-point; they also offer a number of trenchant judgments that should help to guide Americans the next time they must face this kind of choice.andrdquo;
Weandrsquo;ve all seen the images from Abu Ghraib: stress positions, US soldiers kneeling on the heads of prisoners, and dehumanizing pyramids formed from black-hooded bodies. We have watched officials elected to our highest offices defend enhanced interrogation in terms of efficacy and justify drone strikes in terms of retribution and deterrence. But the mainstream secular media rarely addresses the morality of these choices, leaving us to ask individually: Is this right?
In this singular examination of the American discourse over war and torture, Douglas V. Porpora, Alexander Nikolaev, Julia Hagemann May, and Alexander Jenkins investigate the opinion pages of American newspapers, television commentary, and online discussion groups to offer the first empirical study of the national conversation about the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the revelations of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib a year later. Post-Ethical Society is not just another shot fired in the ongoing culture war between conservatives and liberals, but a pensive and ethically engaged reflection of Americaandrsquo;s feelings about itself and our actions as a nation. And while many writers and commentators have opined about our moral place in the world, the vast amount of empirical data amassed in Post-Ethical Society sets it apartandmdash;and makes its findings that much more damning.
It is now widely accepted, even by the news media themselves, that they failed to adequately scrutinize the Bush administrationandrsquo;s arguments for the invasion of Iraq. With neither party voicing much opposition, the press followed their leads, and public opinion passively followed suit...that at least is the conventional wisdom. Going to War revisits this critical time and comes back with a different story. Drawing upon the most comprehensive survey done on the Iraq conflict designed to monitor public reactions, the authors show that not only did the administrationandrsquo;s carefully orchestrated campaign for war fail to raise the level of Republican support for the war, but Democratic and political independentsandrsquo; opposition to the war significantly increased.and#160; By all previous accounts, this should not have happened. Going to War explains how and why it did. The authorsandrsquo; analysis of public opinion in the months before the war sheds light on the specific conditions that enable the American public to sensibly evaluate complex information surrounding government policy. In particular, they find that, whether Republican or Democrat, the individuals who regularly read newspapers were the most likely to question or resist what was coming out of Washington. Most effective were the newspapers that went beyond simply reporting what was said to offer investigative journalism that in a sense created or found the news. This is a kind of journalism that is almost non-existent on television and internet-based news sitesandhellip;and is now at risk of disappearing from print media as well. Ultimately, Going to War makes the case for the crucial role of a free press that lives up to the best norms and practices of print journalism, especially in the case of war but also for the effective functioning of democracy.
How was the Bush administration able to convince both Congress and the American public to support the plan to go to war against Iraq in spite of poorly supported claims about the danger Saddam Hussein posed? Conventional wisdom holds that, because neither party voiced strong opposition, the press in turn failed to adequately scrutinize the administrationandrsquo;s arguments, and public opinion passively followed.
Drawing on the most comprehensive survey of public reactions to the war, Stanley Feldman, Leonie Huddy, and George E. Marcus revisit this critical period and come back with a different story. Not only did the Bush administrationandrsquo;s carefully orchestrated campaign fail to raise Republican support for the war, opposition by Democrats and political independents actually increased with exposure to the news. But how we get our news matters: People who read the newspaper were more likely to engage critically with what was coming out of Washington, especially when exposed to the sort of high-quality investigative journalism still being written at traditional newspapersandmdash;and in short supply across other forms of media. Making a case for the crucial role of a press that lives up to the best norms and practices of print journalism, the book lays bare what is at stake for the functioning of democracyandmdash;especially in times of crisisandmdash;as newspapers increasingly become an endangered species.
About the Author
Douglas V. Porpora is professor of sociology in the Department of Culture and Communication at Drexel University. His books include How Holocausts Happen: The U.S. in Central America and Landscapes of the Soul: The Loss of Moral Meaning in American Life.Alexander Nikolaev is associate professor of communication at Drexel University. He is the author of International Negotiations: Theory, Practice, and the Connection with Domestic Politics and coeditor of Leading to the 2003 Iraq War: The Global Media Debate and Ethical Issues in International Communication.Julia Hagemann May is a doctoral candidate at Drexel University.
Table of Contents
The Press and Power
PRESS POLITICS IN AMERICA
The Case of the Iraq War
THE SEMI-INDEPENDENT PRESS
A Theory of News and Democracy
NONE DARE CALL IT TORTURE
Abu Ghraib and the Inner Workings of Press Dependence
THE NEWS REALITY FILTER
Why It Matters When the Press Fails
MANAGING THE NEWS
Spin, Status, and Intimidation in the Washington Political Culture
TOWARD AN INDEPENDENT PRESS
A Standard for Public Accountability
Evidence Suggesting a Connection
between Abu Ghraib and U.S. Torture Policy
Methods for Analyzing the News Framing of Abu Ghraib
Further Findings from the Content Analysis