SELLING THE WAR, PART CCXVI….How balanced was media coverage of the war during 2002 and early 2003? Syracuse University political scientists Matt Guardino and Danny Hayes recently examined every Iraq story on ABC and CBS news during the prewar period and drew this conclusion:
The data flatly contradict the claim that dissenting views were “shut out” of news coverage….When the two networks are aggregated together, the distribution of source quotes is 34% supportive, 35% neutral, and 30% opposed.
What a relief! But wait. It turns out that virtually all of the supportive quotes came from the Bush administration (no surprise) while nearly all of the opposed quotes came from….
Foreigners. Yep. Despite the fact that plenty of Democratic politicians and U.S. experts opposed the war, the news networks almost completely shut off domestic sources of criticism:
As a result, forty percent of all anti-war quotes were attributed to Saddam Hussein and his underlings. An additional 17% were attributed to foreign sources, including leaders in France, who became the administration’s most prominent international critics. And UN officials, who urged the White House to allow the weapons inspections a chance to proceed, were the source of 8% of antiwar quotes. This juxtaposition of the Bush administration’s arguments in favor of military action, and the arguments of foreign leaders, including Saddam Hussein, against, created an “us vs. them” narrative.
Peter Scoblic, call your office!
Needless to say, relying on Saddam Hussein, Jacques Chirac, and Kofi Annan to be the almost exclusive face of the anti-war movement is even worse than ignoring it. As the authors say blandly, “It is well known that source credibility is central to the persuasiveness of communication, political or otherwise. And while many Americans were skeptical of the Bush administration’s motivations for a confrontation with Iraq, we would surmise that even greater skepticism infused Americans’ perceptions of Saddam Hussein’s arguments about why war was a bad idea.” Seems a safe surmise to me.