Debating War and Peace: Media Coverage of U.S. Intervention in the Post-Vietnam Era

Article excerpt

Debating War and Peace: Media Coverage of U.S. Intervention in the Post-Vietnam Era. Jonathan Mermin. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999. 162 pp. $45 hbk. $14.95 pbk.

This political analysis examines media coverage of eight military interventions in the post-Vietnam era-the invasions of Grenada and Panama, the bombing of Libya, the buildup to the Gulf War, the Gulf War itself, and U.S. intervention in Somalia and Haiti. In this work, a background resource in media and politics, the author tests what he calls an "indexing hypothesis": If there is debate inside the American government over U.S. policy, critical perspectives appear in the news; if policy has bipartisan support in Washington, critical perspectives expressed outside the government are not well reported.

Mermin, a political science lecturer at Yale, makes a vigorous case for a probing, activist press. In an age where "spin" is a major White House output and public relations a presidential preoccupation, he says, the media should subject U.S. policy to critical analysis. Basic objectives that are being pursued ought to be examined, and the means to secure U.S. objectives should be assessed. For the most part, he says, the media play a relatively passive role and generally reinforce official power to manage public opinion.

Despite the fragmentation of the traditional mass audience and the availability of alternative sources of news and commentary, the author contends that the elite media still provide a major source of information about American foreign policy. In making his case, Mermin examines coverage by the New York Times, ABC's World News Tonight, and the PBS News Hour, although he does include data from the other networks and CNN.

He makes several methodological decisions that seem questionable,however. For instance, Mermin dismisses media coverage of foreign critics of the United States, claiming they do not have much credibility with American audiences. …