News, Opinion, and Foreign Policy
ON AUGUST 21, 2005, Senators Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and George Allen (R- VA) appeared together on the ABC Sunday morning political roundtable program This Week to discuss American involvement in Iraq. The senators were of comparable stature; both were considered credible aspirants for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, both were forceful and articulate for their respective positions, and both spoke for similar lengths of time. Yet they differed in one key respect: Hagel criticized U.S. policy in Iraq, while Allen defended it. Commenting on the Bush administration's just released proposal to “possibly” keep over 100,000 troops in Iraq “for at least four more years,” Hagel scoffed: “I think that it's just complete folly.…The fact is I don't know where he's going to get these troops … there won't be any National Guard left.… No Army Reserve left.… There's no way America is going to have 100,000 troops in Iraq, nor should it, in four years. It would bog us down, it would further destabilize the Middle East … we need to be out.” Allen responded by defending the proposal: “This was a worst case scenario. And I think that … if they can constitute a free and just society with this constitution that they're working on right now, I think that that will be something, a real measurement, a real benchmark that Chuck [Hagel] talks about.”
We have recounted this anecdote on numerous occasions to audiences of students, scholars, and journalists. In each instance, we asked the audience to guess which senator's comments were broadcast on the network news that evening. Without exception, most of our audience members— and frequently all of them—anticipated that post- interview media coverage would heavily emphasize Hagel and largely ignore Allen. In this respect, our audiences were prescient: in the two weeks following the interview, journalists broadcast over 30 times more television stories about Hagel's criticism of the war than about Allen's defense of it.1 What accounts for the vast difference in media attention devoted to these prominent Republicans' comments? Clearly, many people—indeed, nearly everyone to whom we have ever posed the question—intuitively assume that the news media prefer to cover criticism of the president's Iraq War policy
1Specifically, a search of Lexis- Nexis online transcripts produced 277 hits for stories that
mentioned only Hagel, compared to just nine that mentioned only Allen. An additional 61
stories mentioned both.