War Meets the Press
STRATEGIC MEDIA BIAS AND ELITE
FOREIGN POLICY EVALUATIONS
WHAT MAKES IT INTO THE NEWS? Longtime CBS anchor Walter Cronkite neatly summarized the widely shared perspective of journalists when he said, “Our job is only to hold up the mirror—to tell and show the public what has happened.”1 In sharp contrast, journalist Walter Lippmann (1922) famously said the press was “like the beam of a searchlight that moves restlessly about, bringing one episode and then another out of darkness into vision.”
Chapter 1 began with an anecdote in which the media offered tremendously different coverage of the remarks by two seemingly similar Republican senators who appeared together on an interview program. In chapter 2 we challenged Cronkite's assertion that journalists simply passed along a representative sample of elite rhetoric, and modeled the characteristics that would tend to cause journalists to bring a story “out of darkness into vision”—that is, to view a story as more or less newsworthy. We argued that, far from serving as passive conduits of information, journalists actively prefer stories embodying novelty, conflict, balance, and authority. In chapter 3 we tested a series of implications of these assumptions by looking at the characteristics of elite rhetoric regarding rally events that appeared on the evening news.
Unfortunately, there is a potential problem with stopping there; even when we find evidence that news coverage tends to correspond to our predictions, as we did in chapter 3, it remains unclear whether that coverage results from the mix of stories journalists chose to cover, or from the mix of stories available to cover. In other words, if one observes that elites from the presidential party (PP) criticize the president in 90% of their statements on the evening news, that could reflect the news choices of journalists, or it may accurately reflect a reality in which 90% of all statements by such elites in the pertinent time frame were critical of the president. Anecdotal evidence like the Hagel- Allen appearance on ABC's
1Cronkite continues by saying, “Then it is the job of the people to decide whether they
have faith in their leaders or governments” (quoted in Alan and Lane 2003).