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

By Jonathan Mermin | Go to book overview

Five
The Rule and Some Exceptions

THE INDEXING of the spectrum of debate in the news to the spectrum of debate in Washington is a general pattern in American journalism; it is not a universal rule. When the figures for the eight cases examined in the content analysis are assembled in one table, the evidence in support of the indexing hypothesis is impressive (see table 5.1).

In the news section of the New York Times, on average 10.1 percent of the paragraphs in the Washington conflict cases were coded as critical; for the Washington consensus cases the figure is just 2.0 percent. One paragraph in 10 is critical in the Washington conflict cases, as opposed to 1 paragraph in 50 in the Washington consensus cases. On World News Tonight, the average for the Washington conflict cases is 8.9 percent (1 paragraph in 11); for the Washington consensus cases the figure is 1.5 percent (1 paragraph in 67). For the New York Times, the indexing effect is a factor of five; for World News Tonight it is a factor of six. (See the appendix for an expanded presentation of the findings.)

On the opinion pages of the New York Times andonthe MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour, the aggregate figures show a strong, although less dramatic, indexing effect. On the opinion pages of the Times, on average 46 percent of the editorials and columns were critical in the Washington conflict cases; the figure is 14 percent in the Washington consensus cases. On the MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour, 34 percent of the guests were critical of U.S. intervention in the Washington conflict cases; the figure is 11 percent in the Washington consensus cases. For the opinion pages and the Newshour the indexing effect is about a factor of three.

It might seem natural for the indexing effect to be greater in the news section and on World News Tonight, where the focus is on reporting unfolding events, than on the opinion pages and MacNeil/Lehrer, which are designed to offer analysis and commentary. But it is not clear that this is the best interpretation of the evidence. On MacNeil/Lehrer, the figure for one Washington consensus case—Libya (35 percent)—greatly exceeds the figures for the other three. In the New York Times too, the figure for Libya (29 percent) is much higher than the figures for the other Washington consensus cases. If Libya is excluded from the calculation, the average rate of critical editorials and columns in the New York Times for the other three Washington consensus cases is 9 percent, against 46 percent for the

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

Table of contents

  • Debating War and Peace - Media Coverage of U.S. Intervention in the Post-Vietnam Era *
  • Contents *
  • Tables ix
  • Preface xi
  • Debating War and Peace *
  • One - Introduction 3
  • Two - The Spectrum of Debate in the News 17
  • Three - Grenada and Panama 36
  • Four - The Buildup to the Gulf War 66
  • Five - The Rule and Some Exceptions 100
  • Six - Television News and the Foreign-Policy Agenda 120
  • Seven - Conclusion 143
  • Appendix 154
  • Index 157
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