Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Our TV Foreign Policy

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Our TV Foreign Policy

Article excerpt

1HE dramatic changes in the international environment over the past decade have been paralleled by even more fateful changes in the way the American government deals with the world.

President Reagan articulated a clearly defined, albeit in the minds of some, overly simple, foreign policy - and his actions derived from it.

President Bush admittedly lacked the "vision thing," and never formulated a foreign policy as such. Instead, he assembled a brilliant team of crisis managers to respond to developments. But because of the absence of a foreign policy, their skills were often put to the test.

Now, President Clinton, facing a vastly different and more complex world, appears to be substituting media management for crisis management. The approach appears to reflect a view that how events are reported is more important than how they are handled. This media-obsessed, McLuhanesque presidency unintentionally revealed itself when an aide to Secretary of State Warren Christopher recently told the Washington Post: "Foreign policy is off Page 1, thank God" - as if news coverage were the proper measure of foreign policy.

The reasons for this shift from policy to crisis management to media management have been much-discussed: the increasing desire of the American people to focus on domestic issues now that we have "won" the cold war, the declining willingness of the Congress and the people to defer to the executive branch in the absence of a single, obvious threat, and the incredible complexity of the post-cold-war world.

Yet the consequences of this approach are serious enough to cry out for greater attention.

* All too often, the administration's statements and actions seem to be made without reference to the broader context in time or space - just like much media reporting in the electronic age. Sometimes this means that messages meant for one audience have a bigger impact on unintended audiences, with unintended results. Thus, Mr. …

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