Tidings of Battle
POLARIZING MEDIA AND PUBLIC
SUPPORT FOR THE IRAQ WAR
JUST BEFORE THE 2004 presidential election, the New York Times Magazine published an article by veteran reporter Ron Suskind titled “Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush.” In it, the author recounted being criticized by an unnamed member of the Bush administration for overvaluing “judicious study of discernible reality” in the evaluation of policy options. The administration source argued, “That's not the way the world really works anymore..…We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out” (Suskind 2004).
Scholars too have often disagreed about the impact of “reality” on government policy, particularly in the arena of foreign policy. As noted in chapter 1, scholars have long debated whether public support for the overseas use of military force is shaped more by political rhetoric and wrangling or by the ebb and flow of actual events (e.g., Lippmann 1934; Almond 1950; Rosenau 1961; Brody 1991; Baum 2003; Feaver and Gelpi 2004; Holsti 2004).
In chapter 3, we investigated U.S. uses of military force between 1979 and 2003. We found that communication effects on public attitudes emerge independently from, or at least in addition to, the “facts on the ground.” However, because those data were limited to 60-day windows surrounding each use of force, we were only able to observe the short- term effects of communication and actual events.
In this chapter we investigate the effects of political rhetoric and real world events over a considerably longer time frame, well beyond the initial “rally period” of a military conflict. We begin with a narrative discussion of media coverage and public opinion regarding a series of highprofile events during the Iraq War. The primary purpose is to provide some context to the issues and events pertinent to the hypothesis testing that we undertake throughout the rest of the chapter. Nonetheless, in many instances, the events described in these narratives hold clear implications