Selling War, Selling Hope: Presidential Rhetoric, the News Media, and U.S. Foreign Policy since 9/11

By Scacco, Joshua M. | Presidential Studies Quarterly, March 2017 | Go to article overview

Selling War, Selling Hope: Presidential Rhetoric, the News Media, and U.S. Foreign Policy since 9/11


Scacco, Joshua M., Presidential Studies Quarterly


Selling War, Selling Hope: Presidential Rhetoric, the News Media, and U.S. Foreign Policy since 9/11. By Anthony R. DiMaggio. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2015. 432 pp.

The president of the United States has an integral role in shaping public opinion on American foreign policy issues via major news media sources. In supporting this point, Anthony R. DiMaggio's Selling War, Selling Hope weaves a compelling narrative about America's foreign policy since September 11, 2001. The narrative includes as its primary set of agents Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, major news outlets, and the American public. It focuses on the presidential framing of fear, the communication of terrorist threats, and the hope of defeating terrorists and instilling democratic processes globally. Journalists, in deference to news practices of objectivity and sourcing, often reproduce these presidential messages for the public. The book's case studies of Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, the Arab Spring, Benghazi, Syria, and the Islamic State are replete with multiple forms of data (i.e., content analyses and text searches of presidential communications and news stories, public opinion surveys, experiments, government documents, and secondary foreign policy sources) to support arguments about the mediated influence of political elites on foreign policy-related public opinion. DiMaggio's ambitious use of data makes his findings relevant to scholars of public opinion, journalism, international relations, and presidential communication and rhetoric.

The book focuses on the president and his communication as the crucial elements in understanding the relationship among elite leadership, news media, and the public. DiMaggio tracks key word usage in presidential communications along with their appearance in subsequent news accounts to illustrate the (in)effectiveness of executive appeals. This approach has considerable merit while simultaneously introducing areas of inquiry for future research. For instance, is there a pattern in presidential uses of the rhetoric of fear and the rhetoric of hope? Here, the author illustrates how both Bush and Obama shifted between the language of hope and fear within and across foreign policy cases. Exploring the factors behind these communicative shifts (e.g., presidential approval, divided government) could unearth patterns in how presidents communicatively construct their powers as Commander in Chief.

The "political-media discourse" (p. 7) that DiMaggio focuses on also includes the coverage granted in major news outlets to presidential messages and administration officials, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Houston Chronicle, CBS, NBC, Fox News, and MSNBC. Building on previous research related to the indexing of foreign policy opinions (e.g., W. Lance Bennett, Regina G. Lawrence, and Steven

Livingston, When The Press Fails: Political Power and the News Media from Iraq to Katrina [Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2007]), the author documents how media deference to official sources privileges administration officials on foreign policy. …

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