How do differences in ownership of media enterprises shape news coverage of international conflict? We examine this relationship using a new dataset of 591,532 articles on US-led multinational military operations in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo, published by 2,505 newspapers in 116 countries. We find that ownership chains exert a homogenizing effect on the content of newspapers’ coverage of foreign policy, resulting in coverage across co-owned papers that is more similar in scope (what they cover), focus (how much “hard” relative to “soft” news they offer), and diversity (the breadth of topics they include in their coverage of a given issue) relative to coverage across papers that are not co-owned. However, we also find that competitive market pressures can mitigate these homogenizing effects, and incentivize co-owned outlets to differentiate their coverage. Restrictions on press freedom have the opposite impact, increasing the similarity of coverage within ownership chains.
Democratic publics have always struggled to constrain their elected leaders’ foreign policy actions. By its nature, foreign policy creates information asymmetries that disadvantage citizens in favor of leaders. But has this disadvantage deepened with the advent of the Internet and the resulting fundamental changes in the media and politics? We argue that it has. The current information and political environments erode constraint by inclining constituents to reflexively and durably back “their” leaders and disapprove of opposition. These changes make it harder for citizens to informationally “catch up” with and constrain leaders because views that contradict citizens’ beliefs are less likely to break through when media are fragmented and siloed. These changes have important implications for theories concerning the democratic peace, audience costs, rally effects, and diversionary war. They may also contribute to instability in foreign policy by contributing to sudden and destabilizing changes in public opinion that undercut commitments abroad.
Reporting bias – the media’s tendency to systematically underreport or overreport certain types of events – is a persistent problem for participants and observers of armed conflict. We argue that the nature of reporting bias depends on how news organizations navigate the political context in which they are based. Where government pressure on the media is limited – in democratic regimes – the scope of reporting should reflect conventional media preferences toward novel, large-scale, dramatic developments that challenge the conventional wisdom and highlight the unsustainability of the status quo. Where political constraints on reporting are more onerous – in non-democratic regimes – the more conservative preferences of the state will drive the scope of coverage, emphasizing the legitimacy and inevitability of the prevailing order. We test these propositions using new data on protest and political violence during the 2011 Libyan uprising and daily newspaper coverage of the Arab Spring from 113 countries. We uncover evidence of a status-quo media bias in non-democratic states, and a revisionist bias in democratic states. Media coverage in non-democracies underreported protests and nonviolent collective action by regime opponents, largely ignored government atrocities, and overreported those caused by rebels. We find the opposite patterns in democratic states.
Why do some democracies reflect their citizens' foreign policy preferences better than others? What roles do the media, political parties, and the electoral system play in a democracy's decision to join or avoid a war? War and Democratic Constraint shows that the key to how a government determines foreign policy rests on the transmission and availability of information. Citizens successfully hold their democratic governments accountable and a distinctive foreign policy emerges when two vital institutions—a diverse and independent political opposition and a robust media—are present to make timely information accessible.
Matthew Baum and Philip Potter demonstrate that there must first be a politically potent opposition that can blow the whistle when a leader missteps. This counteracts leaders' incentives to obscure and misrepresent. Second, healthy media institutions must be in place and widely accessible in order to relay information from whistle-blowers to the public. Baum and Potter explore this communication mechanism during three different phases of international conflicts: when states initiate wars, when they respond to challenges from other states, or when they join preexisting groups of actors engaged in conflicts.
Examining recent wars, including those in Afghanistan and Iraq, War and Democratic Constraint links domestic politics and mass media to international relations in a brand-new way.
What do Americans think about the US role in world affairs and why do they think as they do? Existing scholarship identifies some general attitudes Americans hold toward world affairs, rejecting isolationism and favoring multilateralism, but few studies explore more specific attitudes such as assessments of US standing in the world (defined as foreign views of America’s capability, credibility and esteem abroad). American National Election Study data from 1958-2008 provide one such data point, which shows a strong correlation between party identification and attitudes toward US standing defined as weakness. When Democrats occupy the White House, Republicans generally see US standing falling. The reverse holds true when Republicans hold the White House. Past studies conclude that this correlation is primarily a matter of partisanship and domestic political ideology (conservative vs. liberal). In this article we investigate a deeper and more novel explanation rooted in the independent influence of individuals’ foreign policy worldviews. Respondents assess US standing based on nationalist, realist, conservative and liberal internationalist views of the world. Across multiple statistical investigations, we find that while party ID remains a powerful heuristic for defining attitudes toward standing, foreign policy worldviews also exert a distinct influence on such attitudes, especially for more politically sophisticated respondents.
This paper uses an online media exposure experiment to examine the role of selective exposure on attitude formation and reinforcement regarding the U.N. intervention in Libya shortly after its initiation. In particular, we examine both the baseline level of selective exposure behavior and levels following treatment to a condition where participants thought they might be called upon to defend their positions in a debate format. We find evidence that both the personal characteristics and attitudes of participants, as well as the setting in which they are being asked to conduct their information search, influence the quality and extensiveness of their information search, as well as their likelihood to expose themselves to information that disputes their prior opinions and incorporate such arguments into their reasoning process.
Why does media coverage of foreign policy vary across and within countries? We examine the sources of this variation using a new dataset of 102,568 articles on the 2011 Libyan uprising and subsequent NATO intervention published by 1,925 newspapers in 50 countries. We find that newspaper ownership structures and networks play an important role in shaping the nature and extent of foreign policy coverage. Higher circulation, independent newspapers offer more extensive coverage and place a greater emphasis on hard news topics and themes, while papers within larger ownership networks display the opposite patterns, net of circulation. In the context of the Arab Spring, we also find that -- compared to more selective forms of violence -- incidents of indiscriminate force by the Libyan regime tended to push newspapers toward a greater focus on policy-oriented stories and more open critique of a government’s performance in managing the crisis. By shaping the scope, tone and content of media coverage, these factors are likely to play important roles in determining whether and under what circumstances citizens support their countries’ foreign policies.
Media outlets in multiparty electoral systems tend to report on a wider range of policy issues than media in two-party systems. They thus make more competing policy frames available to citizens. This suggests that a “free press” is insufficient to hold governments accountable. Rather, we should observe more challenges to the governments’ preferred frames and more politically aware citizens in multiparty democracies. Such citizens should thus be better equipped to hold their leaders accountable, relative to their counterparts in two-party democracies. I propose a mechanism through which democratic publics can sometimes constrain their leaders in foreign policy. I test hypotheses derived from my theory with cross-national data on the content of news coverage of Iraq, on public support for the war, and on decisions to contribute troops to the Iraq “Coalition of the Willing.” I find that citizens in countries with larger numbers of parties confronted more critical and diverse coverage of Iraq, while those with more widespread access to mass media were more likely to oppose the war and their nations likely to contribute fewer troops to the Coalition.
Prevailing theories hold that U.S. public support for a war depends primarily on its degree of success, U.S. casualties, or conflict goals. Yet, research into the framing of foreign policy shows that public perceptions concerning each of these factors are often endogenous and malleable by elites. In this article, we argue that both elite rhetoric and the situation on the ground in the conflict affect public opinion, but the qualities that make such information persuasive vary over time and with circumstances. Early in a conflict, elites (especially the president) have an informational advantage that renders public perceptions of “reality” very elastic. As events unfold and as the public gathers more information, this elasticity recedes, allowing alternative frames to challenge the administration’s preferred frame. We predict that over time the marginal impact of elite rhetoric and reality will decrease, although a sustained change in events may eventually restore their influence. We test our argument through a content analysis of news coverage of the Iraq war from 2003 through 2007, an original survey of public attitudes regarding Iraq, and partially disaggregated data from over 200 surveys of public opinion on the war.
How does the American public formulate its opinions about U.S. foreign policy and military engagement abroad? War Stories argues that the media systematically distort the information the public vitally needs to determine whether to support such initiatives, for reasons having more to do with journalists' professional interests than the merits of the policies, and that this has significant consequences for national security. Matthew Baum and Tim Groeling develop a "strategic bias" theory that explains the foreign-policy communication process as a three-way interaction among the press, political elites, and the public, each of which has distinct interests, biases, and incentives.
Do media representations affect public support for the president and faithfully reflect events in times of diplomatic crisis and war? How do new media--especially Internet news and more partisan outlets--shape public opinion, and how will they alter future conflicts? In answering such questions, Baum and Groeling take an in-depth look at media coverage, elite rhetoric, and public opinion during the Iraq war and other U.S. conflicts abroad. They trace how traditional and new media select stories, how elites frame and sometimes even distort events, and how these dynamics shape public opinion over the course of a conflict.
Most of us learn virtually everything we know about foreign policy from media reporting of elite opinions. In War Stories, Baum and Groeling reveal precisely what this means for the future of American foreign policy.
The most widely accepted explanation for the rally-round-the-flag phenomenon is a relative absence of elite criticism in the news during the initial stages of foreign crises. In this study we argue that the nature and extent of elite debate may matter less than media coverage of any such debate, and that these often systematically diverge. We also argue that not all messages in this debate matter equally for public opinion. Rather, the persuasiveness of elite messages depends on their credibility, which, in turn, arises out of an interaction between the sender, receiver, and message. Hence, only by understanding the interactions between elites, the public, and the press can we account for variations in public responses to presidential foreign policy initiatives. We test our theory by examining public opinion data and network news coverage of all major U.S. uses of military force from 1979 to 2003. We content analyze all congressional evaluations of the president and the executive branch of government from the three network evening newscasts within 60-day time periods centered on the start date of each use of force. Our results offer strong support for the theory.
Democracy requires that citizens’ opinions play some role in shaping policy outcomes, including in foreign policy. Yet, while the literature on public opinion and foreign policy has made great progress over the past several decades, scholars have reached no consensus concerning what the public thinks, or thinks about, with respect to foreign policy, how it comes to hold those opinions, or whether those opinion do or should influence foreign policy. In this chapter, we first review the extensive gains in scholarly knowledge in the area of public opinion and foreign policy over the past several decades (with a particular emphasis on relatively recent work). We then suggest a framework, based on the concept of market equilibrium, aimed at synthesizing the various disparate research programs that together constitute the literature on public opinion and foreign policy. To do so, we incorporate a third strategic actor, the mass media, which we believe play a critical role alongside citizens and elites in shaping public attitudes about, and influence upon, foreign policy. Our goal is to clarify the multifaceted relationships between these actors and foreign policy outcomes.
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Research has shown that messages of intra-party harmony tend to be ignored by the news media, while internal disputes, especially within the governing party, generally receive prominent coverage. We examine how messages of party conflict and cooperation affect public opinion regarding national security, as well as whether and how the reputations of media outlets matter. We develop a typology of partisan messages in the news, determining their likely effects based on the characteristics of the speaker, listener, news outlet, and message content. We hypothesize that criticism of the president by his fellow partisan elites should be exceptionally damaging (especially on a “conservative” media outlet), while opposition party praise of the president should be the most helpful (especially on a “liberal” outlet). We test our hypotheses through an experiment and a national survey on attitudes regarding the Iraq War. The results show that credible communication (i.e., “costly” rhetoric harmful to a party) is more influential than “cheap talk” in moving public opinion. Ironically, news media outlets perceived as ideologically “hostile” can actually enhance the credibility of certain messages relative to “friendly” news sources.
This study investigates the differences in coverage of foreign policy by the soft and hard news media, and the implications of such differences for public attitudes regarding the appropriate U.S. role in the world. I find that, relative to traditional news outlets, the soft news media place greater emphasis on dramatic, human-interest themes and episodic frames and less emphasis on knowledgeable information sources or thematic frames, while also having a greater propensity to emphasize the potential for bad outcomes. I then develop a conceptual framework in order to determine the implications of these differences. I argue that the style of coverage of soft news outlets tends to induce suspicion and distrust of a proactive or internationalist approach to U.S. foreign policy, particularly among the least politically attentive segments of the public. I test this and several related hypotheses through multiple statistical investigations into the effects of soft news coverage on attitudes toward isolationism in general, and U.S. policy regarding the Bosnian Civil War in particular. I find that among the least politically attentive members of the public, but not their more-attentive counterparts, soft news exposurebut not exposure to traditional news sourcesis indeed associated with greater isolationism in general, and opposition to a proactive U.S. policy toward Bosnia in particular.
In this study, I explain why, despite the potential credibility enhancement associated with generating domestic audience costs, leaders frequently opt to “go private,” by conducting foreign policy out of the public spotlight. I argue that leaders (in this instance U.S. presidents) are likely to prefer to forego the potential benefits of audience costs (such as enhanced credibility in the eyes of an adversary) in crises involving relatively modest strategic stakes, unless they are confident of success in a fight. There are two reasons for this. First, public scrutiny disproportionately raises the potential political price of a bad outcome, thereby decreasing a leader's willingness to incur a large political risk for a relatively small strategic or political gain. Second, the reactions of the domestic “audience,” once a leader seeks to engage them, is not entirely predictable. Hence, leaders' efforts to generate audience costs can sometimes backfire, leading to reduced, rather than enhanced, credibility. I test my hypotheses with data on U.S. behavior in all international crises between 1946 and 1994. My results show that when U.S. national security interests in a crisis are modest, American presidents are indeed less likely to speak publicly about potential adversaries, unless they are quite confident of success if a fight ensues.
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Most previous research on the influence of domestic politics on international conflict behavior treats public opinion as endogenous to political institutions, leaders’ preferences, or both. In contrast, I argue that public opinion is more accurately characterized as partially exogenous. I further argue that, partly as a consequence, public scrutiny can inhibit U.S. presidents from using force as a foreign policy tool, particularly when the strategic stakes in a dispute are relatively modest. The literature on domestic audience costs, in turn, holds that public scrutiny may enhance a democratic leader’s credibility in the eyes of a potential adversary, thereby increasing his likelihood of victory in a dispute. Yet, it also raises the potential political price of a bad outcome. Democratic leaders are therefore cross-pressured by the simultaneous advantages and disadvantages of public scrutiny. As a preliminary test of the theory, I conduct a plausibility probe of the influences of public opinion on the decision making of Presidents Bush and Clinton with respect to the 1992-1994 U.S. intervention in Somalia. I find that only by considering the constraining effect of public scrutiny can we fully understand these two presidents’ policies regarding Somalia.