Media and government
power facilitating popular decisions at odds with public interest
December 17, 2004
Excerpts form the introduction to Bring
'Em On: Media and Politics in the Iraq War (Rowman & Littlefield
Publishers, 2004), by
Yahya R. Kamalipour.
One is left with the horrible feeling now that war settles
nothing; that to win a war is as disastrous as to lose one. -- Agatha Christie
Although media practices in general reflect and reinforce identifiable cultural
norms and public expectations, at times of crisis, political agents and media
gatekeepers modify their communication practices to protect or implement
dominant political interests and goals.
In the case of Iraq, the George W.
Bush administration sought domestic public approval for a "preemptive" war
by campaigning on several themes, including the threat of "weapons of
mass destruction," the gruesome
nature of the Saddam Hussein's regime, the possible links between Iraq
and the terrorist group al Qaeda, and finally the patriotic duty of Americans
to support their troops.
In contrast to the independent media, alternative
press, and most media around the world, the U.S. elite media deemed the
Bush administration's rhetorical appeals newsworthy and legitimate.
the media provide favorable coverage and promotion, often by dramatizing
the same copy points emphasized by government speakers.
Bush's announcement of the "axis of evil," the September 2002 launch of
the Iraq crisis, the United Nation's Resolution 1440 on Iraq, Colin Powell's
UN speech justifying intervention, and the international diplomatic negotiations
among UN Security Council, European Union, and Arab League members to the
refusal of France, Russia, Germany, China, and Turkey to support military
international antiwar protests of millions; and the buildup to military intervention,
U.S. elite media coverage acted and reacted to the ongoing struggle for international
power with noticeable allegiance to the American administration's pronouncements.
Yet the complex interactions among Pentagon and White House strategists,
UN officials, administration publicists, military experts, journalists,
hosts, and international publics cannot be summarized as simply the
outcome of standard journalistic practice or castigated as media
unravel and fully analyze the development of U.S. public support for
the war, the process
must be understood in a larger politico-historical and cultural context.
Bring 'Em On: Media and Politics in the Iraq War highlights the
complex links between media and politics by providing appraisals
activities as the result of institutional power and cultural norms. Individual
consider major communication events that politically and culturally prepared
the world for the U.S. and U.K. military actions.
Other books have recounted
the political process leading to the 2003 war on Iraq, and some have
even assessed and critiqued media coverage before and during the
war and occupation. However,
this book provides a more organic and holistic explanation of the intimate
connections among dominant cultural norms, political agent activities,
and media practices -- connections essential to the construction
of the necessary
public support for the first "preemptive" and yet preventive
war of the modern age.
In doing so, this volume focuses on investigating
the interactions between media, political elites, and cultural norms
and practices. A model of communication and institutional interaction
the marginalizing of public participation in political discourse:
--Elites own and control media that create spectators.
--Elites influence and control government agencies and political
parties that only infrequently allow secondary public participation
or electoral contests.
--Elites direct cultural institutions (from entertainment media to public
schools) that encourage consumer spectatorship rather than citizen involvement.
political and cultural leaderships act not with undeterred power and not
as the result of sinister manipulation, but rather with considerable
public consent arising from the "common sense" of ingrained, institutionalized
political practices and cultural expectations. Accordingly, media and government
power so configured facilitates popular decisions at odds with public interest.
Paved with Good Intentions
In the fourth year of the third millennium, it has become quite apparent
that we, as human beings, have made no progress toward elevating humanity
potential level of civility. In fact, the current atmosphere of world affairs
attests to a total breakdown in communication, trust, civility, international
law, human rights, and freedom, and a lack of progress in terms of humanity
and social/global justice.
This book is paved with good intentions, and
in this respect it is intended to challenge our mindsets, senses, and
intellects vis-à-vis war, media, and politics. I started this introduction with
a few thought-provoking quotations and would like to punctuate it by the words
of Mahatma Gandhi:
What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the
whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or
the holy name of liberty or democracy?
Yahya R. Kamalipour, PhD, is professor international communication
and head of the Department of Communication, Purdue University
Calumet, Indiana. He
is managing editor of Global Media Journal (globalmediajournal.com)
and co-editor of the just-released book, Bring 'Em
On: Media and Politics in the Iraq War.