Monday, November 26, 2012

A Disconnected Public

Images of war are used by US media outlets to boost ratings. From the on location photo journalist, to the deputy picture editor who ultimately makes the decision whether a photograph is publishable, the depiction of war images shown to the US public is heavily constrained institutionally, by the news agency, and by the established rules on what images can be depicted.
Limited Images
The constraints placed on news media agencies as to the content of  images being displayed to the US public borders on censorship and has a fundamental function of shielding the viewers from the inevitable atrocities of war.  US news media organizations have constraints on how they can represent images of war.  Some of these restrictions include the depiction of sexual violence and body parts, both a consequence of war.  The constraints and rules placed on news media agencies, from media "gatekeeping”, to government, imposes rules as to what images are permitted.Along with the financial pressures of the high cost of having journalists in the conflict zone, a journalistic environment is created which not only fosters the photo journalists to self-edit and self-censor , but also restricts the types of photographs taken.  This results in an inaccurate and idolized portrayal of war. The pressures on photojournalists to produce images which captivate the US audience, depicting impact and drama, while being sensitive to not showing gruesome images, constricts the photojournalists from portraying an accurate representation the consequences of war.  The contradiction between the US public’s demand for images which impact the audience and show controversy, while adhering to the rules placed on them to prohibit the depiction of the true hell and suffering that war brings to all who come in contact with it, constrains news media agencies.
Disconnected Public
Since World War II the US has been involved in a plethora of military conflicts, many which the US public has limited knowledge about.  Although the U.S. is quick to intervene and show force, the consequences of their presence is seldom understood. The general disconnect between the U.S. public and the role that the U.S. plays as a rule enforcer in the world causes a lack of understanding of the impact the US military has had on many different countries. Images of the conflict are deliberately “tamed” in order to ensure that the public is not turned off by gruesome images of war. The disconnection between what is shown and what is actually happening on the ground creates an idealized vision of war and the impact of war. Most people in the United States have never experienced war and have a glorified, “Hollywood-like” impression of war. This phenomenon can be observed in many aspects of US society. From the glorification of past wars to the marketing of war video games the idealization of war is deeply rooted in the American psyche.   
If the US public was exposed to “real” images of war it would be increasingly difficult for the government to justify military action to their citizens.  By prohibiting images of rape, torture and dismemberment the US public is unable to grasp the true identity and consequences of war and those who suffer. Although images of war can be disturbing for a viewer, it should be up to the observer to come to their own conclusions. The self-censored environment, created by news media institutions and the U.S. government, has constrained the journalists and do not allow them to portray the images which they feel best describes the situation in a conflict zone. The U.S. publics’ inability to grasp the consequences of war results in an apathetic attitude towards military intervention.[1]

[1] Westwell, G. “Accidental Napalm Attack and the Hegemonic Visions of America’s War in Vietnam,” Critical Studies in Media Communication, Routledge.

Thoughts on Media Influence

      The fact that Al-Jazeera changes public views on certain issues is important when analyzing media’s influence over foreign policy objectives. While Robinson argues that “media should be perceived as one of several factors that affect political decisions, not a main cause for such decisions”, his explanation in The CNN Effect Reconsidered: Mapping a Research Agenda for the Future provides strong arguments that media does, in fact, make a difference. He argues that media has a strong influence during times of policy uncertainty, can significantly determine softer issues such as directing humanitarian assistance, and influence at different levels of the policy stage, such as agenda setting and policy implementation.
      Powers and el-Nawawy spoke on this as well in Al Jazeera English and global news networks: clash of civilizations of cross-cultural dialogue? Viewers who watch Al-Jazeera English (AJE), they found, become less dogmatic over time and are more open to considering alternative and clashing opinions. Those who only watched CNN International and BBC World were more in support of US Policies towards Iraq while watchers of AJE were more critical of US decisions.
      They also talked about how those living in conflict pay more attention to the news pertaining to them, and that many people who live in the South find Western news as irrelevant to them since it doesn’t cover issues in their lands as in-depth as AJE does. At the same time, I personally find it interesting that the majority of Americans do not pay attention to Western news either. Going onto websites such as Digg and Yahoo News, among other free news outlets, one can see that the top news articles have to do with celebrity drama and Black Friday shopping. Many Americans do tune into CNN, NBC, FOX, and read papers such as the Washington Post and New York Times daily, but many do so to reaffirm their beliefs on different issues - and the media writes their stories for that purpose. It would be interesting to research what Americans would read if we were in a conflict closer to home – would CNN International, NBC and BBC World switch to informing us of what is really happening or reaffirm perceptions that the US will take care of us?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Torture and the Evil "Other"

The notion that American soldiers could torture, massacre, and violate the human rights of others is a difficult concept for many American citizens to understand.  After the condemnation Nazi concentration camps was illustrated by the outcome of the Nuremberg trials following World War II, the average US citizen has had difficulties grasping the concept that American soldiers are capable of war crimes and massacres, is fueled by the notion of manifest destiny
The Evil “other”
The fog of war can confuse soldiers and facilitates the justification of the inhumane treatment of ordinary citizens. The importance of a soldier being able to carry out a mission with little skepticism and a lot of conviction is essential to an efficient combat mission.  The enemy must be demonized and dehumanized to justify the actions and the process begins the instant the soldier starts his training.  The dehumanization of the enemy has occurred throughout history.  The United States military has demonized the “other” to justify and warrant war.
In World War II the Japanese and Germans were seen as oppressive, efficient killers, someone to be feared.  The difference in how the enemy was depicted between the Pacific War and the war in Europe was race.  American soldiers during World War II were predominately Caucasian and therefore created a necessity by the top-brass to frame the Germans as efficient killers with no regard for human life.  The framing of the Japanese was easier because there were relatively few Asian US soldiers, and because the enemy did not “look like us” it was easier to dehumanize.
Deadly Combination
During the Vietnam War the US military had initially entered into the conflict to help the Vietnamese citizens.  As the war progressed the enemy became less visible, the fear of the “enemy in the shadows” grew.  The lack of visibility, combined with the framing of the Vietnamese as “gooks”, “dinks” and “slopes” during training was deadly.The enemy was hidden and rarely seen, but US casualties kept mounting, causing frustration throughout the military chain of command.  Soldiers were known to falsify reports to indicate that Viet Cong soldiers were killed, when in actuality there were very few bodies found.  The lack of bodies combined with the increasing number of US casualties created an atmosphere of fear and suspicion which, along with the pre-existing conception of the communist “gook”, justified the otherwise inhumane treatment of civilians. Soldiers could not tell the difference between normal citizens and the Viet Cong, and likewise, citizens who fought against the US and Viet Cong soldiers
The fog of war clouds judgment and enables soldiers to act in a manner which US citizens would otherwise condemn. Upon hearing of the news about massacres in Vietnam the reaction by half of the US public was skepticism and disbelief. US citizens rejected the photographs and evidence with an overarching sentiment that “our boys would never do anything like that.” The idealistic image of a conscientious warrior is a sentiment left over from World War II.  US soldiers were seen as the champions of democracy and freedom, this unrealistic sentiment still persists today.
The end of an Image
            Images of war have shaped public opinion throughout the world.  During World War II the images were those of a liberating US army, delivering democracy and fighting tyranny.  The US military was able to construct these images by employing military photographers and giving specific instruction as to who, what, and where they could take pictures.  As independent media grew and independent journalists entered into conflict zones the images coming out of conflict zones shifted from a propaganda tool, to a more objective view of the conflicts.  Images shape public opinion and have been used as an agent for change.
            The US military has actively tried to restrict images and control the media in war zones.  They do this with the pretense that they are trying to protect the soldiers, but evidence points to the US military trying to foster public support by controlling the images released to the public.[1]

[1] Cookman, C. “An American Atrocity: The My Lai Massacre Concretized in a Victim’s Face,” The Journal of American History. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Images and Public Perception

The effects of images on public perception have changed the norms of journalism.Images of dying soldiers have a negative effect on military mission regardless of the reason for entering the conflict.  The reluctance by many governments in participating in humanitarian intervention, especially in Africa and the Middle East, can be traced to the portrayal of dead soldiers in the media.
Bleeding Soldiers:
            The portrayal of soldiers in conflict zones directly impacts public perception.  Images of soldiers in combat are inherently violent, but public perception of conflict and the realities of war are not shown by many US media outlets. When images of bloodied, battle weary US soldiers are shown in the media, the public reaction has been to portray the conflict in a negative light.  In Mogadishu the images of US soldiers being dragged through the streets caused public outcry and depicted the inherent “backwardness” of Africa.This followed the narrative that Africa is a wild and un-tamable land which does not accept western influence without the understanding of their colonial past. The images of Mogadishu instigated public outcry and caused the premature withdrawal of US troops, who entered to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.  The negative portrayal of African intervention has had a cascading effect on how the US conducts humanitarian intervention in Africa.
            Since the events in Mogadishu and the images depicting the conflict have been shown, there has been reluctance for US intervention for humanitarian purposes in Africa and the Middle East.  The reason for the reluctance draws on preconceived notions of the region and rarely takes into account the actual events that are occurring.  For many citizens of the United States there is a predetermined image of backwardness and that Africa and the Middle East are distinctly “different” from a cultural, historical, and social standpoint.  The image of the African savage and the Arab terrorist dominate the collective conscience US citizens. This understanding has been established throughout history through “white man’s burden” and the idea that democracy is the agent of democracy and positive social change.   In recent years the media has helped reiterate and affirm the notion of African savagery and Middle Eastern radicalism through rhetorical and historical content manufacturing.
Justified Intervention:
There are several cases in Africa and the Middle East where humanitarian intervention was justified, yet there was little action by the US or the UN to get involved. The lack of action and unwillingness of the US to intervene in Africa can be linked to the images of dead US soldiers in Mogadishu and the affirmation that Africans are savages and unwilling to accept western influence because of the association of the West with colonization. The Darfur genocide, the Somali refugees, and the revolving conflicts that plague Africa give enough onuses to justified intervention. The problem with intervention comes, not only with the images of dead American soldiers being dragged through the street, but with who does the intervening.  The UN is largely ineffectual with regards to humanitarian intervention because of the reluctance of the Chinese to pass any resolution regarding humanitarian intervention. The African Union is funded and supplied by the Nigerian government, and there is a fear of regional hegemony from other African nations which makes humanitarian intervention difficult to justify. 
Lethal Combination:
The combination of negative images of dead and bloodied US soldiers being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu and the negative context of Western intervention and colonization make African and Middle Eastern humanitarian intervention a social, political and economic drain. There is a reluctance to intervene in some regions because of the preconceived[1]

[1] Dauber, C. “The Shots Seen ‘Round the World: The Impact of The Images Of Mogadishu on American Military Operations,” Rhetoric & Public Affairs.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I'm very skeptical about things

The CNN effect has basically implied that if enough media attention is paid to a topic, foreign policy will eventually form itself to address that topic because of the media’s influence. This theory then begs the question: who formulates policy, the media or the government? Hanson says, “With instantaneous media overage, the media wants a government opinion before the government officials have had any time to formulate an official position…” and, “Pressure builds for an immediate response before more complete information about the event and its context can be acquired from an array of experts and advisers.” She calls this power the “soft” power of the media in that the media has the ability to shape peoples’ perspectives about a foreign policy situation, but not necessarily “set the agenda.”
            Particularly interesting in Hanson’s War and Peace in the Information Age is her attestation that the media have greater power in shaping “peace” operations where “’vital’ interests are not involved.” Media have more power in shaping this type of agenda because “…goals and the adversary are likely to be less clear-cut and the policy will be more difficult to explain.” On the contrary, when there is strict information about a foreign policy issue, such as Hafez pointed out during the aftermath of 9/11, the media largely depend on the government to be the primary source of information and are thus in charge of getting a population to “rally around the flag.” Hafez says, “Major American television companies reached agreements with the US government not to broadcast certain materials...” and later: “Even seemingly enlightened journalists did the image of Islam a disservice by mentioning it… rather than researching the complex political and social causes [of terrorism].” Hafez later documents that, even in England, journalists that were outspoken against the following wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were labeled as “traitors.”
            What this leads me to believe is that the CNN effect is actually a two way street. During times of legitimate international or even national crises, the media depends heavily on the government to provide to the media noteworthy stories. During “peace operations,” however, of which there are (in my opinion) very few actual “peace” operations, the government depends heavily on media to push its agenda by “striking deals” as was early mentioned. I don’t really believe America went into Somalia for “peace” purposes. We’re already friendly with Kenya, how else can we make oil pipes easier to get to from the region of Sudan? Establishing a military presence in Somalia sounds like a good start (and now we have South Sudan!)

Hard Press Briefings, Soft Publicity

            The media’s influence over foreign policy is a topic that would take extensive knowledge of the relationships between reporters and state officials to fully understand. I have been lucky enough to sit-in on three press briefings held between state officials focused on foreign policy and the media. The briefing begins when the spokesperson stations him/herself on the podium and gives a brief synopsis of hot topics in the world that day. Today, that topic was North Korea, and was not mentioned during this opening blurb – probably since it was obvious, from the size of the crowd and names of companies represented there, that questions about this would be asked. When finished, the first reporter asks a question about the foreign policy in a certain country. The spokesperson replies quickly and firmly the practiced answer before moving on to the next question, quickly shouted out before she/he finishes speaking. This goes on, questions organized by region bulleting at the spokesperson. At the end of the briefing, the spokesperson states they are done, says thank you, and steps off the stage. The lights turn off, and the reporters swarm around him/her for “off the record” Q&As.
            It seems like it takes great memorization skills to be a spokesperson for a state agency; even though a book of planned comments is placed on the podium, it is hardly referenced. I also noticed, not surprisingly, that many of the answers to these questions were danced around, not really having a clear response (that, or the reporter was asked to take the question to the Pentagon). News reporters are some of the first people to hear about up-to-the-minute foreign policy changes, but it seems that the details and opinions are still sought after. The off the record part of the briefing wasn’t the spokesperson answering each question thoroughly, either; it was more of a relaxed chitchat.
            So, it seems that the media and state agencies are not always working together to promote foreign policies at all times. Toril Aalberg and Piers Robinson seem to agree with this point, specifically in the case of hard versus soft news issues. In their opinions, news based on politics and economics are not as influenced by media as news on humanitarian efforts and other “soft” issues. This did seem to be the case during the briefing where reporters struggled to receive answers from the state spokesperson. I’m not sure what the case is with leaks or other behind-the-scenes actions, but it didn’t seem (in either conversation, on or off the record) like the reporters had much more inside information – otherwise, why would they be grilling the spokesperson?
            In terms of soft news, questions raised during press briefings may be beneficial to state agencies since they let them know topics of interest. Robinson stated, “media exerts influence on subtle processes”. He believes they have the ability to influence policymakers to support a humanitarian food aid effort, for example, since politicians supporting it would be able to receive public recognition and would bring the policy to light. It may be true that news projected through media has an effect on what reaches politicians’ policy radars. Whatever the case may be, the relationship between the media and foreign policy officials seems as though it will never be thoroughly figured out.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Transnational Stories: The U.S. Presidential Election

In light of the rise of noƶpolitik, or soft ideational power, non-state actors (i.e. journalists) are supposedly turning away from traditional political, social and economic discourse, and in turn are searching for stories, which can transcend borders, and capture audiences globally.  Reviewing popular news this past week, however, major U.S. and foreign national newspapers retained a strong focus on the United States presidential election race, between former Mass. Governor Mitt Romney and President Obama. 

In what was foreseen to be one of the most highly contested U.S. presidential elections in the century, there were a number of news and media sources closely watching the polls and stirring debates online with newly released reports.  Following, what appears to have become a global discourse on following the 'future of America's leadership and economic pursuits', all news and media outlets seemed poised to run continual reports on the election.  The interest of U.S. presidential election was certainly a major story garnering front-page status in the Korea Herald, Le Figaro, BBC news, and many other foreign national papers.  This could be justifiably seen as a result of new communicative and social media tools, and the ability for major news outlets to find out what is the most popular news attracting audiences to buy their papers, read articles on their websites, or even follow their twitter feeds.

Using the Korea Herald as an example, many South Koreans showed keen interest in the presidential race that Korea's main search engine, received an un-surmounted number of keyword searches for Obama and the U.S. presidential election.  Presumably, rising coverage of the election abroad and even immense media coverage here in the U.S. created clear and significant political effects.  Just as Aday and Livingston address in their article, non-state actors (i.e. journalists) played an influential role in mediating news relevant to international affairs.  For example, there is a lot of meaning within the language used in news reports that can play a significant role in not only sharing ideas, but also shaping views or perceptions of the receiving audience. 

In a recently conducted BBC poll, foreigners were surveyed to select which U.S. presidential candidate they favored most.  With the influence of transnational media, the prospective view of these surveyors could have been influenced by many sources. However, similar to a poll conducted four years ago, 20 out of 21 countries strongly preferred President Obama over Republican candidate Romney. While, the president has received more popularity since his first in-stated term in office, he is also viewed as a TCI (third-culture individual) who is charismatically appealing to many foreigners.  This seemed to remain true after the results came through late Tuesday night, confirming President Obama as a 2nd-term president.  What is most surprising is how translational this one news headline story was around the world, and even now with the final electoral count in the state of Florida released, officially sealing President Obama's victory.  

David Ronfeldt & John Arquilla "The Promise of Noopolitik" First
Monday 12 n. 8-6 (1999/2007). dex.php/fm/article/view/1971/1846
Obama wins Florida, sealing massive victory in final tally. Korea Herald. Nov. 11,2012.
Picture taken from: Washington Post. Oct 23,2012. gs/world views/wp/2012/10/23/poll-finds-20-of-21-countries-strongly-prefer-obama-exception-pakistan/
Sean Aday and Steve Livingston (2008) "Taking the state out of
state--media relations theory: how transnational advocacy networks are
changing the press --state dynamic" Media, War, and Conflict.
South Koreans keeping close eye on U.S. presidential election. Korea
Herald. Nov. 7,2012. 21107000618
Washington Post. Oct 23,2012. gs/world views/wp/2012/10/23/poll-finds-20-of-21-countries-strongly-prefer-obama-exception-pakistan/

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Social Media & Election Night Coverage

            The presidential election is often called the biggest media event of the year, with months of extensive media coverage leading up to the big finale that happened last night. In comparison to previous elections, the role of communication remains unchanged. However, the mediums and methods through which information is disbursed, shared, and exchanged via contemporary information technology and media is constantly changing, as seen by the significant changes in election night coverage from 2008 and 2012.
            Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign was widely regarded as one of the first major (and successful) efforts by a candidate to harness the power of social media. Many scholars and pundits alike have analyzed the Obama campaign’s use of platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and some have cited this as a key tool in his success with communicating to younger generations and earning their votes. This year’s presidential campaign witnessed similar use of social media by both candidates, but what was especially interesting was the notably increased incorporation of social media into election night reporting.
            On the day before the big day, The New York Times ran an article titled, “Facing an Election Night Clamor: Networks Vow Restraint Amid an Onslaught of Social Media.” It notes that this year’s election will be different from any others preceding it in the “level of noise on the Web, where armchair and professional pundits alike will react to the election results in real time.” In 2008, a small handful of websites such as Slate and called Barack Obama’s victory before any of the major networks or newspapers announced official results. However, four years later, this tendency to “call” or announce results before all votes have been counted and accounted for spread to the far larger base of social media users not only nationwide, but also worldwide. I noticed on Facebook and Twitter that friends across the U.S. and overseas who were tracking election results celebrated (or lamented) what they perceived to be a clear path to victory for Obama—much earlier in the evening than major media outlets.
            Social media has become incorporated into news coverage to the extent that ABC news created an unprecedented role held by Katie Couric as the social media reaction correspondent—“a role that did not exist on the network’s coverage last time.” News media agencies’ turn to social media as real-time sources of information has also shown its problems. Just last week, CNN reported a false rumor about flooding at the New York Stock Exchange during Hurricane Sandy. Monitoring social media for timely information on the public’s reaction to certain events definitely has its appeals. However, the role of social media as information sources for news networks is questionable and is something that should be monitored over the long term.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

New Network of Actors

While I was thinking about comparing new media and international exchanges in my quest for a focus in cultural diplomacy, an event at USIP occurred just a few weeks ago - Exchange 2.0.

      Speakers opened the event, including Her Majesty Queen Noor Al Hussein, who promoted understanding differences to craft solutions to shared problems. Rebecca Saxe, a charismatic neuroscientist at MIT, showed us all the scientific side of virtual exchanges, proving the need for measurements of change and effectiveness. Finally, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Tara Sonenshine spoke on the new initiatives currently brewing at State.
      The event closed with a panel on how public-private partnerships can bring virtual exchanges to scale. The PDAS from State’s Educational and Cultural Affairs, Director for Global Engagement of the National Security Council, Co-Director of Bezos Family Foundation, Founder of Soliya, and the Executive Director of the Qatar Foundation International all spoke with one another on the topics of international education and virtual exchanges. Each of these speakers and panelists represented a different sector of the international exchanges field. USIP brought them together to discuss the emergence and usability of virtual exchanges – no roadmap has been established yet, no government initiative was promoting them to come together.
      As Sangeet Kumar states in his article on Google Earth and the Nation State, “the world order of nation states and the form of sovereignty it represents is undergoing significant alteration”. Since the onset of globalization, networks of actors in varying fields have begun to connect with one another. Aday and Livingston state that “greater global interdependence and the nature of global challenges mean that the state is not necessarily the best source of information, or even the most likely catalyst of policy change and stability concerning an array of important issues”, and I couldn’t agree more. As this event and others in different fields such as Food Security and Women's Issues prove, different actors have roles that are just as strong as the government’s. While meeting together may be motivated by a need to prove the government is working with the private sector, it is not just for show: each sector is now adjusting to this new form of networks, wholeheartedly contributing their ideas for next steps. I just hope the new administration will continue to expedite these necessary partnerships and fresh ideas.


            “Much literature on new media and contentious politics has implicitly assumed that these new forms of communication primarily help activists against regimes. But although regimes have been caught off guard by new media activism, they have also responded by co-opting, shutting down, or overwhelming activists.”
            That’s what Aday said. And through his analysis of countries like Kenya where social media made things worse and Iran where social media helped propel a (failed) revolution (for good or worse depending on your politics), his report Blogs and Bullets showcases that social media does not always make positive changes in the world even though the “Facebook” and “Twitter” Revolutions in Egypt and Iran were, generally, seen as positive.
            What I took from this analysis was that Internet and social media can be are generally detrimental to nation-states. Even if a nation-state has a strong grip on censorship and uses those same technologies made possible by Internet to monitor its citizens, the government still has to work undoubtedly hard to constantly keep up with citizens that are motivated to dissent. As any negotiation strategist knows, in a war a government may be netter equipped, but guerillas and insurgents can never lose because they’ve got the enduring motivation to fight. In this case, the citizens are the insurgents: there seems to never be a shortage of political dissidents.   
            That brings me to Martin Luther. Although we’ve talked about this like four times already, I’m still mad inspired by this cat. I’m so inspired by his inability to go from a relatively unknown academic to the leader of a reformation of an institution like ~*The Church*~ that I have actually reactivated my twitter account. There are times when I get ideas that I think are pretty much equivalent to his 95 theses and what if people start catching on to my ideas? But seriously – if Luther was able to depend on word of mouth, pamphlets, and wood carvings on getting his message of reformation out to a huge portion of European Christendom  five hundred years ago, I think I can manage to get my ideas out through twitter. I mean look how far he got:

            You can follow me @holybibleswag