The influence of the news media on public/political opinion

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Previous research

Reporting on the enemy/other

The way in which Western media outlets portray individuals and states considered ‘the enemy’ or ‘the other’ has attracted much scholarly attention (Steuter and Willis 2009, Melkote 2009, Dimitrova and Lee 2009, Ooi and D’Arcangelis 2017, Rojo 1995). Such studies are important to refer to as, whilst they may not refer to the exact empirical case explored in this paper, they offer important context and insight into how researchers have approached similar topics in the past. They also present a wealth of knowledge and findings upon which this study will be developed.
Steuter and Willis (2009) used discourse analysis to examine and identify the frames used to dehumanise certain actors and construct the enemy within Canadian press reportage of the ‘war on terror’. The study focused primarily on article headlines and found that Canadian media had indeed contributed to negative, Western constructions of Islam. Specifically, Steuter and Willis (2009) found that the dehumanisation of these actors was done though the use of animal metaphors, an aspect which is of ideological importance given that such constructions are being disseminated by « monopoly media institutions » (Steuter and Willis 2009, 7). Whilst the current study will not focus on this particular event i.e. ‘the war on terror’, the results are of particular interest, offering academic insight into how Western media are able to construct, through language, negative sentiment towards those who had become the object of political aggression. Closely linked to the ‘war on terror’, although focusing on a more specific event, Dimitrova and Lee (2009) examined the U.S. media framing of the execution of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein. The study found that the dominant frames used within the coverage were all geared towards a sense of justice whether that be for the Iraqi people, Americans, or, perhaps surprisingly, Saddam Hussein himself. The study went further to look at the ‘interpretive packages’ present within this broader frame of ‘justice’ which were ‘flawed execution’, whereby details of how the execution was carried out were the focus and discourse was critical towards the humanity of execution. The next package identified was ‘punish the dictator’ which was focused on the idea of justice being served and that the punishment of death fit the crimes committed by such a “vicious » (Dimitrova and Lee 2009, 545) dictator. The third package identified was ‘failed justice’ within which the media put forward the idea that executing Saddam before he was tried for his biggest crimes was unjust for the Iraqi people, who would never see him brought to full judicial justice. The last package entitled ‘learning democracy’ raised procedural concerns about the nature of Saddam’s trial prior to his sentencing. It was suggested that the trial was a failed attempt at a democratic process by letting the Iraqi people decide the fate of Saddam.
In a study also focusing on Western representations of Saddam Hussein, Rojo (1995) analysed how Spanish newspaper El Pais had demonised the former Iraqi leader in the period prior to the Gulf war. Rojo’s (1995) results showed that the newspaper had sought to create an image of Saddam as « the stranger », « the irrational being »the madman », « the beast », and finally, « the personification of evil » (Rojo 1995, 49). Whilst this study focused on Spanish coverage, it offers good insight into how, on a more general level, Western news outlets approach the coverage of an individual who was condemned by, most notably, the U.S. as an ‘enemy’. Within a study examining a somewhat similar empirical case, Melkote (2009) used framing analysis in order to examine how The New York Times framed predominant issues and actors during the month leading up the 2003 Iraq war. Specifically, the study looked at how the publication had framed Saddam Hussein, George Bush Jr, the United Nations, weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. army, France, Germany and Russia. The study revealed negatively bias coverage of Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction, but also bias when discussing France, Germany and Russia. The results of this study show, above all, the tendency for U.S. media outlets to reflect and favour American political interests within their discourse. However, it also shows that U.S. news outlets again attempt to maintain the negative political sentiment established against Saddam Hussein and the existence of weapons of mass destruction.
Examining how a more complex political situation is covered by the U.S. media, Ooi and D’Arcangelis (2017) used qualitative discourse analysis to explore how American news outlets construct images of China within their discourse. The researchers suggested that discourses surrounding China were aimed at justifying U.S. political actions to ‘keep them in line’ (Ooi and D’Arcangelis 2017, 269). Despite a mutually beneficial relationship between the U.S. and China, such constructions represented China as a potential enemy and thus, the ‘other’. The first of the constructions discussed China as a cheat, with reference to U.S. doubts over how they value their own currency, something which directly impacts on U.S.-China trade relations. The second construction implied that China was a ‘cyber thief’ and that they had developed ways to infiltrate U.S. government computer systems and thus gain access to confidential information. The last of the constructions identified represents China as a « lawless bully » (Ooi and D’Arcangelis 2017, 276) with reference to its territorial disputes in the South China Sea with neighbouring countries Vietnam and the Phillipines. It is of interest to explore how U.S. news outlets discuss and represent China within their discourse for two reasons. Firstly, the political differences between the two countries mean that, should China not be so powerful economically, it is probable to suggest that they, just like most other nations under a communist regime, would become the subject of U.S.-led sanctions. Secondly, it offers further insight into how the U.S. media attempt to maintain suspicion of China amongst their readers, which one can credibly assume, would contribute to or go some way to creating a generally negative feeling towards the country within the U.S.
Whilst this introductory section of the research review offers a somewhat general overview of how Western media outlets create and maintain certain actors or nations as the ‘enemy’ or the ‘other’, the insights produced by these studies provide important context when looking at how Fox News are able to communicate the aggressive sentiment established by U.S. political elites against North Korea. It, above all, establishes the media’s willingness to reciprocate the rhetoric produced by those in power and their equal desire to disseminate such ideas to their audiences. The next section of this literature review will take a more specific look at how North Korea has been discussed within Western news media discourse.

Western media outlets on North Korea

In order to explore how Fox News discuss North Korea within their news discourse, it is important to note how the broader Western media have approached reportage of the “hermit state” (Callick 2014), an area of study which has also been the focus of much scholarly attention (Dalton et al. 2016, Choi 2010, Yoon and Wilson 2016, Jang 2013, West 2017, Kim 2014).
In critical discourse analysis carried out by Dalton et al. (2016) looking at the dominant metaphors and media frames present in Australian news media coverage of North Korea, researchers found evidence of “media complicity” (Dalton et al. 2016, 523) through a collective willingness to reinforce a “negative, adversarial orientation” (Dalton et al. 2016,523) towards the country and its political regime. The findings also showed that such constructions often followed the nature of Australian political discourse on the subject and that “US policy and position” (Dalton et al. 2016, 542) often influenced media and political discourse regarding North Korea. Focusing on specifically American media discourse regarding North Korea, Choi (2010) analysed the construction of North Korea’s national image in popular newspapers The New York Times and The Washington Post. During this study, Goffman’s (1986) framing theory provides an important theoretical perspective through which the research is carried out, similar to that of Dalton et al. (2016). Similar too are the findings of the study which again, reiterate the dominance of negative constructions in the representation of North Korea within media coverage. An important link to how the political tensions with North Korea are communicated via media coverage was identified by Yoon and Wilson (2016), who compared the constructions within Western coverage of North Korean participation in the London 2012 Olympic Games with South Korean coverage of the same subject. It was found that Western coverage focused on political controversies and dismissed the efforts of North Korean athletes, whereas South Korean coverage contained
slightly more positive reportage of athletic accomplishments and rarely referenced divisions between the two Koreas. This study again highlighted the existence of a Western, negative and perhaps politically-driven media discourse regarding discursive constructions of North Korea. Once again, framing theory played an important role in demonstrating how dominant, political ideology materialised in the reporting of North Korea, something which was also true in studies carried out by Jang (2013), West (2017) and Kim (2014). The findings of Jang’s (2013) study comparing U.S. and Korean coverage of the six-party nuclear talks from 2003 to 2007 suggested that the nature of news coverage was dependent on the media system’s relationship with the nation’s political interests. This suggests, similarly to some of the studies previously discussed, that political relations with North Korea, news organisations and political elites, have a direct impact on media reportage. These findings also provide an important point of departure for the current study as they suggest that the aggressive rhetoric established between U.S. and North Korean political elites will be recreated in U.S. news discourse.

U.S. reportage of other conflicts and foreign affairs

In order to understand Fox News’ approach to covering North Korea, it is also important to understand the behaviour of U.S. media outlets in general with regard to their reporting on conflict and foreign affairs. This is also an area which has received much scholarly attention (Saleem 2007, Ibrahim 2008, Bayulgen and Arbatli 2013, Entman 1991, Aday, Livingstone and Hebert 2005, Garyantes and Murphy 2010, Guzman 2016, Sharifi, Ansari and Asadollahzadeh 2017).
In a study carried out by Saleem (2007) in which U.S media framing of foreign countries was analysed, it was found that the frames used to depict countries depended on the interests of the government in them. However, it was also found that in some cases, media frames changed depending on significant differences in stance on certain topics between the news outlet and the government (Saleem 2007, 152-153). Despite this, some of the overall findings of the study were that U.S. media coverage ‘projected and protected’ the interests of the ruling elite and that news organisations relied heavily on government sources (the president for example) to shape the nature of coverage (Saleem 2007, 153). The interests of the U.S. government were also found to have a large impact on the framing of Arab countries after the 9/11 attacks by a study carried out by Ibrahim (2008). This study found that Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt were framed in a way which focused on diplomatic and military relations whilst Iraq was framed in the context of future invasion (Ibrahim 2008, 279). Bayulgen and Arbatli (2013) stepped away from the U.S. framing of the Middle East to focus on how American news discourse framed the 2008 Russia-Georgia war. Again, within this study it was possible to see how the political situation and history between the U.S. and Russia may have had an influence on the coverage of such a conflict. The results of the study reinforced this view as it showed how coverage reflected negatively on Russia and served the function of “perpetuating the Cold War mentality” (Bayulgen and Arbatli 2013, 513). In a politically similar context, Entman (1991) analysed U.S. media coverage of two similar events. In one case, a Korean passenger plane was shot down by a Soviet fighter plane, and in the other, an Iranian passenger plane was shot down by a U.S. navy ship, in both cases there were no survivors. The study found that the first case was framed as a “moral outrage” (Entman 1991, 6) and the second case concerning the U.S. directly was framed as a “technical problem” (Entman 1991, 6).
In a study analysing cross-cultural news coverage of the Iraq war carried out by Aday, Livingstone and Hebert (2005) on stories produced by five American news networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News Channel) and Arab news network Al Jazeera, the majority of networks showed balance in their reporting whilst Fox News Channel showed « strong bias in support of the American-led war effort » (Aday, Livingstone and Hebert 2005, 3). It was found that Fox News Channel generally failed to publish any material which could have been interpreted as being ‘anti-war’ that is, images and/or stories about U.S. and civilian casualties or images/stories about anti-war protests, whilst this was an aspect of the war that Al Jazeera focused on. Furthering the findings of Aday, Livingstone and Hebert (2005), a study analysing the online news coverage given to the Iraqi elections of 2005 by Al Jazeera and CNN carried out by Garyantes and Murphy (2010) found that CNN had framed the elections in a way which showed and promoted a “sentimental patriotism toward western-style democracy” (Garyantes and Murphy 2010, 151). Similarly, a study carried out by Guzman (2016) employed a critical discourse analysis methodology to identify the news frames utilised by Fox News and CNN during news reporting of the 2011 Egyptian revolution. The results of this study pointed out that although there were some differences between the frames adopted by the two networks, overall, they both favoured ‘U.S. political ideology’ which favoured those seeking democracy and showed a wariness of Islam (Guzman 2016, 80).

The influence of the news media on public/political opinion

Having examined, up until now, how Western media outlets attempt to manipulate news discourse in favour of dominant political ideology, the study will now look at research regarding the impact of media coverage on audiences (Wanta, Golan and Lee 2004, Lee and Hong 2012, Schemer 2012, Lewis 2004, Lim and Seo 2009). This area is explored in order to give a general overview of the power of the news media and how the ideas communicated within it can influence different aspects of society. Whilst it should be reiterated that this section of the research does not contribute to the overall framework of this thesis, it was considered as providing interesting background knowledge regarding the impact of media reportage on opinion.
By carrying out a national poll and a concluding content analysis with a focus on agenda-setting in U.S. news discourse, Wanta, Golan and Lee (2004) found that the more negative media coverage about a particular nation, the more likely the public were to think negatively about the country, however, positive coverage of a particular nation had no influence on public perception. It was also found that the more a nation appeared in news coverage, the more it was considered to be important to U.S. interests. Similarly, Lee and Hong (2012) studied the impact of international public relations within news discourse on the public perception of foreign nations and their resulting national image in the U.S. Arguably, the most relevant finding of this research with regard to the current study, and one which is closely linked to that of Wanta, Golan and Lee (2004), is that positive or negative coverage of a nation within news discourse was directly linked to how the public felt about it. This conclusion, put forward by both Lee and Hong (2012), Wanta, Golan and Lee (2004) suggests that the U.S. news media are influential in shaping the way the public perceive and thus feel about such nations. Also concerned with media influence on public opinion, but with a focus on a somewhat different case, Schemer (2012) found that negative news coverage given to immigrants increased negative and stereotypic attitudes towards them amongst the public. This finding also reflects the perceived power and influence of the news media to manipulate public perception based on how they cover certain issues.
In a study examining the impact of media coverage on British public opinion towards the Iraq war, Lewis (2004) found that TV news coverage created a « climate » (Lewis 2004, 295) within which opinions supporting the war became more relevant and credible which, in turn, made the idea of war more « acceptable » (Lewis 2004, 295) amongst the public. Lewis (2004) suggested, however, that this was not a result of outright media bias, but more so a result of news routines and values which gave particular credence to certain assumptions and narratives. In keeping with Lewis’ (2004) focus on the impact of media coverage on international conflict, a study carried out by Lim and Seo (2009) examined the frames present within U.S. media coverage and policy statements regarding North Korea over a four-month period. The results were then compared against a public opinion poll in order to gauge how these frames impacted public opinion on policy decisions. The results showed that the combination of frames adopted by the media and policy makers produced greater support in favour of economic sanctions as opposed full-scale military intervention. This result offers insight into the power of the U.S. to news media to influence public opinion regarding North Korea. The result also provides insight into the relationship between the U.S. government, media outlets and public opinion.
Whilst all of the studies discussed so far (Wanta, Golan and Lee 2004, Lee and Hong 2012, Schemer 2012, Lewis 2004, Lim and Seo 2009) focus on the impact of the media coverage on public opinion in different contexts, the findings they produce offer good points of departure for understanding how powerful popular outlets such as Fox News are in reinforcing and maintaining aggression towards North Korea, amongst its audience, and to at least some extent, amongst the country’s political elites. Although the current study will not seek to gauge public opinion, these studies are interesting to note, as they highlight the power of news media discourse to influence on societal attitudes towards certain issues.

Table of contents
1. Introduction
1.1 Background
1.2 Definition of key terms
1.3 Disposition
2. Aim and research questions
3. Previous research
3.1 Reporting on the enemy/othe
3.2 Western media outlets on North Korea
3.3 U.S. reportage of other conflicts and foreign affairs
3.4 The influence of the news media on public/political opinion
3.5 Research gap
4. Theoretical frame and concepts
4.1 Critical Discourse Analysis
4.2 Applying Fairclough’s (1995) media discourse model
4.4 War Journalism and ‘Threat Society’ in Fairclough’s model
5. Method
5.1 Critical Discourse Analysis
5.2 CDA tools
5.3 Material
5.4 Limitations of this study
6. Analysis .
6.1 Results
6.2 Discussion
7. Conclusion
8. References
9. References for sampled articles

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Apresidential mouthpiece: How Fox News reflect Donald Trump and his government’s stance on North Korea within their online discourse

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