Essay #2 IR 202 - Media and Public Opinion: Enlightenment,...

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Media and Public Opinion: Enlightenment, Agenda-Setting, and Framing by Hunter Ellis IR 202: Foreign Policy Analysis December 3, 2009 We cannot talk about public opinions role in foreign policy without an understanding of the influence of the media. Discuss.
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While the "Almond- Lippman Consensus" that emerged after WWII painted an unflattering portrait of public opinion as irrational, volatile, and generally uninterested in foreign policy, the Vietnam experience and subsequent events have prompted an intellectual shift away from the notion of an apathetic public (Almond 1950, Lippman 1934). Indeed, the importance of public opinion is best exemplified in the constant utilization of pollsters by policy makers to keep au courant with public attitudes towards foreign policy situations and thus, to determine the optimal foreign policy solution. The media, in serving as a conduit between foreign policy and public opinion, influences nearly every aspect of public opinion. Major changes in the international arena, such as the globalization process, seems to have only enhanced the influence of the media by facilitating access to and transmission of world news. In examining the role of the media as a major source of foreign policy information, I contend that the media facilitate a "rally-around the flag effect", which bolsters public opinion around the foreign policy solution offered by elites. In addition, I argue that the media have several cognitive processing effects on public opinion, the most important of which are agenda setting and framing. The role of the media in any free and open society is to inform the public of current and ongoing events (Graber 1989, 5). Because the majority of citizens typically lack information about and/or understanding of international events, which often involve complex issues, the role of the media as "enlightener" is most prominent in such events (Bennet & Paletz 1994:187). Zucker (1978) explicates this phenomenon in his 'obtrusiveness' hypothesis, which posits that the less individuals are directly experiencing an issue (such as with foreign affairs), the more potential there is for media effects on public opinion regarding the issue (Zucker 1978: 225-227). A survey conducted by The New York Times also shows the media's informing role, finding in 1997 that only 21% of Americans could identify Afghanistan on a map, compared with 64% in 2005 after the heavy influx of informative news coverage in the post-Afghan invasion period (NYT 1997). Thus, the media play a key role in reporting and informing on international events for the broader public. While the public turns to the media to inform it of everyday foreign policy matters, Bennett and Paletz point out that "no political event inspires more public interest or emotion than war and international crises" (B & P 1994: 149). Indeed, the immense role of the media as informer of public opinion was demonstrated in the Gulf Crisis (1990-91), in which 70% of the public reported following the news about the event "very closely" and 80% reported
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This note was uploaded on 09/04/2010 for the course GOVT 100 taught by Professor Peterenns during the Spring '08 term at Cornell University (Engineering School).

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Essay #2 IR 202 - Media and Public Opinion: Enlightenment,...

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