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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Stop the press : are the news media taking over foreign policy? Tettensor, Erin.


In recent years, discussion surrounding the role of the news media in foreign policy - specifically whether the media do in fact exert measurable influence over the character and direction of foreign policy - appears to have coalesced around analyses of the so-called 'CNN effect'. This phrase refers to the notion that news media - television in particular - are 'driving', 'influencing', or even 'formulating' foreign policy in times of crisis. The supposed salience of the CNN effect has, in fact, become a virtual truism in political science. Careful scrutiny of the theoretical underpinnings of the CNN effect, however, reveals that the theory, while not entirely without merit, has yet to be borne out by empirical evidence. This is because the mechanism by which the CNN effect operates will complete itself only under extremely rare circumstances. Namely, the media are most likely to influence public opinion in precisely those circumstances where public opinion is least likely to influence foreign policy. This study will examine the assumptions that underpin the CNN effect and show them to be lacking. Then, using counterfactual reasoning, the case of Somalia will be reviewed in an attempt to ascertain if the CNN effect operated in that case. The discussion will show that, despite .the fact that Somalia is most often cited as the crisis that best demonstrates the operation of the CNN effect, this portrayal is inaccurate. In sum, the study will show that the CNN effect has yet to materialize in international politics.

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