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[eccr] Analysis of international TV news coverage of George W. Bush: January - March 2003

Thu Apr 10 17:59:55 GMT 2003

Title: Analysis of international TV news coverage of George W. Bush: January - March 2003

Reality: BushŒs PR fiasco or success story?

Analysis of international TV news coverage of George W. Bush: January - March 2003

It started with entertainment shows such as Big Brother, Survivor, and Idols - it's the new buzzword in media, albeit printed or television and preferably should be combined with entertainment: Reality. With an added plus, however cruel or inhumane, reality always seems to carry with it entertainment value. Now media have stumbled across the ultimate in reality: war. And it is now available on world-wide television, uncensored and uncut. Well, then at least only as far as new journalistic ethics define reality. It must be sensitive to its viewers when showing the 'good guys' and repellent when depicting 'the enemy'. The US lead war against Iraq with its 'embedded' journalists, is turning to be the biggest PR machine yet, for President George W Bush. The war offers Bush the best opportunity to position himself as a leader with integrity as trailing opinion polls suggested last year. All those issues that may have caused concern in the past such as environment, the rejected Kyoto Agreement and ailing health system are unnoticed by the media. A staggering 40% of all statements in US television on Bush in the first quarter of 2003 focus on foreign affairs, a mere 29 (of a total of 3135) on education, 90 on health and 27 on environment. International television seemed to have picked up on this trend even before the outbreak of the conflict. In Germany, 91% of all reports on Bush focus on foreign affairs, in Britain 93% and in South Africa 82%. And approval seems to be the fruit reaped from the strong focus on the war and foreign affairs.

War pushes Bush's ratings up

According to the last GALLUP poll on 30 March 2003, 71% of American's approve of the way their President is doing his job; up from 58% just two weeks ago just days before the first strike. But the media seem to be doing not a good enough job for the US Government. According to Tom Curry of MSNBC Government has been disappointed in the 'mood swings' of the media. Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld has observed that media showed mood swings 'from highs to lows to highs and back again - sometimes in a single 24-hour period'. He further acknowledges the media's immense power: 'I can't manage what people - civilians or retired military - want to say. And if they go on and say it enough, people will begin to believe it'. So the only way is to be first, say it, and make sure others say it as well. The US-led PR war in Britain was especially successful. Since January almost no negative coverage on Bush was reported, despite the public o utcry against him by 250 000 Brtitsh anti-war demonstrators. Germany, on the other hand, is siding with its Chancellor, who categorically declined any involvement in a war and accepting possible 'consequences: 6% of the coverage on Bush is in fact negative and not a single positive report has been shown since January. In South Africa, media are at least attempting some balance: 10% of reports were negative and 5% positive. The Pentagon is doing its outmost best to supply TV networks with extensive coverage of Bush-images, in fact in Britain, 70% of all quotes on Bush were accompanied with a moving image, in South Africa and Germany 50%, and only in the US that the majority of quotes was unaccompanied by images. But pictures alone do not contribute automoatically to a better image. Broadcasters can choose the right 'Bush quote' suiting its editorial opinion, far easier than finding a second source expressing a direct negative opinion.

Pictures of dead soldiers danger PR

Remarkably, German TV has shown Saddam Hussein 488 times and George Bush 'only' 452 times. The latest uproar around the Arab Network AL-JAZEERA showing images of captured and killed US soldiers and the debate around ethics, shows the dilemma Bush is facing: the more US soldiers are shown on TV the greater the chance that the pervasive positive sentiment towards him will turn. Vietnam was a warning. The US is well aware of the danger of too much reality on television. But as long as its networks, specifically NBC, which shows a higher share of positive coverage on Bush than any other US networks still support the overall strategy and decline to report on these images, approval ratings should stay put or even


More information:

Annett Michalski <
(a.michalski /at/>
Press Department
Media Tenor Institute

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