Historically, media has been a prominent tool in the projection of power, irrespective of political ideology or collective affiliation. The leadership caste, those elite factions of society, elected in democratic fashion or seize power through revolutionary brute force, utilize media to propagate a singular message to the masses, one in which perpetuation of the structures and hierarchies of power are maintained and expanded. From presidents and prime ministers to radicalized terrorist groups, media is a tool for the dissemination of information. There is no distinction in application or purpose. This is especially relevant in relation to the elite model, where power is concentrated within exclusive groups who dominate the public sphere vis-à-vis media and politics.
In this sense, media is a mouthpiece for government officials who perpetuate status quo policy through effective propaganda. As Meyers (2015) noted, propaganda is largely associated with government and politics which implies a power relationship between sender and receiver because politics is largely associated with self-promotional advocacy (p. 558).
In contrast, the pluralist model depicts a heterogeneous system in which the media and public are independent of political influence and can therefore inhibit government dominance. As such, the realist theoretical perspective is associated with the elite model since the media is essentially subservient to policies enacted by the political elite, effectively mobilizing the public in support through persuasive creative factors in presenting information. This includes, agenda setting, priming and farming, which prepackage news content through selective focus on key events while altering public perception through judicious presentation of facts. Indexing hypothesis is another factor, which enables perpetuating the elite model since independent unbiased journalism is not reflective under a subservient and compliant media industry.As a result, information obtained from government official sources, indexed in presentation, eliminating any discord with status quo political and economic interests. The selection of news sources is of paramount importance, particularly when those sources are able to set the discourse, to provide the vocabulary and meanings of activities, and to set the parameters for discussion (Altheide, 2007, p. 296).
The pluralist model correlates with liberalist theory in International Relations as power is dispersed and by proxy, influence since cooperation between actors on an international stage is reflective of domestic interaction, which under the pluralist perception, undermines unipolar dominance. As such, organizational aspects, which reflect variable influence on political policy, develop from diverse sources. The CNN effect, is indicative of such action since is presupposes that an independent media provides sufficient pressure to alter policy during a crisis. This is accomplished because public opinion has a direct impact on policy formation. In a functioning democracy, the pluralist model should reflect the dominant paradigm as government is supposed to be responsive to the public. However, this is dependent upon an objective unbiased media and a public capable of critical independent thinking, devoid of partisan influence and emotional impulses, which reinforce the herd mentality. This model differentiates greatly with the elite model, which attributes a small intellectual base of society as managers of political matters for a larger ill-informed mass of citizenry.
Ours must be a leadership democracy administered by the intelligent minority who know how to regiment and guide the masses
(Bernays, 1928, p. 114).
Arguments concerning the applicability of public opinion on political policy are further compounded by the research of Gabriel Almond. In 1950, Almond studied American debates post WW2 regarding isolationism versus internationalism. The results determined a wide disparity between a numerically small attentive public and a much larger mass public (Smith, Hadfield, & Dunne, 2012, p. 170). In addition, the smaller attentive public, possessed sufficient knowledge to hold coherent views on foreign affairs while the greater mass of citizens, the herd, was ill-informed and unstable, prone to irrational changes in opinion (ibid). This observation coincides with Stuart Halls work concerning active audiences and media perception theory. In relation to the public’s reception of media messages, Hall determined, a proportionally smaller category of the public would perceive the media in an oppositional manner, rejecting any dominant propagandized messages that would be encoded within the media (Robinson, 2014).
Finally, the impact of the media on policy decisions has historically been through indirect means in regards to application of the CNN effect. Specifically, evidence from the historical records supports the enabling and impediment effects. The latter reflected in the Vietnam War Syndrome and the former through the media’s buildup and subsequent mobilization of public support for the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. As such, the CNN effect and media’s direct impact has been negligible on political policy. A decade of research into this phenomenon has failed to produce consistent evidence of strategic foreign policy initiatives being caused by media pressure (Smith, Hadfield, & Dunne, 2012, p. 178).
It appears academic scholarship and research provides substantial evidence to support the contrary, in which advocates support the elite model in order to achieve predefined political objectives.
In addition, the objective of perception management is the shaping of the attitudes of people, whether domestic publics, the ‘global’ public, or audiences within conflict zones (Robinson, 2014). The correlation to war and conflict is a predominant aspect in the application of propaganda and perception management. As Meyers (2015) notes, Nowhere is the use of the term more prevalent than in U.S. war efforts (p. 554). In addition, Controlling information about death in war is a basic propaganda task (Altheide, 2007, p. 290).
This would provide an effective tactic to counter the Vietnam War Syndrome. As Altheide (2007) further notes, “the discourse of death in war is socially constructed for audience approval” (ibid). This coincides with Kellner’s research concerning the media and the 2003 Iraq war coverage. The big three U.S. broadcasting networks, tended to provide highly sanitized views of the war, rarely showing Iraqi casualties (Kellner, 2004, p. 333). Another aspect indicative of media compliance to elite sources is reflected in the historical preference for procedural criticism and discourse as opposed to substantive. The latter provides criticism and influence based on justification and rationale as opposed to predefined narrow debate, resulting in limited to no impact on actual political and foreign policy. As Smith, Hadfield, & Dunne (2012) note, media criticism and influence tend to be bounded within certain limits, in turn, are often set by foreign policy elites (p. 179).
In summation, realist International Relations theory aligns with the elite model of media influence as foreign policy is reflective of decisions by an elite subset of decision makers who are influenced by external factors as opposed to internal domestic forces such as media and public opinion. This rationalization is based on several normative components, namely, public ignorance, inability of the public sphere and media to define and pursue national interests and the role of mobilized support reflective of a subservient media to statist structures. This, in opposition to liberalism with a principle focus on pluralism and the democratic peace thesis, which asserts that a liberal democracy is naturally war averse and the public acts as a strong constraint on elected leaders. In this respect, technology and globalization have aided in the pluralization of transnational information flows, enabling extended communications. However, the impact of soft power utilization through effective propaganda and in contemporary jargon, perception management has provided exceptional results in relation to domestic operations for mobilization of the public in support of elite foreign policy initiatives. The more that the media appear liberal and adversarial, the better they will function in setting the boundaries of the thinkable” (Herring & Robinson, 2003, p. 554).
In addition, effective utilization of media as a source for the dissemination of information provides a tactical advantage in order to subvert Vietnam Syndrome recurrence.
This is both a proactive and reactive approach in dealing with the malleability of audiences.
As Robinson (2014) states, governments devote significant resources in order to shape the information environment in their favor and, in doing so, win the battle for hearts and minds.
As such, innovations in technology and communications have exacerbated both the CNN effect by providing ubiquitous access to media coverage, enabling growth of larger attentive audience, while extending the concentrated efforts of perception management in maintaining mobilized support for status quo foreign policy decisions.
The result is a concentrated effort by the media industry to perpetuate conformity to status quo narratives concerning political narratives. The elite model is reflective of the application of realist theories within the domestic public sphere. The larger mass of un-attentive, ignorant hive are already predisposed to perception management aims and goals. Overall, this enables a dangerous and effective combination that continues to perpetuate the collective hive with no viable counter solution emanating from sovereign sources who wish to defy and possibly reverse this harrowing trend in human society.
Altheide, D. (2007). The mass media and terrorism. Discourse & Communication, 1(3), 287-308.
Bernays, E. (2007). Propaganda (1st ed.). Saint Louis Park: Filiquarian Publishing.
Herring, E., & Robinson, P. (2003). Too polemical or too critical Chomsky on the study of the news media and US foreign policy. Review of International Studies, 29(4), 553-568.
Kellner, D. (2004). Media Propaganda and Spectacle in the War on Iraq: A Critique of U.S. Broadcasting Networks. Cultural Studies Critical Methodologies, 4(3), 329-338.
Myers, C. (2015). Reconsidering propaganda in U.S. public relations history: An analysis of propaganda in the popular press 1810–1918. Public Relations Review, 41(4), 551-561.
Robinson, P. (2014). News media, communications, and the limits of perception management and propaganda during military operations. In At the End of Military Intervention (p. At the End of Military Intervention, Chapter 13). Oxford University Press.
Smith, S., Hadfield, A., & Dunne, T. (2012). Foreign policy : Theories, actors, cases (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.