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The White House, the Media and the People.

by on November 29, 2013

As the United States and their political culture grow, so do their approaches to dealing with the media and the perception they give to the electorate. Where there has been government, there has always been a battle to win the public over. Whether this is for an upcoming election, long term support or even an isolated issue, it’s clear that institutions such the White House would use every advantage available in order to reach their goals.

Take for example the case of Secretary of State John Kerry in 2013, who was caught using a photo from 2003 of the Iraq War in order to promote a U.S. intervention in Syria, after the UK and other states had officially ruled out any intervention. Kerry in an attempt to gain support for a military led action and paint an image of the horrors of gas attacks in particular stated, “We saw rows of dead lined up in burial shrouds, the white linen unstained by a single drop of blood”. [1]

a Marco di Lauro photograph used by the BBC.

a Marco di Lauro photograph used by the BBC.

Although this was probably a blunder by Kerry and his team, it’s difficult to imagine those responsible for it thought an image of a child jumping over dead bodies would have been forgotten by the many people who had seen it previously, let alone the photographer who stated he “fell out of his chair” upon seeing his photo being used in this way. The ramifications of this incident weren’t damaging to any high degree, however it does raise questions about the nature of the White House’s utilisation of the media today. Even as little as 15 years ago it could be argued that the debunking of this image would not have been possible. It is because of tools like the internet that misleading political ‘blunders’ or even propaganda can be dismissed before any real effects take place.
President Obama exhibits the strong relationship between the political elite in the U.S. and the media and their part in helping fulfil political agendas. The administration as a whole has been accused of using editing and media techniques [2], akin to those used by Fox News, and even deep rooted psychological methods. [3] A simple demonstration of this can be found in President Obama’s ‘Syria Address’ in the video below.

Although it can be seen as a tongue-in-cheek jab at the general nature of any diplomatic address, it is definitely interesting to analyse the use of language in the speech, which it is important to note is written by a carefully selected team of speech writers. The use of language like this is responsible for what the public uses to shape their opinions and decide what constitutes ‘the bad guys’, yet if a story investigating the alleged 2% success rate of drone strikes by the United States [4] was to end up somewhere other than the cutting room floor, it would not include descriptive narratives of “a father clutching his child” followed by the President gesturing to the camera while looking for sympathy for the civilian victims of drone strikes.

While some may argue that there is evidence of ‘Panic Mongering’ by the White House, it needs to be noted that the installation of fear onto the people of a state is a tool used throughout history across every corner of the world, the White House is no exception. Anytime fear can be used to bypass rational thought processes for political gain, it will most likely be exploited. Fear not though (no pun intended) as there is still hope that an overwhelming majority of people that see through said methods, as these two political ‘commentators’ make jest of the same speech below…






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  1. A very interesting read. It seems that the one shoe fits all argument never exist when it comes to America and its foreign policy. The media are tool that they use to construct this “ideal of justice” which have articulated in the piece. Well done

  2. I agree with the idea that media is still used as a mechanism of constructing right images for the government, but the most odd thing is that the most free and liberal state in the world is known to use it heavily.

    • themanisred permalink

      Definitely, you raise an interesting point. I suppose there is the argument potentially that there is a strong correlation between large populations and manipulation of the media (in the ways described above) perhaps? With more people to influence the spectrum of opinions becomes bigger? just a thought.

  3. There is the on going argument; to what extent does the Media in Britain and In the UK shape policy in particular foreign policy. Also, to what extent does the Media manipulate Politicians. It is good that you have looked at the matter from a different angle; how politicians can use the media for personal gain. A very interesting read.

  4. This is a nicely written and well illustrated piece on the manipulation of public opinion and the role of the internet in allowing the public to see through or pierce such illusions more easily than in the past. In 1981 Jurgen Habermas opined that the word ideology no longer retained any currency (at least in the West), as the public had sufficient independent sources of information to reveal most falsehoods. This argument has become much more potent since the widespread use of the internet since the mid 1990s. It would be nice if you could add a few sentences exploring this issue, maybe as a way of concluding your discussion. Does it mean that politicians need to be a lot more cautious about their use of images and facts?

    If you are going to include this piece in your portfolio, I would recommend:

    – Developing the structure, with an introduction and conclusion stating your argument, of which the two cases you raise are illustrations.

    – Linking your discussion to the debate in the academic literature we have explored on this module.

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