Media, War, and Foreign Policy
- Sean AdaySean AdayElliot School of International Affairs, George Washington University
Mass media play an important but often misunderstood role in wartime. Political elites try to marshal support for military intervention (or justify avoiding such involvement) through the press. Media sometimes serve as watchdogs, holding leaders accountable for their claims and actions in times of conflict, but more often appear to act as uncritical megaphones for bellicose rhetoric. The public, meanwhile, has little choice but to see war through the prism of media coverage, placing a great burden on the press to cover conflicts truthfully and thoroughly, a responsibility they sometimes live up to, but in important ways do not.
Scholarship about these issues goes back decades, yet many questions remain unanswered or up for debate. There seems to be strong consensus that media coverage of conflict is even more elite driven than is domestic coverage, for instance, yet how much that matters in shaping public attitudes and support for war remains contested. Similarly, research consistently shows that the press shies away from showing casualties, yet the effects of exposure to casualty information and images are still not well understood. Finally, digital media seem to be important factors in contemporary crises and conflicts, but scholars are still trying to understand whether these platforms more serve the interests of protest or repression, peace or violence, community or polarization.