Communication professor examines media bias in president's speeches
November 30, 2006
Jim A. Kuypers, assistant professor of communication in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech, reveals a disturbing world of media bias in his new book Bush's War: Media Bias and Justifications for War in a Terrorist Age (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 2006).
Convincingly and without resorting to partisan politics, Kuypers strongly illustrates in eight chapters “how the press failed America in its coverage on the War on Terror.” In each comparison, Kuypers “detected massive bias on the part of the press.” In fact, Kuypers calls the mainstream news media an “anti-democratic institution” in the conclusion.
“What has essentially happened since 9/11 has been that Bush has repeated the same themes, and framed those themes the same whenever discussing the War on Terror,” said Kuypers, who specializes in political communication and rhetoric. “Immediately following 9/11, the mainstream news media (represented by CBS, ABC, NBC, USA Today, New York Times, and Washington Post) did echo Bush, but within eight weeks it began to intentionally ignore certain information the president was sharing, and instead reframed the president's themes or intentionally introduced new material to shift the focus.”
This goes beyond reporting alternate points of view. “In short,” Kupyers explained, “if someone were relying only on the mainstream media for information, they would have no idea what the president actually said. It was as if the press were reporting on a different speech.”
The book is essentially a “comparative framing analysis.” Overall, Kuypers examined themes about 9-11 and the War on Terror that the President used, and compared them to the themes that the press used when reporting on what the president said.
“Framing is a process whereby communicators, consciously or unconsciously, act to construct a point of view that encourages the facts of a given situation to be interpreted by others in a particular manner,” notes Kuypers.
At the heart of each chapter are these questions: What did President Bush talk about, and how did he want us to think about it? What did the mainstream news media talk about following president Bush’s speeches, and how did they want us to think about it?
According to Arkansas State University’s Dennis W. White, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, "This is a time of maximum danger for our country—a time of crisis. The American people historically turn to the President during these times for explanation, for comfort, and for exhortation to purpose. Yet, the President does not speak directly to the people. His speech is mediated; he speaks through the media, members of the media comment on presidential speech, and others comment on the comment. Jim Kuypers is the best in the business at explaining presidential crisis communication and its relationship to the media.”
"This is a skilled and thoughtful work of scholarship, well worth a careful reading,” said Stephen D. Cooper of Marshall University. “Kuypers's book is provocative in the best sense of the word: It can stimulate fresh thinking about presidential rhetoric and press reporting of it—which Kuypers shows can be two very different things.”
Kuypers, of Christiansburg, Va., received his Ph.D from Louisiana State University and both his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from Florida State. He joined Virginia Tech's Department of Communication last year after having taught political communication for tens years at Dartmouth College.