chapter  1
12 Pages

A Theoretical Framework

American foreign policy consists of rules and strategies for international action. These are generated through a complex system of communication processes that cut across diverse political orientations. One aspect of this system consists of the selective representation of policy issues in the mass media as public, political discourse. Although the ideal news perspective for representing foreign policy in western democracies is one that reveals the details of policymaking, a host of political realities constrain the full disclosure of the foreign policy process-among them, the language of the news itself. Conventions and presentational forms peculiar to the variety of news types have a tendency to interact with and transform foreign policy behavior.1 The result is that news-mediated public discourse about international relations includes a broad range of interpretations of foreign policy and strategies for conducting it. In the collection of analytical models used to characterize foreign policymaking, the role of the media is given only superficial treatment. The media dimension of these models typically lacks theoretical and conceptual rigor. The result is a relatively unrefined synthesis that limits our ability to explain and predict foreign policy processes. For example, most of the concern for the function of the media is centered in the democratic-pluralism and bureaucratic models. This theoretical locus for the news media within foreign policy paradigms perpetuates the idea that the media operate at the level of the undifferentiated mass and routinely supports the accompanying conceptual cliché of media and public opinion as the essential communication pair in policymaking. In addition to being an idealized oversimplification, this view tends to discourage the creative exploration of the role of the media in other

foreign policy models. For example, there is typically little serious attention given to the role of the media in the human behavior model. This model is concerned with such matters as the psychological characteristics of egocentric power brokers; the influence of "groupthink" on policy and the exaggerated role of individual behaviors. Questions about the role of the media in contributing to Ronald Reagan's or Pierre Elliot Trudeau's policy successes and failures or about the role of the media in encouraging or repressing public discourse about the privatization of foreign policy by the National Security Council are not encouraged within the scope of this particular model. Likewise, discussions based on the international politics model of foreign policymaking suffer from the lack of a sophisticated interpretation of the role of the media as part of that model's orientation.2 Policy interpretation tends to borrow the shop-worn, overgeneralized pluralistic notions of mass media that continue to be rigorously debated and refined in the literature of communication research. The foreign policy models of political science are not informed by the ongoing work in news analysis and conversely, much of the analysis of news discourse is politically naive.3