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Broadening the Debate about War: The Inclusion of Foreign Critics in Media Coverage and Its Potential Impact on US Public Opinion


  • Author's note: I owe great thanks to Mary Kaszynski, Jacqueline London, Sarah Shaffer, and Alex Sunshine for their research assistance.


In the US context, scholars have demonstrated that public support for military intervention is influenced by the elite debate as presented in the national news media and that the volume of elite criticism reported is largely determined by opposition in Congress. Because the media “index” the debate among officials in Washington, a lively and comprehensive airing of the pros and cons of a military intervention often depends upon Congressional leaders taking an oppositional stance. But sometimes, American reporters will incorporate a surge of foreign leaders' critical views, even when Congressional leaders support administration policy or when they choose to remain silent due to strategic considerations. The question addressed by this article is whether such departures from traditional indexing behavior—which bring foreign views into media coverage in a significant manner—can be predicted based on the circumstances and journalists' incentives. The article also explores whether high-visibility opposition by credible foreign leaders, in particular United Nations officials and European allies, can substitute for partisan cues from domestic leaders and invigorate a national debate in a manner that influences public opinion.