The role of mass media in reporting United States military operations is a subject on which there is considerable interest as well as diversity of opinion. The significance of media coverage has been recognized by both supporters and opponents of American use of military force to achieve foreign policy objectives. However, analysts disagree on whether the media tend to be supportive or critical of such ventures.
This study examines the above question with respect to the US invasion of Panama which began on December 20, 1989. Coverage of the invasion by three American networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) and two Canadian networks (CBC and CTV) in their major nightly television newscasts was compared for a 23-day period from December 15, 1989 to January 6, 1990. The data set picks up material on Panama beginning five days prior to the invasion and continues for three days following the surrender of General Noriega. In total 197 news stories are analyzed.
Examined in the study are factors such as volume of coverage (number of stories and running time); placement of items in the newscast; substantive issues given prominence; news sources utilized, and whether these sources were favourable or unfavourable toward US foreign policy positions; positive and negative “images” presented of the key actors involved in the invasion (Manuel Noriega, Guillermo Endara and George Bush); and whether overall, in both text and visual impact, the story was likely to be interpreted as either pro- or anti-invasion by viewers.