The Foreign Service Journal, May 2004

12 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / M A Y 2 0 0 4 Media Flunks Accountability Test on WMD Events of the past two years point up the public’s need to understand weapons of mass destruction and the role they play in both the formulation and justification of U.S. security policy. The public, understandably, relies on the media to keep it informed. But a study released March 9 by the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies, “Media Coverage of Weapons of Mass Destruction,” finds the media wanting. Susan D. Moeller of the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism examined articles and tran- scripts from a range of “agenda-set- ting” print and radio news outlets in the U.S. and U.K. The study was focused on three three-week periods in 1998, 2002 and 2003 when major WMD stories broke: India’s nuclear weapons tests in May 1998, the U.S. announcement of evidence of a North Korean nuclear weapons program in October 2002, and revelations about Iran’s nuclear program in May 2003. Most media outlets, the study found, represented WMD as a mono- lithic menace, failing to distinguish between weapons programs and actu- al weapons or to address the differ- ences among chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological weapons. Also, the media tended to conflate WMD and the phenomenon of terror- ism. Further, the media provided little critical examination of the way officials framed events, issues, threats and pol- icy options, and offered little coverage of alternatives beyond “pre-emptive war” and “regime change.” Differences in American and British coverage of WMD issues are documented as well. For instance, the British press gave greater attention to the ramifications of U.S. policy for other nations and to the work of inter- national agencies such as the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency. “These distinctions may reflect split loyalties in the U.K. between European and U.S. allies and C YBERNOTES With the candidates all but designated and the presi- dential campaign off and running, a Web site like this one can be a real help., launched in December 2003, is a nonpartisan, nonprofit “consumer advocate” for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and con- fusion in U.S. politics. “We’ll focus initially on the 2004 presidential campaign, and post articles whenever we can document a statement that is false, misleading, incomplete or out of context,” the site’s authors say in their inaugural announcement. Besides the individual reports, occasional articles look at the factual accuracy of the impressions candidates are try- ing to create. You can register to receive both by e-mail, and are encouraged to let FactCheck know if you think it has made a factual error. Director Brooks Jackson, an author and journalist who covered Washington and national politics for 32 years with, successively, the Associated Press, the Wall Street Journal and CNN. At CNN Jackson pioneered the “adwatch” and “factcheck” form of stories debunking false and misleading political statements starting with the presidential election of 1992. The Annenberg Political FactCheck is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. Judgments expressed on the site are those of the staff, not the Annenberg Center. Site of the Month: 50 Years Ago... The operation of any one of the largest Foreign Service posts costs the American taxpayer less than equipping and running a good anti-aircraft battery, and the cost of the entire Foreign Service abroad is certainly less than that of one combat division. Who can honestly say that this is a disproportionate cost for our “first line of defense”? — Leon B. Poullada, FSO, in “Economy … True and False,” FSJ , May 1954.