The Press

Ralph B. Levering and

Louis W. Liebovich

Officially, American foreign policy is made by the executive branch of the federal government, led by the president, and by Congress, with rare involvement by the Supreme Court. Unofficially, other institutions—notably interest groups and the press (including electronic media as well as the print media)—typically play a large role in the often lengthy and politically charged policymaking process in Washington. Most voters also learn of impending and completed U.S. foreign policy initiatives through the news media. Roughly three-fourths of adult Americans read daily newspapers and many read magazines that discuss foreign policy issues. The press thus occupies a central place in the communication of ideas that lies at the heart of the ongoing political process both in Washington and in the two-way flow of information between officials and the voting public.

Because of its importance, journalist Douglass Cater and other writers have called the press the "fourth branch of government." But neither the news media as institutions nor journalists as individuals have any formal power to shape U.S. foreign relations. The communication of ideas is different from making or implementing policy. Unlike specific presidential decisions or votes in Congress, moreover, the press's influence on an issue normally cannot be measured precisely. And because the day-to-day influence of journalists on the thinking of policymakers and the public varies from individual to individual and from issue to issue, it is important not to overestimate the press's impact. Yet Cater's metaphor has considerable validity because the role of the press in foreign policy decisions—and in the reactions to those decisions that influence future actions—often has been substantial. Since the 1950s this fascinating, intellectually challenging topic has attracted the interest of numerous journalists, officials, and political activists. It also has lured scholars from several disciplines, notably communications, history, political science, and sociology.


Berry, Nicholas O. Foreign Policy and the Press: An Analysis of the New York Times' Coverage of U.S. Foreign Policy. New York, 1990. Although limited to analysis of the Times, this is a superb study of how journalists cover foreign policy issues during various stages of crises.

Braestrup, Peter. Big Story: How the American Press and Television Reported and Interpreted the Crisis of Tet 1968 in Vietnam and Washington. 2 vols. Boulder, Colo., 1977.

Broder, David S. Behind the Front Page: A Candid Look at How the News is Made. New York, 1987. A leading journalist's account of relations between the press and government, and especially valuable for the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.

Cater, Douglass. The Fourth Branch of Government. Boston, 1959. Especially useful for the presidencies of Truman and Eisenhower.

Cohen, Bernard C. The Press and Foreign Policy . Princeton, N.J., 1963. An important scholarly study of the press and U.S. foreign policy at the height of the Cold War.

——. Democracies and Foreign Policy: Public Participation in the United States and the Netherlands. Madison, Wisc., 1995.

Gans, Herbert J. Deciding What's News: A Study of CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, Newsweek, and Time. New York, 1979. A study by a well-known sociologist known for effective use of interviews and for comparisons of journalistic practices at leading news magazines and television networks.

Graber, Doris A. Mass Media and American Politics. 4th ed. Washington, D.C., 1993. A standard work that includes an excellent section on the press and foreign policy; especially helpful for the 1970s and 1980s.

Hallin, Daniel C. The "Uncensored War": The Media and Vietnam. New York, 1986. A detailed study that argues that the executive branch of the U.S. government greatly influenced press coverage of the Vietnam War.

Hilsman, Roger. The Politics of Policy Making in Defense and Foreign Affairs. 3d ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1993. An insightful study by a political scientist who also was a high-level official in the Kennedy administration.

Kennamer, J. David, ed. Public Opinion, the Press, and Public Policy. Westport, Conn., 1992. Useful partly because it is more theoretical and conceptual than most other works that analyze the subject.

Kern, Montague, Patricia W. Levering, and Ralph B. Levering. The Kennedy Crises: The Press, the Presidency, and Foreign Policy. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1983.

Liebovich, Louis W. The Press and the Origins of the Cold War, 1944–1947. New York, 1988.

——. The Press and the Modern Presidency: Myths and Mindsets from Kennedy to Election 2000. 2d ed. Westport, Conn., 2001.

Linsky, Martin. Impact: How the Press Affects Federal Policymaking. New York, 1986. Based partly on interviews, this book contains in-depth analysis of press coverage of several foreign policy issues in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Mott, Frank Luther. American Journalism; A History: 1690–1960. 3d ed. New York, 1962. A standard history of American journalism, it pays more attention to the press and foreign policy than most other surveys.

Nacos, Brigitte Lebens. The Press, Presidents, and Crises. New York, 1990. An excellent study that includes quantitative analysis of both news and editorial coverage in leading newspapers.

Nacos, Brigitte Lebens, Robert Y. Shapiro, and Pierangelo Isernia, eds. Decision making in a Glass House: Mass Media, Public Opinion, and American and European Foreign Policy in the 21st Century. Lanham, Md., 2000. Several chapters contain excellent analyses of press coverage of selected issues in U.S. foreign policy in the 1990s.

Newsom, David D. The Public Dimension of Foreign Policy. Bloomington, Ind., 1996. A former U.S. diplomat offers insights into the press and foreign policy and other subjects; especially useful for the 1980s and early 1990s.

Page, Benjamin I. Who Deliberates?: Mass Media in Modern Democracy. Chicago, 1996. Especially useful for press coverage of the events leading up to the war in the Persian Gulf in 1991.

Rivers, William L. The Adversaries: Politics and the Press. Boston, 1970. An analysis of the frequent conflicts between officials and journalists during the 1960s.

Rosati, Jerel A. The Politics of United States Foreign Policy. 2d ed. Fort Worth, Tex., 1999. Includes a well-argued chapter on the news media and foreign policy; especially useful for the 1980s and early 1990s.

Schneider, James C. Should America Go to War?: The Debate over Foreign Policy in Chicago, 1939–1941. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1989. An excellent study of the role of the press and other actors in shaping public discussion in one city.

Seib, Philip. Headline Diplomacy: How News Coverage Affects Foreign Policy. Westport, Conn., 1997. An outstanding nonquantitative study of the press and foreign policy over the past several decades.

Serfaty, Simon, ed. The Media and Foreign Policy. New York, 1991. Excellent analyses, primarily by journalists and officials, of press coverage and relationships between journalists and officials on foreign policy issues; especially insightful on the 1980s.

Thompson, Kenneth W., ed. The White House Press on the Presidency: News Management and Co-Option. Lanham, Md., 1983. Journalists and former officials discuss press coverage, including coverage of foreign policy during the 1960s and 1970s.

See also Public Opinion ; Television .

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