Orientalism, Pan-Arabism, and military-media warfare: a comparison between CNN and Aljazeera coverage of the Iraq war
Undoubtedly, the suicide attacks of 11 September 2001 had multiple repercussions on U.S. geo-strategic orientations. Under the influence of neo-conservative figures, the Bush administration capitalised on the offence to national self-esteem, and embarked upon wars in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003). These were the basis of a renewed American quest to dominate international affairs, and to prevent any other superpower from emerging in the new century. Numerous influential neo-conservative ideologues close to the Bush administration endorsed the reshaping of American empire. In this context, the 2003 Iraq War can undeniably be considered as the defining conflict of the 21st century. The control of Iraq was an unfulfilled, but openly declared, neo-conservative objective since 1998. Their main think tank, the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), considered that the invasion of Iraq was necessary and inevitable.
The neoconservatives' obsession with Iraq, combined with their ideological drive to make the Middle East and "global Islam" the primary focus of U.S. foreign policy, converged ultimately with the interests of other powerful lobbies, such as those representing the oil industry and the military-industrial complex. This convergence of interests paved the way for a very powerful media orchestration aimed at selling the war to the American people, American allies, and the United Nations. The principal arguments put forward by the American administration centred on the Iraqi regime's alleged capacity to produce biological, chemical, and nuclear "weapons of mass destruction" (WMDs), as well as its supposed covert links with Al-Qaeda.
On the eve of the 2003 Iraq War, propaganda and psychological warfare had reached unparalleled levels. The sophisticated use of the information warfare paradigm by the U.S. forces effectively undermined the journalistic standards of American mainstream news outlets. Subsequently, two wars were waged: the actual war in Iraq, and the battle for favourable public opinion which employed the visual and rhetorical styles of commercial / entertainment television. The general method was to exploit popular reservoirs of patriotism and cultural prejudice. But while U.S. news organisations were successful in putting across their frames within their nation, they were not effective abroad. Globally, they confronted the existence of counter-hegemonic news frames. The new millennium witnessed a contra-flow of information, whereby developing region news outlets increasingly challenged the Western command of information. In the Middle East, there was a noticeable growth of satellite television, which enabled Arabs to see the world through Arab lenses. As the Iraq War marked an end to the near monopoly in global news that American and other Western media had long enjoyed, some attention has been paid to oppositional news coverage of this conflict from the non-Western world. In this regard, there have been studies of Arab transnational satellite television; however such research is limited in scope.
With these considerations in mind, my dissertation primarily examines news coverage of the main phase of the Iraq War (from 20 March 2003 until 1 May 2003) from both a U.S. and a Middle-Eastern news perspective, as illustrated by CNN and Aljazeera respectively. CNN was selected because it is the pioneering example of a global television news network. Aljazeera was selected because it is the leading transnational satellite channel in the Middle East and has worldwide influence. Given that there are few studies comparing the Western and the Arab media coverage of the Iraqi War, my research initiates an understanding of the rival news dynamics surrounding international conflicts in this region. To this end, I will employ discourse analysis, ideology critique, and visual-semiotic analysis to illustrate the differences in coverage. My general conclusion is that Aljazeera provided an effective propaganda critique of CNN framings as the Iraq War unfolded.
This comparative evaluation of CNN and Aljazeera is informed by prior discussion of the following themes. Firstly, the conceptualization of media bias through the perspectives of media sociology, propaganda analysis, and the framing paradigm; secondly, the growing sophistication of wartime propaganda in the context of news media coverage and the public sphere generally; thirdly, the development of Orientalism and the official discourse on terrorism, as well as their convergence in constructing otherness during the post 9/11 era; fourthly, the emergence of CNN and its framing of conflicts in the Middle East; fifthly, the evolution of pan-Arabism and its influence on Arab transnational media, especially in regard to Aljazeera.
This dissertation contributes to academic research by uncovering the workings of U.S. military propaganda in the context of the 2003 Iraq War, and showing how military propaganda practices worked in duo with framing processes adopted by American news media generally, and CNNI in particular. It also reveals how Arab news media, and particularly Aljazeera, counteracted the American military propaganda by employing counter frames rooted in local ideologies such as pan-Arabism. Consequently, Aljazeera's critique helped, globally, to delegitimize U.S. military-media strategies associated with the preparations for, and prosecution of war.
The originality of this study derives from the cross-cultural examination of how rival satellite television networks covered the same world event. The findings provide a platform for future studies concerning the mobilisation of media bias, and its contestation with regard to U.S. interventions in the Middle East.