Media

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Communication models to explain current events

Relation communication models and war in Iraq

This article tries to explain and analyse the communication and information regarding the war in Iraq. It tries to show through communication models, which are often used by communication specialists, how essential communication and information are in society nowadays. It also explains how communication and public relations specialists can adopt communication models to explain events, in this case, the situation in Iraq. The communication models used in this article are usually not used to explain current events. However, they can be used to clarify certain events.

The United States (US), together with the United Kingdom (UK), invaded Iraq in March 2003, and overthrew the regime of Saddam Hussein in about three weeks time. President Bush declared on May 1 that combat in Iraq was over. Ironically enough, from that moment combat begun for the US and UK armed forces. Suicide bombings and other violent attacks occur almost every day and do not need any further explanation. The question that remains after more than four years of war in Iraq is: ‘Could this have been prevented or foreseen?’ If the answer to that question is ‘yes’, leads this to another question: ‘What went wrong?’ and more important: ‘Why did it go wrong?’ In other words, how could the whole situation in Iraq be controlled and why is, after four years of occupation by international armed forces, Iraq (still) an unsafe and unstable country? The war in Iraq is therefore an interesting case to analyse and to investigate for people that work in the field of communication. Nevertheless, it is interesting to investigate and to anticipate the situation in Iraq from a communication point of view.

To analyse the war in Iraq, it is necessary to have more information than average news coverage about Iraq, and to conduct research. Knowledge about communication models and information about how the invasion of Iraq was prepared, and what occurred after the invasion, is needed.

PEST analysis

One communication model that is often used by communication specialists, communication advisers and consultancy agents, is the PEST analysis (Haberberg and Rieple, 2001). This acronym stands for Political/legal, Economic, Social/cultural and Technological analysis, which means that an organisation should monitor its environment constantly so it can take actions to secure its business and survival in a competitive society. For instance, an organisation should react if competitors that operate in the same branch start using (more) technologically advanced equipment. An organisation should also react if the government makes new rules and legislation, which can affect it. If not, an organisation puts its business at risk and will eventually cease to exist.

Did the US use a PEST analysis or a similar analysis of what the situation in Iraq was like before they invaded the country? The answer to this question should be ‘yes’. The situation in Iraq shows serious signs of the fact that the Bush administration probably did not analyse the situation. For instance, there are different groups in Iraq, Shiites, Sunnites and Kurds. An analysis about the social/cultural relationships between these groups is important. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice was advised several times to investigate the relations and lives of different groups in Iraq, but she did not order to do it. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld drew his own plan and did not listen to top military advisers in the Pentagon on how to prepare the war.

Another example is an event where the American troops, after the invasion, took down the Iraqi flag and raised the American flag. Regarding the PEST analysis, this example can be reduced to the political/legal analysis of the situation in Iraq. This goes as well for the so-called de-Baathification process (Woodward, 2006).

SMART objectives

Another acronym used in public relations (PR) and an aspect of good and symmetrical communication is that objectives should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-lined). It is important to set SMART objectives. Without setting SMART objectives it is impossible to evaluate if the objectives and the goal(s) have been achieved. The Bush administration probably did not set SMART objectives. Bob Woodward (2006) points out in his book State of Denial, that the Pentagon had no plan after the war. There was no timeline for when certain (specific) objectives should have been achieved. Overall, the Bush administration had no realistic objectives about what to do in Iraq, as Woodward (2006) points out.

Internal and external communication

Internal and external communication are also terms that can be put in relation to the war in Iraq. For example, the reason why the Bush administration started the war was based on false information; there were no weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Therefore the American House and Senate were misled (= internal communication) as well as the American people and the international community (= external communication). Good (internal) communication is based on e.g. openness and trust. Woodward (2006) points out in his book how the Bush administration avoided to tell the public the truth about the war in Iraq. The internal communication was bad and due to that fact the explanations to the international community were also terrible. Excellent organisations have symmetrical systems of internal communication, as Grunig (1992) points out.

According to Woodward (2006), the Bush administration systematically denied that things in Iraq were not going according to plan. Good internal and external communication as well as not giving false information to the American people could have prevented the bad reputation of the Bush administration.

Conclusion

The conclusion, after four years of war, is that nothing has really changed. Attacks on the coalition forces and other people that work closely with the American troops, occur on a daily basis. It is difficult to give a well-found answer to the question if the US would have reacted differently or had used a different strategy in Iraq if they had used different methods or used different expertise. It is also difficult to say if good communication as well as not giving false information to the American people could have prevented mishaps in Iraq. Nevertheless, communication models can be useful tools to help and to define a certain situation, in this case, the war in Iraq.

M. van den Doel holds a BA in Communication and Management from the Hogeschool Utrecht (NL) and an MSc in International Applied Communication from the University of Central Lancashire (UK)

© Marco van den Doel, 2007

Het Witte Huis vs. Fox News

De ‘oorlog’ tegen de ‘nieuwszender’

De nieuwszender Fox News is een van de meest conservatieve Amerikaanse televisiezenders die sinds president Obama in het Witte Huis zit een soort ‘oorlog’ voert tegen het beleid van de regering Obama. Alles wat president Obama doet is slecht en wordt als links afgeschilderd. Maar de regering Obama vecht terug en is een soort ‘oorlog’ tegen de nieuwszender begonnen.

Het Witte Huis leverde de laatste maanden felle kritiek op Fox News en beschuldigde de zender ervan dat het fungeert als het communicatiebureau (lees: propagandabureau) van de Republikeinse partij. “The reality of it is that Fox often operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party”, aldus de voormalige directeur Communicatie van het Witte Huis, Anita Dunn, in een interview in het programma “Reliable Sources” van CNN. Dunn zei dat president Obama verschillende malen niet heeft gekozen om bij de televisiezender op te treden, omdat Fox News “ideologically predisposed is” tegen de president en zijn plannen. Maar Dunn gaf aan dat Obama interviews door Fox News niet zal boycotten. “He’ll go on Fox because he engages with ideological opponents”, aldus Dunn tegenover CNN. “He has done that before and he’ll do it again.” Maar Dunn voegde daar wel aan toe dat het Witte Huis een optreden bij Fox News anders ziet en het niet vergeleken kan worden met andere nieuwszenders, zoals MSNBC, ABC of CNN. “When he goes on Fox, he understands that he’s not really going on it as a news network, at this point. He’s going to debate the opposition. And that’s fine. He never minds doing that”, aldus de voormalige directeur Communicatie van het Witte Huis. “But let’s not pretend that they’re a news network the way CNN is”, aldus Dunn.

In een verklaring liet Fox News weten dat de programmering van de zender vergeleken kan worden met het commentaar van een hoofdredacteur in een krant. “An increasing number of viewers are relying on Fox News for both news and opinion”, aldus plaatsvervangend directeur Michael Clemente van Fox News. “And the average news consumer can certainly distinguish between the A-section of the newspaper and the editorial page, which is what our programming represents.” Als dit zo is, moet Fox News niet roepen dat het ‘nieuws’ brengt. Al het ‘nieuws’ dat de zender over de regering Obama brengt is nogal negatief en er worden geen feiten gepresenteerd, maar meningen en opinies. Daarnaast was het nieuws over de regering Bush altijd positief, zelfs toen de populariteit van de president dramatisch laag was en de VS in de financiële en economische crisis terecht kwam. De ‘average news consumer’ had kritiek op de regering Bush. Maar dat soort ‘nieuws’ bracht Fox News niet. Het was allemaal niet de fout en de schuld van president Bush. De andere zenders waren realistisch, maar Fox News niet. Hoe betrouwbaar en realistisch ben je dan als ‘nieuwszender’ en wat verstaan de medewerkers bij Fox News eigenlijk onder ‘nieuws’?

In een interview met het tijdschrift Time in oktober 2009 zei Dunn dat Fox News was “opinion journalism masquerading as news. They are boosting their audience. But that doesn’t mean we are going to sit back”, aldus Dunn en daarmee lanceerde ze ‘the war on Fox News.’ Toen Dunn aftrad, wat overigens niets te maken had met haar kritiek op Fox News, werd ze op gevolgd door Dan Pfeiffer die ook de druk op de televisiezender opvoerde en kritiek uitte.

De ‘oorlog’ tegen Fox News werd verder voortgezet door de directeur-generaal van het Witte Huis, Rahm Emanuel, die in een interview met het programma “State of the Union” van CNN in oktober 2009 zei dat Fox News “geen nieuwsorganisatie is”, waarop de presentator van Fox News, Chris Wallace, in zijn programma zei dat “the White House refused to make any administration officials available to Fox News Sunday.” De plaatsvervangende directeur van Fox News, Michael Clemente was er als de kippen bij om een verklaring uit te geven waarin hij zei: “Surprisingly the White House continues to declare war on a news organization instead of focusing on the critical issues that Americans are concerned about like jobs, health care and two wars. The door remains open and we welcome a discussion about the facts behind the issues.”

Of de ‘oorlog’ tegen Fox News helpt en verstandig is wordt betwijfeld. Marisa Guthrie, programma samensteller voor Broadcasting & Cable Magazine, zei dat als medewerkers van de regering Obama kritiek op Fox News hebben “it doesn’t help the President’s image or message, and magnifies publicity for the Fox News brand. And if he’s not on the network and administration officials aren’t on the network to counter some of the stereotypical caricatures, then, you know, where do you go from there?”, vroeg Guthrie zich af.

David Brody, de Witte Huis correspondent van de Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), zei dat Fox News “certainly drives stories that are unfavorable to the President and said that battles between administration officials and specific media outlets could become a trend in the future. This is the big media story going forward.” Brody vraagt zich af of het Witte Huis, door deze ‘oorlog’ te beginnen, een nieuwe grens heeft getrokken? Met andere woorden, aIs er een Republikeinse regering is in 2012, 2016, gaat die regering dan MSNBC als de Democratische zender zien?, zo vraagt Brody zich af.

John Aravosis, oprichter van het linkse weblog AmericaBlog.com, zei dat Fox News en metname Glenn Beck te ver ging toe hij een grap maakte over het vergiftigen van de voorzitter van het Huis van Afgevaardigden, Nancy Pelosi en in zijn radioprogramma de regering Obama vergeleek met de Holocaust. “Fox opened a can of worms by finally going too far. Even opinion journalism on the other networks doesn’t get into this”, aldus Aravosis.

Brody zei vervolgens dat het Witte Huis moet oppassen als medewerkers van de regering door gaan met hun ‘oorlog’ tegen Fox News. “If you’re in the White House’s shoes, if you will, what are you going to do here? I mean, you’ve got three million-plus folks watching Beck every night, as well as O’Reilly. And, of course, a couple of million and change in the middle with some other folks”, aldus Brody.

Howard Kurtz van CNN, vraagt zich af of de ‘oorlog’ tussen het Witte Huis en Fox News een goede media strategie is. “We appreciate Anita Dunn coming on this [“Reliable Sources”] program”, aldus Kurtz. “She was delivering a message which we saw reinforced by Rahm Emanuel. And if they want to punch back against [..] absolutely, that’s their political right. But by going after the channel as ‘the opposition,’ as Anita Dunn put it, I question what the White House gets out of that”, aldus Kurtz.

Rahm Emanuel zei in “State of the Union” van CNN: “It’s not so much a conflict with Fox News. I suppose the way to look at it and the way the president looks at it and we look at is: it’s not a news organization so much as it has a perspective. And that’s a different take.”

De kritiek op Fox News ging verder. Volgens Witte Huis adviseur Valerie Jarrett is de ‘nieuwszender’ “of course” (be)vooroordeeld tegen de regering Obama. Jarrett zei dat de regering “is calling everybody out when it comes to patterns of distortion.” Volgens Jarrett is er geen sprake van een ‘oorlog’ tegen Fox News. Met andere woorden, elk andere nieuwszender die regering Obama zou beschuldigden en geen feiten, maar meningen en opinies zou verkondigden, zou door het Witte Huis hetzelfde worden behandeld als Fox News. “We’re actually calling everybody out. So this isn’t anything that’s simply directed at Fox. We just want the American people to have a really clear understanding”, aldus Jarrett.

Het zal niet de laatste keer zijn dat het Witte Huis kritiek zal hebben op Fox News. En Fox News zal president Obama en de regering blijven beschuldigen en zwart proberen te maken en zal meningen en opinies presenteren als ‘nieuws’. En daarom gaat de strijd onverminderd door.

© Marco van den Doel, 2010

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