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United States. Congress. House. Committee on Forei.

Impact of television on U.S. foreign policy : hearing before the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, One Hundred Third Congress, second session, April 26, 1994 online

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Online LibraryUnited States. Congress. House. Committee on ForeiImpact of television on U.S. foreign policy : hearing before the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, One Hundred Third Congress, second session, April 26, 1994 → online text (page 1 of 8)
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J IMPACT OF TELEVISION ON U.S. FOREIGN POUCY

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BEFORE THE

COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

ONE HUNDRED THIRD CONGRESS

SECOND SESSION



APRIL 26, 1994



Printed for the use of the Committee on Foreign Affairs










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L'.S. GOVKRNME.NT PRI.NTING OFFICE
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For sale by the U.S. Government Printing Office
Superintendent of Documents, Congressional Sales Office, Washington, DC 20402
ISBN 0-16-044456-X



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) IMPACT OF TELEVISION ON U.S. FOREIGN POUCY

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BEFORE THE

COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

ONE HUNDRED THIRD CONGRESS

SECOND SESSION



APRIL 26, 1994



Printed for the use of the Committee on Foreign Affairs




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i^tja^i






U.S. GOVKR.NMENT PRI.VTING OFFICE
79-868 CC WASHINGTON : 1994

For sale by the U.S. Government Printing Office
Superintendent of Documents, Congressional Sales Office, Washington, DC 20402
ISBN 0-16-044456-X



COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS



LEE H. HAMILTON,

SAM GEJDENSON, Connecticut

TOM LANTOS, California

ROBERT G. TORRICELLI, New Jersey

HOWARD L. BEPIMAN, California

GARY L. ACKERMAN, New York

HARRY JOHNSTON, Florida

ELIOT L. ENGEL, New York

EM F.H. FALEOMAVAEGA, American

Samoa
JAMES L. OBERSTAR, Minnesota
CHARLES E. SCHUMER, New York
MATTHEW G. MARTINEZ, California
ROBERT A. BORSKI, Pennsylvania
DONALD M. PAYNE, New Jersey
ROBERT E. ANDREWS, New Jersey
ROBERT MENENDEZ, New Jersey
SHERROD BROWN, Ohio
C^TsTHIA A. McKINTVEY, Georgia
MARIA CANTWELL, Washington
ALCEE L. HASTINGS. Flonda
ERIC FINGERHUT, Ohio
PETER DEUTSCH, Flonda
ALBERT RUSSELL W^TW, Maryland
DON EDWARDS, California
FRANK MCCLOSKEY, Indiana
THOMAS C. SAWYER, Ohio
LUIS V, GUTIERREZ, IHinois



Indiana, Chairman

BENJAMIN A. OILMAN, New York
WILLIAM F. GOODLING. Pennsylvania
JAMES A. LEACH, Iowa
TOBY ROTH, Wisconsin
OLYMPIA J. SNOWE, Maine
HENRY J. HYDE, Illinois
DOUG BEREUTER, Nebraska
CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, New Jersey
DAN BURTON, Indiana
JAN MEYERS, Kansas
ELTON GALLEGLY, California
ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN, Florida
CASS BALLENGER, North Carolina
DANA ROHRABACHER, California
DAVID A. LEVY. New York
DONALD A. MANZULLO, Illinois
LINCOLN DIAZ-BALART. Flonda
EDWARD R. ROYCE, California



Michael H. Van Dusen, Chief of Staff

CimiSTOPHER Madison, Director, Public A/fairs

Richard J. GaKON, Minority Chief of Staff



(II)



CONTENTS



Page

WITNESSES

Michael R. Beschloss, director, Annenber^ Project on Television and U.S.

Foreign Policy 3

Ted Koppel, anchor, ABC News "Nightline" 5

Ed Turner, executive vice president. Cable News Network 8

PREPARED STATEMENT
Michael R. Beschloss 1 39

APPENDIX
Witness biographies 35

iMr. Beschloss' prepared statement, in the form of a report he authored, is reprinted with
the permission of the Annenberg Washington Program in Communications Pohcy Studies of
Northwestern University.

(Ill)



IMPACT OF TELEVISION ON U.S. FOREIGN

POLICY



TUESDAY, APRIL 26, 1994

House of Representatives,
Committee on Foreign Affairs,

Washington, DC.

The committee met, pursuant to notice, at 10:06 a.m., in room
2172, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Lee H. Hamilton (com-
mittee) presiding.

Chairman Hamilton. The Committee on Foreign Affairs meets
this morning to examine foreign policy from a slightly different
angle, the impact of television on U.S. foreign policy.

There can be little doubt that television has had an impact, per-
haps a profound impact, on the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.
Spurred by technological advances ranging from satellites to cel-
lular phones, vivid images of conflict and deprivation are sent in-
stantly to American homes from the world's trouble spots, whether
in Haiti or Somalia or Bosnia or the Persian Gulf.

These televised images quickly become a central part of the for-
eign policy debate. They affect which crises we decide to pay atten-
tion to or which we ignore. They affect how we think about those
crises, and I have little doubt these televised pictures ultimately af-
fect what we do about these problems.

Television can educate the public and focus attention on far off
trouble spots that may otherwise be ignored. It can provide world
leaders the means to communicate with each other directly in a cri-
sis.

But television also encourages policymakers to react quickly, per-
haps too quickly, to a crisis. It allows the media to set the agenda.
It generates pressure for action selectively: why Somalia and not
Sudan, why Bosnia and not Nagorno Karabakh?

Television, critics say, leads not to sound foreign policy, but to
sound bites masquerading as policy. Secretary of State Christopher
has warned that television cannot be the North Star of our foreign
policy, but it may be too late.

Pictures of the starving children, not policy objectives, got us into
Somalia in 1992. Pictures of U.S. casualties, not the completion of
our objectives, led us to exit Somalia last month.

Pictures of the market bombing in Sarajevo helped get us more
deeply involved in Bosnia. Pictures of U.S. casualties, should they
occur, could lead us to pull back.

What can be done, if anything, to counter the impact of television
on our policy? What should policymakers do, if anything, to prevent
television from setting their agenda? What, if anything, should the

(1)



media do to avoid inadvertently skewing American foreign policy
one way or the other?

To explore these questions, the committee this morning will hear
from a distinguished panel:

Ted Koppelis a television journalist with more than 30 years of
broadcasting experience. ABC's Nightline, which he hosts,
premiered back in 1980, in response to the seizing of American hos-
tages in Iran.

Ed Turner is executive vice president of Cable News Network.
He began his television news career in 1959 with KWTV in Okla-
homa City, and has been at CNN since it began operating in 1980.
As executive vice president, he is responsible for all of the net-
work's news-gathering resources as well as the network's Washing-
ton-based interview snows.

Michael R. Beschloss is an historian, the author of several books,
including "The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Kruschchev, 1960-63,"
and director of the Annenberg Center Project on Television and
U.S. Foreign Policy. He has served as an analyst for CNN during
a number of foreign policy crises.

I understand a number of my colleagues have statements, which
we will hear before we begin with our witnesses.

Mr. Roth.

STATEMENT OF MR. ROTH

Mr. Roth. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

We on our side of the aisle, Mr. Chairman, commend you for
holding this hearing this morning. We feel that it is very impor-
tant. In today's world, television plays a central role in shaping our
foreign policy. For example, as I have often said, had it not been
for television we would not have been in Somalia.

For Bosnia, for Haiti and for the Middle East and for other hot
spots, the pictures on tonight's news will do more to shape tomor-
row's policy than anything that the diplomats say or anything we
in Congress say.

Moreover, television is a medium for a new kind of diplomacy.
Heads of state use television to send public messages to each other.
Governments, pressure groups, even terrorists all use television to
mold public opinion and push governments in one direction or an-
other.

As satellite TV signals penetrate even the most closed societies,
this technology will do more to bring down repressive governments
than anything the United States can ever do. No wonder China,
Iran, and Cuba are all trying to control TV satellite dishes. So TV
can have a beneficial role.

But I am concerned that TV images often propel the United
States into playing the world's policemen, rushing to intervene in
the latest foreign problem that in reality we can never solve, sim-
ply because it is on television. I have v/itnessed that from my 12
years serving on our Foreign Affairs Committee.

Today's hearing can, I think, give us a much needed lesson, and
I just hope that my colleagues are all paying attention and our wit-
nesses, I am sure, will speak frankly.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Chairman Hamh.ton. Mr. Manzullo.



STATEMENT OF MR. MANZULLO

Mr. Manzullo. Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for the op-
portunity to come here. I recall just one instance among many
wherein television and the openness that it provides resulted in
legislation introduced by Congressman Pombo of California and
myself that was in direct reference to the children who lived in Ro-
manian orphanages.

As a result of what people saw on television, we introduced legis-
lation and met with Romanian officials to help free those children
from those horrible asylums as they were in Romania. That is only
because somebody had an alert TV crew that caught a horrible sit-
uation and brought it to light. And we want to thank you for that.

Chairman Hamilton. Mrs. Meyers.

STATEMENT OF MRS. MEYERS

Mrs. Meyers. Mr. Chairman, Somalia was called a CNN inter-
vention because the sight of starving babies on TV was what
prompted the decision to intervene. And then the image of Amer-
ican soldiers being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu was
what led to the public demands for withdrawal.

However, media influence on foreign policy is really nothing new.
Yellow journalism was blamed for helping incite the Spanish-Amer-
ican War — William Randolph Hearst's comment to Frederick Rem-
ington, "You furnish the pictures. I will furnish the war."

In the early 18th century, Britain and Spain went to war because
of British newspaper stories about the Spanish supposedly cutting
off the ear of a British sea captain, the War of Jenkins' Ear.

I think the questions to pursue are whether the stark visual im-
ages might prevent an examination of the context of the issue, and
how they might be manipulated by creative editing.

I look forward to the hearing, Mr. Chairman.

Chairman Hamilton. Any other statements?

If not, we will begin with our witnesses. Mr. Beschloss, why do
we not start with you.

STATEMENT OF MICHAEL R. BESCHLOSS, DIRECTOR,
ANNENBERG PROJECT ON TELEVISION AND U.S. FOREIGN
POLICY

Mr. Beschloss. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

I thought, in the interest of time, I would

Chairman Hamilton. Speak right into those microphones. They
are voice-activated, and you have to pull them close.

Mr. Beschloss. OK. I will, indeed.

Chairman Hamilton. Thank you.

Mr. Beschloss. I thought, Mr. Chairman, that in the interest of
time I would make just a brief oral statement, and if I could ask
that my prepared statement be entered into the record.

CHANGES IN FOREIGN POLICYMAKING ENVIRONMENT

The history of the past 30 years shows very dramatically how tel-
evision news has transformed the environment in which Presidents
and Congress make American foreign policy. If you look at the
Cuban missile crisis of 1962, you see that John Kennedy enjoyed



luxuries that no President will ever have again. Had the Soviets
slipped missiles into Cuba in the modern age, you might have a sit-
uation in which a network-leased satellite would have discovered
them at the same moment the CIA did. And, therefore, instead of
the 6 days of secrecy in which Kennedy deliberated, you would
have televised demands from Congress immediately, also from citi-
zens, all putting great pressure on the President to decide very
quickly how to respond and to announce that response.

We now know from historical literature and documents that if
Kennedy had been required to make that kind of quick decision, he
probably would have bombed the missile sites. He probably would
have invaded Cuba. We now know that this had a very great dan-
ger, much greater than we knew at the time, of touching off a nu-
clear war.

At the same time, in 1962, the ability for the American President
to address the American people live from the oval office gave Ken-
nedy, as it gave later Presidents, a very substantial weapon with
which to gain quick support for their policies, the kind of weapon
that a Franklin Roosevelt might have liked and did not have in the
late 1930's, when he was campaigning very strenuously for greater
American engagement against fascism in Germany and Japan.

In the interest of time I would like to just simply close by making
five summary points.

INCREASED PUBLIC AWARENESS AND ENGAGEMENT

Number one, thanks to television, and also thanks in no small
measure to our two other witnesses this morning, Americans in
1994 are better informed about and more engaged in world issues
than they ever have been before.

Number two, television coverage of a dramatic foreign event can
instantly engrave an international issue or ongoing conflict on the
public mind, arousing the public about issues that might have been
a lot more diffident about during the pre-television age. And as the
chairman has suggested, a very good example of this is Bosnia 2
months ago.

POLITICAL BENEFITS OF CRISIS MANAGEMENT

Number three, because it focuses on the tangible and the dra-
matic, television tends to reward crisis management over crisis pre-
vention. In the words of the late Richard Nixon, whose passing we
observe this week, "Americans often believe only what they see on
television." The effect of this could be to build into our system a
tendency for political leaders to be more impatient with private de-
liberations whose sole purpose is to ensure that certain inter-
national dogs do not bark.

POLITICAL BENEFITS OF SHORT-TERM INTERVENTIONS

Number four, when use of force is required in the television age,
a President and Congress will benefit if the venture is as brief and
bloodless as possible. Obvious examples: Grenada in 1983; Libya in
1986; Panama in 1989; and, of course, the Persian Gulf war. If use
of force must prove to be costly and long, our political leadership
in the modern age has to very carefully consider how to avoid a sit-



5

uation in which Vietnam War-style continuous coverage does not
drain pubhc support for that military venture.

WHO WILL FRAME THE ISSUES

And, finally, point five, in peacetime if a President and Congress
do not work very hard to frame international issues for the public
all the time, television can do a lot to frame them instead, and in
ways that may very much limit the flexibility of our political lead-
ersnip.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

[The prepared statement of Mr. Beschloss appears in the appen-
dix.]

Chairman Hamilton. Thank you, Mr. Beschloss.

Mr. Koppel.

STATEMENT OF TED KOPPEL, ANCHOR, ABC NEWS

"NIGHTLINE"

Mr. Kdppel. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

This will flow very nicely, because I am going to pick up essen-
tially on the last point that Mr. Beschloss made.

A preliminary observation, if I may. I am here in response to
your kind invitation. I am not, however, an executive of ABC News,
and the views I express here this morning are strictly my own.

TELEVISION WILL FILL LEADERSHIP VACUUM

You have invited us here today to respond to a number of
thoughtful questions, some of which are easier to answer than oth-
ers. For instance, the perception that U.S. foreign policy sometimes
shifts in direct response to television coverage — you suggest Soma-
lia and Bosnia as examples — and you ask: "Is that a correct percep-
tion?"

The easy answer is: "Of course." Indeed, I am inclined to believe
that you intended the question to be all but rhetorical. We would
not be here this morning if you and the other members of this com-
mittee did not think that television has, in certain instances, had
an impact on the government's conduct of foreign policy.

Beyond that, I think there is a reasonable inference to be drawn
that you do not think it to be a good idea. Well, neither do I.

It is not, however, a new phenomenon; indeed, it predates the in-
vention of television. When British newspapers reported on the
problems of "Chinese Gordon" in Khartoum, public response was
such in London that the British Government felt obliged to dis-
patch a relief force under the command of General Kitchener.

Outside factors tend to influence the formation of foreign policy,
to a greater or lesser degree, in almost direct proportion to the
amount of credible information and policy direction that a govern-
ment otherwise makes available.

To the degree, in other words, that U.S. foreign policy in a given
region has been clearly stated and adequate, accurate information
has been provided, the influence of television coverage diminishes
proportionately.

To state that premise in reverse, television's influence increases
in regions where an administration has (a) failed to enunciate a
clear policy and/or (b) has done little or nothing to inform the



American public on the dangers of intervention or failing to inter-
vene. The two examples you put forward are excellent case studies.
In the course of this opening statement, I will be referring to a
number of critical observations about foreign policy initiatives.
They are not, as you will quickly observe, unique to me; and I cite
them, not for the purpose of engaging in a foreign policy debate,
but rather as examples of what can happen when an ill-defined pol-
icy is forced to mature too quickly in the spotlight of intense news
coverage.

THE SOMALIA EXPERIENCE

Prior to the appearance of the first television pictures from So-
malia, for example, the Bush administration had done little or
nothing to marshal public support for any kind of massive aid oper-
ation. It is probably fair to say that the relief operation came to-
gether when it did, in part because U.N. Secretary General
Boutros-Ghali had been pushing for it for months, in part because
President Bush saw an opportunity to perform a great humani-
tarian act between the time of his November defeat and the inau-
guration of President-elect Clinton, and in large measure because
of intense public reaction to the horrific television pictures of star-
vation and total anarchy in Somalia that were being shown in this
country.

In fairness, the Bush administration did clearly state the mission
and the term. It tried, though, to finesse the issue of how it would
deal with the warlords and their huge arsenals; and that, of course,
ultimately led to the disorienting image of a retired U.S. admiral,
who was heading the United Nations mission, directing a manhunt
for General Aideed in a manner which may or may have reflected
U.S. policy at the time. Certainly it no longer reflected U.S. policy
once we began seeing television pictures of a dead U.S. Ranger
being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu.

Neither the Bush nor the Clinton administration had clearly ad-
dressed the issue of v.'hat Washington would do in the event of U.S.
casualties. Nor had it laid the groundwork for explaining to the
American public why such a price might be necessary. The Clinton
administration was, therefore, placed in the exceedingly difficult
posture of trying to make those explanations after the fact; and
even then it was only done, as you all know, to buy time, so that
it would not appear that the United States was cutting and run-
ning.

CONSEQUENCES OF FAILURE TO ARTICULATE POLICY

The point, Mr. Chairman, and it is equally applicable to Haiti
and Bosnia and Korea, is that when an administration fails to set
forth a clear agenda of its own, it will become the prisoner of some-
body else's. For example, I have nothing but admiration for the
courage, commitment and dedication of Randall Robinson, who is
now beginning the second week of a hunger strike to protest Amer-
ica's policies in Haiti. But if U.S. policy toward Haiti is right, it
should not be changed because of Mr. Robinson's hunger strike.
And if that policy is wrong, then changing it now will amount to
doing the right thing for the wrong reason.



This government's foreign policy is already perceived as being too
responsive to public pressure. A war in Korea, for example, would
undoubtedly produce hundreds of thousands of casualties. Does
anyone on this committee believe that the administration has ade-
quately prepared the American public for the remote possibility of
that happening?

And if it is not even a remote possibility, then why pretend that
the United States is prepared to consider options that might lead
to war? If and when the crisis breaks, it will be too late to lay that
kind of groundwork any more.

In the absence of a clearly enunciated foreign policy toward the
Serbs in Bosnia, we are left floundering in a sea of options, none
of which seems to have considered the consequences that would
flow from them. We are still dealing with the possibility of up to
25,000 U.S. troops being sent to Bosnia to maintain peace if and
when it has been agreed to by all sides. The suggestion is that if
the peace breaks down the troops would be withdrawn. In other
words, we would send them if they are not needed, and withdraw
them if they are. What kind of a policy is that?

A number of your distinguished colleagues are proposing that the
arms embargo against Bosnia be lifted, so that the Moslems can
defend themselves. Has anyone yet considered just how that will
be calibrated if Moslem forces are successful and begin to retake
territory that they have lost. No doubt the Serbs might then be
willing to come to the peace table, but will the Moslems?

My point, Mr. Chairman, is this: The absence of a clearly formu-
lated and enunciated policy is like a vacuum. It will be filled by
whatever is available. Congressmen having themselves publicly ar-
rested in response to the leadership of a committed activist, voices
from the loyal opposition, or, for that matter, television reports,
which often contradict reality as presented by administration
spokespeople.

In a vibrant democracy like ours, each of these factors will al-
ways have some influence; but when a policy and its consequences
have not been adequately explained, an informational vacuum will
have been created that gives an even greater resonance to those
who bear no real responsibility for carrying out U.S. foreign policy.

FUNCTION OF TELEVISION IS TO INFORM

You ask whether television executives consider the impact of
their reporting on foreign policy? Rarely. Should they? In my opin-
ion, almost never.

I realize that still sounds like a revolutionary concept, even
though its foundations were laid nearly 200 years before the advent
of television. But we, who report on events, should not be policy-
makers. We have a responsibility to be fair, accurate and even-
handed; but only in the areas of instances — when lives, for exam-
ple, are clearly and unambiguously at risk — should we be expected
to take the consequences of our reporting into account.

Should we, for example, have refrained from showing pictures of
starving Somalis because it might lead to U.S. intervention and be-
cause that intervention could then lead to the death of American
personnel? What if we had not shown those pictures? Should we be
prepared then to take the responsibility for losing the hundreds of



8

thousands of lives that were reportedly saved bv the operation?
Should we refrain from showing the American puolic what is hap-
pening now in Rwanda because that might lead to U.S. or U.N.
intervention? Or is the argument the very reverse? Should we not
have shown that Ranger's body being dragged through the streets
of Mogadishu, because now we are disinclined to intervene when
perhaps we should?

With all respect, Mr. Chairman, it is our function to inform, it
is your function to consider, debate, advise, consent, fund or not
fund; and it is the function of the executive branch to make deci-
sion and carry out foreign policy.

No doubt, the seed of satellite communication and the acquired
sophistication of both friends and adversaries in using that tech-
nology to their own best advantage, require a great deal of further
attention. Ultimately, though, it boils down to the same thing: If
an administration has thought its own foreign policy through, and
is prepared and able to argue the merits and defend the con-
sequences of that policy, television and all its new technologies can
be dealt with. If, on the other hand, the foreign policy is ill-con-
ceived and poorly explained, then it does not much matter whether
the news arrives by satellite or clipper ship — it may even arrive by
clipper chip these days, Mr. Chairman — eventually, the policy will


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