The Dictator & the Charmer: U.S. Media Coverage of Chinese President Xi Jinping & Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

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“Islamic fanatic,” “atomic mullah,” “charmer,” “muscle-flexing dictator,” “corrupt manipulator,” “power-thirsty tyrant.” This dissertation investigates how the American news media have framed the presidents of China and Iran in recent years. The dissertation first contextualizes American news coverage by examining bilateral relations between the United States and China and Iran, two countries often represented as hostile to American values and aspirations. Then, using content analysis and informed by framing theory, the dissertation investigates the discourse used to define Xi Jinping of China and Hassan Rouhani of Iran. Across both countries, this dissertation examined the following news outlets: Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, Foreign Policy, Huffington Post, and Politico.

To study the coverage of Xi Jinping and Hassan Rouhani, this dissertation investigates two headline-making periods in the careers of both men: Xi’s early anti-corruption campaign (2013-14) and his crackdown on the Hong Kong Umbrella Movement in 2014; and Rouhani’s precedent-breaking phone call with President Obama in September 2013, and the Iran nuclear deal, signed between Iran and the P5+1 countries in July 2015.

This dissertation contributes to the relatively scant area of academic research evaluating U.S. media coverage of international leaders — a surprising omission in the literature, given the relationship between international reporting and the articulation and approval of foreign policy by foreign leaders.