Media Coverage of Weapons of Mass Destruction

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2004-03-09

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The public relies on the media to separate facts and tangible realities from assumptions and spin. Media Coverage of Weapons of Mass Destruction evaluates how well the media has performed this task in regards to the issue of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The study assesses how the coverage of WMD has changed over time and across geographies " especially since the launch of the "War on Terror" and the positioning of Iraq as the "big" international story. The events of the last year and a half in Iraq " the build-up to the war, the shock-and-awe campaign, the ground combat, the "post-victory" insurgency, the capture of Saddam Hussein, and the ongoing hunt for banned weapons " have dramatically demonstrated the need for greater public understanding of the role that WMD plays in the formulation of and rhetorical justifications for US security policy. With that goal in mind, this study examines three time periods, each lasting three weeks, during which at least two major WMD-related stories were being covered. The specific beginning and ending dates were chosen to include coverage one week before and two weeks after the dates on which a major nuclear proliferation story appeared in the media: India"s nuclear weapons tests in May 1998, the US announcement of evidence of a North Korean nuclear weapons program in October 2002, and revelations about Iran"s nuclear program in May 2003. Iraq was purposely not chosen as one of these reference points because it was already overrepresented in the study relative to other significant countries. The three periods chosen cover major WMD issues during both the Clinton and Bush administrations and include important developments in Iraq and elsewhere. Dr. Susan D. Moeller is Associate Professor at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland, College Park.

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