Whitworth Communications

For Immediate Release

March 19, 2003

Political Communication Scholar to Present Whitworth Lecture on Challenges
to Civil Discourse of 'Post-9/11 Patriotism'

As the United States' "war on terrorism" has unfolded since September 11, 2001, and now moves into Iraq, another campaign has been waged by political leaders on the hearts and minds of Americans closer to home. One of the most significant casualties in the battle over U.S. public opinion during these months is the vital and unencumbered role of dissent in American civil discourse, according to David Domke, a mass-media expert and communication professor at the University of Washington.

Domke will present a lecture on "The New Patriotism: Political Communication, Protest and the Price of Democracy" on Thursday, April 3, at 7:30 p.m. in the Music Building Recital Hall at Whitworth College. The lecture, which is free and open to the public, is part of Whitworth's 46th annual Great Decisions lecture series on political, cultural and economic subjects of interest to the international community.

"The Bush administration has been remarkably successful at putting forward, and getting the media to echo, the message that unity and support for the President are more important than robust debate," Domke says. "This communication strategy by the White House has had less success overseas, but here in America it is clear that anti-war and anti-Bush policies have become equated with anti-Americanism."

Domke conducts research examining the relationships among political leaders and news media, public opinion, and social change. This research suggests that how news media and political leaders interact to shape discourse about issues has considerable influence on individual perceptions and behavior. Topics examined in his research include national identity in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, race relations, crime, immigration, health care, euthanasia, gun control, and education.

Most recently, Domke has analyzed the Bush administration's post-September 11 communication strategies in the war on terrorism as well as the media response and the impact on U.S. public opinion. A series of studies covering the period from September 11, 2001, to Bush's address to the nation about Iraq on March 17, 2003, indicate that government officials have consistently emphasized American core values and themes of U.S. strength and unity while simultaneously demonizing the "enemy."

Analysis of media coverage and public-opinion polls show that journalists and U.S. citizens have echoed those nationalist themes in their views and statements. For example, Domke and his colleagues have found that non-government opinion leaders such as think-tank researchers, interest-group leaders, and academic experts, who are likely to offer analysis rather than advocacy of the government position, appear to get less media attention.

This finding suggests, Domke contends, that "a patriotic press has helped to produce a primarily one-sided public discourse" about the war on terrorism and that voices that might challenge government positions are less likely to be heard.

"We argue that this national identity rhetoric was at the heart of the U.S. government's attempt [following September 11] to unite the American public and to mobilize support for the 'war on terrorism,'" wrote Domke and his colleagues in a paper forthcoming in the academic journal Political Communication. "The importance of examining the communication strategies utilized by political leaders in their interactions with news media is highlighted by public-opinion data that indicate the 'news interest' of U.S. adults was markedly high in the days, weeks and months after September 11. Further, some scholars theorize that elites exert their greatest influence over news coverage and, ultimately, public opinion during moments of crisis when greater-than-usual numbers of citizens pay attention to politics and news coverage."

Subsequent data indicates that the news interest of Americans has remained high throughout the war on terrorism and that government leaders - particularly the Bush administration - continue to exert strong influence on news coverage and public opinion.

Domke received his Ph.D. in mass communication from the University of Minnesota and received the Nafziger-White Award for the outstanding dissertation in the field from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.He has published numerous articles in academic journals on the relationship between political communication, mass media and public opinion.

Formerly a journalist for such newspapers as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Orange County Register, Domke joined the faculty of the University of Washington Department of Communication in 1998. He teaches courses on mass communication, journalism, political communication and public opinion, and last year received the UW Distinguished Teaching Award, the university's highest honor for teaching.

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The college enrolls about 2,200 students in more than 50 undergraduate and graduate programs.


Barbara Brodrick, Politics & History Department academic program assistant, Whitworth College, (509) 777-3270 or bbrodrick@whitworth.edu.

Greg Orwig, Director of Communications, Whitworth College, (509) 777-4580 or gorwig@whitworth.edu.

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